Israel and Jordan end 46-year conflict

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL and Jordan yesterday ended their 46-year-old state of war and opened the way for a full peace treaty. King Hussein of Jordan and the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, signed a declaration on the White House lawn which says: 'The state of belligerency between Jordan and Israel has been terminated.'

President Bill Clinton, who hosted the meeting between the two leaders, said: 'From this day forward they pledge to settle their differences by peaceful means.' He said the two sides had agreed to 'take immediate steps to normalise relations and resolve disputes in areas of common concern'.

The declaration still leaves unresolved the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees who fled to Jordan in 1948 and disputed water rights in the Jordan Valley. Diplomats were confident, however, that these issues will not prove an obstacle to a treaty.

Mr Clinton quoted pacific sentiments from the Talmud and Koran to an audience of politicians, journalists and diplomats who sweated in the 90-degree heat of the Washington summer. After setbacks to his foreign policy, Mr Clinton hopes to gain some political advantage from yesterday's ceremony.

Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organisation are both suspicious that they will be isolated by the new entente between Israel and Jordan. From Gaza, the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, who last year himself shook hands with Mr Rabin in front of the White House, sent his congratulations. In private, however, his supporters are concerned about the future political role King Hussein will play in the West Bank and, in particular, in deciding the future of Jerusalem.

King Hussein, speaking slowly and emotionally, said that he and his grandfather King Abdullah, assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951, had always looked forward to reconciliation between Israelis and Arabs. Amman also hopes that the entente with Israel will end the coolness prevailing in US-Jordanian relations since Jordan refused to join the US-led alliance against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war.

Mr Rabin, looking more at ease than when he met Mr Arafat a year ago, said the 'nightmare of war may be over'. He added: 'We have gone a long way toward a full treaty of peace.'

Spelling out what is already agreed, Mr Clinton said Israel and Jordan would establish direct telephone links, open two new border crossings, grant free passage to tourists from other countries, survey their common border and link their electricity grids. They will negotiate on the establishment of an air corridor and the proper allocation of the waters of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers - long disputed between them. Norwegian television reported yesterday that representatives of Israel, Jordan and the PLO have been meeting secretly in an Oslo hotel to discuss a water agreement.

Admitting that the normalisation of relations will face opposition, Mr Clinton said: 'Dark forces of hatred and violence will stalk your lands. We must not let them succeed.'

Effective opposition to the Israel-Jordan agreement will largely depend on Syria, which, through US intermediaries, wants to win back the Golan Heights, lost to Israel in the 1967 war. Diplomats are surprised that Syrian opposition to yesterday's agreement has not been more vocal and forceful, one saying: 'I'm a little perplexed they did not oppose it more strongly.' Another observer said that, by refusing to make any concessions, the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad, 'has been left behind twice: by the PLO last year and now by the Jordanians'.

Palestinians are also worried by the future role of King Hussein in the dispute over Jerusalem. The agreement stipulates that 'Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem'. This would defuse the religious issue for many Muslims but for Palestinians the significance of Jerusalem is political and strategic. They argue that if Israel continues to strengthen its grip on an expanded Jerusalem the Palestinians will be left with too little territory to set up 'a viable political entity' in the West Bank and Gaza.

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