A rare accord as Knesset embraces Jordan

THE Israeli Knesset (parliament) achieved a rare measure of near-unanimity yesterday by endorsing the declaration of peace between Israel and Jordan. Only three members voted against - all of them from the far-right nationalist Moledet party. There were 91 in favour and two abstentions. This was in marked contrast to the deep divisions caused by the whole historic compromise with the Palestinians, which is deeply opposed by the Likud opposition.

Yesterday's vote shows the near consensus in Israel in support for a peace agreement in Jordan. It is a vote of confidence in King Hussein himself, again in contrast to the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, who enjoys little respect in Israel.

As an indication of the the new relationship across the Jordan, King Hussein was yesterday allowed for the first time to overfly Israel on his way back from Europe, his jet escorted by Israeli warplanes. The Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, told the King as he passed through Israeli airspace: 'Welcome to Israel, even though it's in the air.' A further step to implement the accord was when bulldozers from both sides demolished part of the border fence near the Red Sea to allow third-party nationals to travel between the resorts of Eilat and Aqaba.

The favoured treatment to King Hussein will only rub salt in the wounds of Mr Arafat, already smarting from the role ascribed to King Hussein as guardian of the holy places in Jerusalem. On Monday, the PLO called for an emergency Arab League meeting to back its claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It has accused Israel of violating the PLO-Israel autonomy accords, signed in September, by giving Jordan a special role.

Israel's policy has been to depoliticise the holy places issue. The Knesset has also adopted a resolution reaffirming Jerusalem's status as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. This has further angered the Palestinians, who feel it prejudges negotiations on the final status of the occupied territories. Israel does not accept that east Jerusalem, which it annexed shortly after its conquest in 1967, is occupied territory.

Mr Arafat, in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, has accused Israel of trying to drive a wedge between Jordan and the Palestinians and warned about a flare-up of violence.

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