JERUSALEM -- Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization formally ended three decades of bitter conflict yesterday and set the Middle East on a hopeful course for peace.
They agreed to mutual recognition and pledged an end to the hostilities that led to five wars, made enemies of neighbors and left thousands dead. The movement toward reconciliation between the two sides was unthinkable only months ago.
The events of the last several weeks are "inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability," PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat declared in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Letters whisked by a Norwegian diplomat from Paris to Tunis, Tunisia, were to be signed today by two old and suspicious foes who spent the better part of their lives trying to destroy each other.
Mr. Rabin, who once ordered soldiers to break the bones of Palestinians and had declared that "the PLO without terrorism is not the PLO," acknowledged yesterday that he had been forced to change his mind.
"I have reached the conclusion that there is no other Palestinian partner than the PLO," he said. "You don't make peace with friends. You make peace with very unsympathetic enemies."
The letters, which were released last night, end an era in which both sides refused to admit the legitimacy of the other. The PLO, long committed to elimination of the Jewish state, formally recognized the right of Israel to exist "in peace and security."
Israel for the first time recognized the Palestinians as a national people with political rights, and it acknowledged the PLO as "the representative of the Palestinian people."
The PLO also said it "renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence" and promised to control PLO members "to assure their compliance . . . and discipline violators."
Israel considers that a declaration of the end of the intifada, six years of turbulent confrontation in which Israelis killed 1,100 Palestinians, and Palestinians killed 150 Israelis.
"With the signing of the documents, an appeal will be made to all inhabitants of the territories that they refrain from all acts of violence against Israelis," said Israel's police minister, Moshe Shahal.
"The Palestinians will have to deal with this issue. They will do it with their own police force, their own public."
The exchange of letters yesterday was the first in a line of diplomatic steps that could lead to the rarest of events here: peace.
The United States announced yesterday that after the letters were signed, it would resume formal discussions with the PLO, which were broken off in 1990.
A second agreement may be signed Monday to turn over Jericho and the Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel since 1967, to Palestinians. It also would start a five-year process to give autonomy over their homeland to 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It also may clear the way for Israeli agreements with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and eventually for diplomatic recognition by other Arab nations.
The Israeli letter was to be signed in Jerusalem this morning at a ceremony at 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EDT). The Israeli Cabinet approved the documents and gave Mr. Rabin authority to sign them yesterday. In Tunis, the executive committee of the PLO debated long into the night before authorizing Mr. Arafat's signatures on the letters. Reuters reported that Mr. Arafat signed his letter last night.
In the letters, the PLO said the provisions of its covenant "which deny Israel's right to exist . . . are now inoperative." It promised to convene the full Palestinian National Council for "formal approval" of the changes -- a requirement of the charter.
Israeli officials hoped to complete the signing last night, but time ran out on the globe-trotting efforts of Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst.
Final details in Paris
The Norwegian diplomat, who played host to secret negotiations in Oslo leading to the breakthrough, oversaw agreement on the final details at the Bristol Hotel in Paris yesterday morning before jetting to Tunis, intending to proceed from there to Tel Aviv.
But the PLO executive committee did not finish its deliberations until nearly midnight, finally giving Mr. Arafat the authority to sign the documents.
Mr. Holst was reported early this morning to be en route to Israel with the papers.
The historic agreements promised to shake up the Middle East, and their tremors already overtook other events here yesterday.
About half the Palestinian deportees sent by Israel to southern Lebanon in December were returned to Israel yesterday.
The deportations had caused an international crisis that helped paralyze the public Mideast negotiations, but their return yesterday was greeted only by a few Israeli demonstrators on the road from southern Lebanon.
Most of the men, Islamic fundamentalists, are opposed to negotiations with Israel. They were taken by bus to four prisons yesterday, where they were to be interrogated, according to Israel authorities.
Some would be released in coming days, but "we don't want to negatively impact the peace process" by releasing them to their homes all at once, said an Israeli source. The remaining deportees in Lebanon are due to return by Dec. 17.
On another front, The Israeli government itself seemed in danger of crumbling just as it was making history. Four members of the Shas religious party quit their posts as ministers and deputy ministers yesterday to protest the preparation of criminal
charges of fraud and misappropriation of funds against two of them.
But so far they have not quit as members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and they remain in the coalition that gives Mr. Rabin his narrow 62-58 margin.
Mr. Rabin acknowledged that their resignation weakens the government, but even if the party quit his coalition, he would have the votes he needs to approve the pact, with the help of five Arab members. One government official said a special Knesset session would be called Sept. 20, between the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur observances.
As Mr. Rabin waited in his office last night, demonstrators against the agreement mounted a noisy protest. They had been there since Tuesday evening, when opponents brought more than 100,000 people to a rally. Only a few hundred remained yesterday afternoon, but their numbers swelled as news spread of the impending recognition of the PLO.
Opposition Israeli politicians castigated the agreements.
"For the Arabs this is really a great moment," said Ariel Sharon, former defense minister under the Likud government. "Today they established a Palestinian state. . . . For Israel, this is a very dangerous day, a very humiliating day."
"This is a great victory for Zionism and for the Jewish people," countered Health Minister Haim Ramon, an adviser to Mr. Rabin. "One of the most bitter and harshest enemies, which fought against us for many years and which denied our very right to be a nation, has been induced to recognize our right to live here in peace and security."
The pact will not end the disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians, nor immediately bestow tranquillity on a region that still seethes from 100 years of bloodshed between Jews and Arabs.
But it sets in motion a process that could resolve the most trouble some dispute.
Ever since Jews began migrating in small numbers into the region at the end of the last century, Arabs viewed Zionism with growing alarm and eventually armed resistance.
Israelis carved out a state in 1948, sending an estimated 250,000 Arabs fleeing. In 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and Sinai Peninsula, crating another 500,000 refugees and occupying a region that now includes almost 2 million Palestinians.
Former Prime Minister Golda Meir denied the existence of
Palestinians; no Israeli government until now has recognized them as a national people with rights to political representation.
The representation now provides the way to sort out the future. The "Rubicon," as one negotiator put it, has been crossed.
Israel has grappled with the changing nature of the PLO.
In the occupied territories, Israel tried to undercut the popularity of the PLO by appointing more pliant officials, who were rejected by the Palestinians, and then by nurturing more radical Muslim groups, which grew beyond Israel's control.
The Likud government, which retained power for most of the past 15 years, publicly reviled the PLO. Mr. Rabin, a member of the more liberal Labor Party but a hard-nosed former general, consistently rejected dealing with the group.
"The PLO without terrorism is not the PLO," he said when he was defense minister in 1985. When the intifada began in 1987, Mr. Rabin ordered brutal retaliation.
In 1989, he said, "Israeli agreement to talks with the PLO is de facto recognition of an independent Palestinian PLO state between Israel and Jordan."
As Israel was forced inexorably into dealing with the PLO in order to reach a pact with Palestinians, Mr. Rabin went not gladly.
"I will not beautify the PLO," he told his Labor Party faction yesterday. "It was our enemy and still is our enemy. But you negotiate with enemies."
There was no guarantee that Mr. Arafat's call to end the intifada would succeed. Much of the fight is now carried on by groups outside the PLO that reject its authority and oppose any accommodation with Israel. Chief among those groups is Hamas, a radical Islamic fundamentalist group.
Haidar Abdel Shafi, head of the Palestinian negotiating team in ,, Washington, called the recognition "a very good development."
But he cautioned: "I don't think the intifada will stop unless the people feel there is serious progress."
AN EXCHANGE OF LETTERS
Following is the text of letters being exchanged by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
A third letter from Mr. Arafat to Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst, the mediator in the agreement, details a public statement Mr. Arafat plans to make calling for an end to violence, especially the Palestinian intifada.
September 9, 1993
Mr. Prime Minister
The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era in the history of the Middle East. In firm conviction thereof, I would like to confirm the following PLO commitments:
The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.
The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.
The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.
In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestine National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.
Yasser Arafat, Chairman The Palestine Liberation Organization
September 9, 1993
In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.
7+ Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel
September 9, 1993
Dear Minister Holst,
I would like to confirm to you that, upon the signing of the Declaration of Principles, I will include the following positions in my public statements:
In light of the new era marked by the signing of the Declaration of Principles, the PLO encourages and calls upon the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to take part in the steps leading to the normalization of life, rejecting violence and terrorism, contributing to peace and stability and participating actively in shaping reconstruction, economic development and cooperation.
Yasser Arafat, Chairman The Palestine Liberation Organization
The Israeli Palestinian conflict
Nov. 29, 1947 U.N. partitions Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors. Arabs reject plan, Jews accept it.
May 15, 1948 State of Israel proclaimed. First Arab-Israeli war leaves some 700,000 Palestinians refugees flee or are driven from what had been British-mandate Palestine.
Oct. 10, 1959 Yasser Arafat and others form loose Palestinian underground.
an. 17, 1964 Palestine Liberation Organization founded at first Arab League summit.
Jan. 1, 1965 Arafat forms Fatah guerrilla movement.
June 5, 1967 Six day war begins. Some 300,000 Palestinians flee West Bank, mostly into Jordan.
Nov. 22, 1967 U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied land, but cites Palestinians only as "refugee problem."
July 1968 Amended Palestinian National Charter re-enforces Palestinian self-determination, armed struggle to liberate Palestine and the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.
Feb. 4, 1969 Arafat takes over chairmanship of PLO. Anti-Israeli terrorism escalates.
Sept. 17, 1970 Jordan's King Hussein, threatened by PLO's growing power, moves against Palestinians. PLO and guerrillas driven out in bloody fighting.
Sept. 5, 1972 Palestinian gunmen kidnap 11 Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics.
the ensuing decade, PLO carries out several dramatic acts of terrorism aimed at Israelis and their supporters.
October 6, 1973 -- Egypt and Syria attack Israel on Yom Kippur, Jewish high holy day.
Nov.28, 1973 Arab League summit in Algiers recognizes PLO as Palestinians' sole representative.
Nov.22, 1974 U.N. General Assembly recognizes Palestinians' right to "sovereignty and national independence."
Israel and Egypt sign first peace treaty between the Jewish state and an Arab foe.
June 6, 1982 Israel invades Lebanon to crush PLO, force Arafat's men to evacuate Beirut strongholds; guerrillas scattered around Arab world.
EDec. 7, 1987 "Intifada," Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in West Bank and Gaza breaks out.
Dec. 12, 1988 Arafat accepts Israel's right to exist and renounces terrorism; PLO charter not revised. Arafat's declaration leads to U.S. dialogue with PLO, severed in 1989 after failed guerrilla raid on Israel.
Aug. 2, 1990 Iraq invades Kuwait. PLO support for Saddam Hussein leads Persian Gulf states to cut off funds. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced out of Gulf states.
COct. 31, 1991 Palestinians, in joint delegation with Jordan, attend U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Madrid.
August 20, 1993 -- Secret Israeli-PLO negotiatioons produce agreements in priciple for the beginning of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza and mutual Israeli-Plo recognition.