An uneasy peace for Hussein and Israel: As the treaty is prepared, bringing Arab and Jew together, the PLO stands aside, bitterly opposing Jordan's role in Jerusalem

King Hussein of Jordan and Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's Prime Minister, will make peace today in the absence of the Palestinians, over whom their countries have been in a state of war for 43 years.

The ceremony, in the dusty wadi of Araba between Jordan and Israel, will be replete with the stuff of televised history. In soaring temperatures and before the world's cameras, they will meet President Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, and scores of Arab and European officials in a carpeted bedouin tent of black goat hair, to sign the treaty that the two leaders claim will usher in a new era of Middle East peace.

However, Yasser Arafat, whose own unofficial treaty with Israel is crumbling into violence on the other side of the Jordan river, has been pointedly left uninvited by both the King and the Israeli Prime Minister. In response Mr Arafat ordered his 'Foreign Minister', Farouk Kaddomi, to turn down a separate invitation to attend.

Jordan's own Islamic opposition, not cowed by the latest royal warning against 'propaganda of false views about the Jordanian-Israeli peace', will also boycott the special session of the Jordanian parliament, which Mr Clinton will address tonight. Objections that the King is making peace while the West Bank and East Jerusalem remain under Israeli military occupation have been made repeatedly in the Jordanian press.

Jordanian security men watched in silence as members of the Islamist-dominated students' council at the University of Jordan staged a demonstration against the treaty, one of them raising a banner declaring: 'The mountains of Jordan refuse to have a Zionist who is full of hatred and a traitor who has surrendered step on this land.' However, the university has 20,000 students and a pro-government rally was swiftly arranged.

Publicly, most Jordanians welcome the peace agreement, more as official recognition of a truce that has lasted since the 1967 war than as the start of a new page in history. They have been bombarded with economic reasons why they should be satisfied with the treaty. The Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdul Salam Majali, says a number of Jordan Valley projects will be set in motion, while Germany has just given the country DM45m ( pounds 18.4m) in soft loans for development projects. Canada has just given another dollars 4.4m in grants.

Privately, many Jordanians express resignation, in the face of what they regard as the inevitable result of the end of the Cold War. American support for Israel, they say, has given Israel through peace what she could not obtain by war. If this is untrue - Israel, after all, can no longer suggest that Jordan is Palestine - the treaty has also set the King and the PLO against each other again. Mr Arafat is bitterly denouncing the King's acceptance of Israel's assertion that Jordan had special rights over the Islamic holy places of Jerusalem.

A fascinating insight into the King's thinking, and an indication of his contempt for the PLO, came on Monday night, when he addressed army officers at their barracks near Amman. Dressed in military uniform with a paratrooper's badge on his chest, the King blamed the PLO for the war in Jordan in 1970 - in which his bedouin troops slaughtered many Palestinians - for 'the destruction of Lebanon' and for 'the situation in Palestine now'.

These remarks will enrage Mr Arafat and other Arab nationalists, who blame Israel for the catastrophe in Lebanon - Israel invaded the country in 1978 and 1982 at the cost of more than 19,000 lives - and who say that Israel's failure to withdraw from more occupied land has provoked the recent increase in violence against Israelis.

The King also said he would not have made peace now if Mr Arafat had not undertaken his own secret negotiations with the Israelis last year. The King was furious when Mr Arafat told him what he had done. 'We did not give up Palestine and the Arab right in this part of the great Arab homeland,' the King told his soldiers. 'But the party responsible for representing the Palestinians . . . moved and consequently we had to take care of ourselves and deal with the situation.' Jordan, the King said, was 'prompted to sign the agenda of negotiations' with Israel only after it learned of the secret Oslo accord.

Angrily, the King referred to an act of 'ingratitude' that greeted his personal financial gift, that paid for the renovation of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. 'I do not know how many of you are aware that the piece of marble which carried the date of the third Hashemite reconstruction was damaged within 24 hours of its erection,' he said. 'It is still damaged now . . .' The implication was that PLO sympathisers had defaced this marble recognition of the King's generosity.

Today, the 5,500 Jordanian, Israeli and American guests will be asked to recognise the cost in lives that Middle East wars have exacted from the two former belligerents, in a minute's silence in the desert. Mr Clinton will then travel to the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, the fortress north of Aqaba, before travelling to Amman to address the parliament.

Tomorrow, he will fly to Damascus to meet the Syrian President, Hafez al-Assad. He demands a total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and Lebanon before signing a peace with Israel.

(Photograph omitted)

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