Hussein wins 'peace with dignity'

Under the glaring sun of a Middle East desert, Israel and Jordan yesterday made peace, proclaiming a new era of mutual respect and prosperity for the generations to come. Protected by mass ranks of police, with helicopters overhead, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, and King Hussein of Jordan, joined hands over their newly agreed border, while President Bill Clinton looked on.

'God willing there will be no more death, no more misery, no more suspicion, no more fear of what each day will bring,' said King Hussein, clearly elated that he had won his prize of peace 'with dignity' after 27 years.

'We must forgive the anguish we caused each other, to clear the minefields that divided us for so many years and to supplant it with fields of plenty,' said Mr Rabin The peace treaty will transform day to day relations between Israel and Jordan. Within one month the two countries will exchange ambassadors. Under the treaty the two countries have agreed that the Israeli-Jordanian border should be based on a British mandate boundary first marked out in 1922.

Israel concedes Jordanian sovereignty over 381 sq km of disputed territory, although sections will be leased back to Israeli kibbutzim. The two countries agreed to share the meagre water resources of the desert and jointly to build desalinisation plans.

Open borders will allow economic co-operation and tourism for the first time. Israel has agreed to recognise Jordan's 'special status' as custodian of Jerusalem's holy sites, a move which has deeply angered Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as their sovereign capital. Jordan, in turn, has agreed not to allow foreign forces to be based on its land. The treaty is opposed by Iran, Libya, the PLO, Hamas, Palestinians living in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, and Jordan's largest political party, the Islamic Action Front.

King Hussein and Mr Rabin spoke yesterday not of the risks of their new treaty, but of the courage needed to move on. The two leaders were clearly determined that the televison cameras should focus on the colourful pagentry - but all around were reminders of the fragility of peace, as the weapons of a phalanx of American security agents bristled in the sun. Behind the bedouin tent, erected for the dignatories, were cement barricades to block car bombers. From look-out towers, soldiers scoured the horizon for infiltrators, while signs on the barbed wire warned of the minefields which were still to be cleared.

'I do not believe that we would have reached this great moment without the desire for peace in the hearts of both peoples,' said Mr Rabin. But the people of Amman and Tel Aviv, of the West Bank and Gaza were not here to cheer when America was praised for mediating the peace. The main road to Eilat had been closed off to traffic, so the people could not come to see when the 'men of arms whose fingers once pulled the triggers' stepped forward to exchange gifts.

Each leader yesterday took his turn to proclaim new plans for making the desert of the Araba Wadi bloom. 'Nature made it brown. Science will make it green. War made it dead. Peace will make it alive,' said Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, promoting his dream of transforming the 'rift valley into a peace valley'.

Only President Clinton, however, dared briefly address 'the forces of terror' as the peace-makers term those who condemn their treaties not as victory but a surrender. Clearly directing his words to Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Mr Clinton said: 'We cannot, we must not, we will not let them succeed.' Over by 2pm, Mr Clinton's speech was timed precisely for the voters watching American breakfast TV. In his meeting earlier yesterday in Cairo with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Mr Clinton demanded that Mr Arafat lead in the fight against Hamas.

The US President later declared satisfaction that the PLO chairman had recognised the Islamic militants as his 'enemy.'

Yet Mr Arafat, Israel's other 'partner in peace', was no longer deemed partner enough to be invited to yesterday's ceremony. Meanwhile, throughout Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas enforced a general strike.

(Photograph omitted)

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