Peacemakers blinded by the light: Robert Fisk, in Araba, watched the signing of the US-backed treaty that ended the 46-year-old state of war between Israel and Jordan

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Perhaps this peace needed that many signatures. There were four volumes of documents, each to be signed by six hands, and pages of annexes. No wonder Bill Clinton, the desert light reflecting off the papers, kept rubbing his face, asking for sunglasses and dabbing his pained eyes with a black cloth.

Then soldiers brought the maps. Six feet long, they were opened for more signatures. Maps of Baqura-Naharayim, of Zofar, of ground-water tables, of Yarmouk, of saltpans in the Dead Sea. Abdul Salam Majalli, the Jordanian Prime Minister, raised one arm in astonishment as more volumes were thumped on to the table. Bill Clinton, overwhelmed with the flashing reflection from the sheets, turned his back on his guests as an aide provided him with an eye-bath, right there in the middle of the desert. Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, wore a sun- cap and sunglasses that made him look -as he scribbled his name again and again - like a football manager signing up a new star.

Thus did the men of Araba yesterday firmly divide Jordan from Israel, and Jordan from the land that was Palestine. Thus did King Hussein allow Israelis to go on living on strips of Jordanian terrority. Thus did Jordan and Israel end their 46 years of war, witnessed by just a single, junior Palestine Liberation Organisation official from Amman, the sole representative of the people - the Palestinians - over whom they fought each other. A minute's silence honoured the thousands of Israelis and Jordanians -some of whom must have been Palestinians - killed in those 46 years. 'I believe they are with us on this occasion,' King Hussein said.

It was the noblest remark of the day by an ageing and tired king, a man who now thinks much of death and one whose own people have the gravest reservations about this peace. Not many miles over the grey- brown mountains to the north- west of the seats upon which the dignitaries perched, lay the city of Jerusalem, its eastern side - and the West Bank - still under the occupation of the very Israeli army that stood to attention before us.

'There's no real jubilation on our side,' a Jordanian journalist said as Clinton's stretch limo swept between the old minefields of the Jordanian-Israeli frontline. 'The people are looking at this like surgery - something they have to go through. For the Israelis, this is a victory. For us, it's defeat.'

This was not how the statement of Araba put it yesterday. It was 'a peace of the brave' (Clinton), a 'source of pride', the 'dawn of a new era' and 'a day like no other' (King Hussein), 'the peace of soldiers and the peace of friends' (Rabin). The King came across as the most dignified of men and ended with a remark which left an unanswered question: 'This (treaty) is not just a piece of paper . . . it will be real, as we open our hearts and minds to each other.'

Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister, touched on the same thought when he said 'peace between states is peace between people'. Yet both men know that in much of the Middle East, peace between states does not necessarily mean peace between people.

An Israeli journalist threw his arms around a Jordanian bureaucrat while scores of Israeli girls distributed cold water, each bottle labelled 'Israeli-Jordanian peace October 1994' in Arabic and Hebrew, but with its provenance - the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights - printed only in Hebrew. The hundreds of chairs were tied together with thin strips of steel-strong plastic - the same material used for handcuffs by the Israeli army.

The 21-gun salute by artillery crews who could have been shooting at each other, the rumbustious Jordanian anthem played before the haunting beauty of the Hatkivah, the two grand-daughters of Jordanian and Israeli soldiers killed in the 1967 war; they touched the elderly warriors standing next to the American President. But it needed Bill Clinton's stock of cliches - 'Turn no-man's land into every man's home' - and his ritual and threats against 'terrorism', to remind the 5,500 guests that this was an American peace, engineered by the US and guaranteed by the US - whose closest ally is Israel.

(Photograph omitted)