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Prayers and dreams fulfilled


WASHINGTON -- Jordan's king and Israel's prime minister, whose long intertwined careers have spanned open warfare and secret cooperation, buried their nations' 46-year conflict yesterday in favor of the everyday exchanges of friendly neighbors.

They also moved toward a joint understanding over one of the flash points of Arab-Israeli strife: the holy city of Jerusalem. But in the process, they angered Palestinians.

At easygoing White House ceremonies officiated by President Clinton, King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin brought into the open what for years has been one of the least hostile of Middle East relationships.

Beyond the obligatory handshakes, they exchanged smiles and a quick murmured aside. At one point the king gently touched the prime minister's elbow.

King Hussein, his chest out and his bearded face beaming almost throughout, said he was fulfilling the dream of his grandfather, King Abdullah, who was assassinated in 1951 for conducting peace talks with Israel.

"For many, many years and with every prayer I have asked God the Almighty to help me be a part of forging peace between the children of Abraham," he said, referring to the biblical patriarch revered by Jews and Muslims.

Mr. Rabin expressed the hope that one day, "finally, no one will photograph our handshakes; it will have become part of the routine of our lives, a custom among all people, the behavior of every human being."

Their agreement, called the Washington Declaration, falls short of a full peace treaty, which is still months away. For the sake of symbolic Arab solidarity, King Hussein may want to await a breakthrough in the snail's-pace talks between Israel and Syria, the last big hurdle blocking a broad peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Nor does it end Jordan's participation in the Arab world's economic boycott of the Jewish state.

But it enshrines what is now an informal state of nonbelligerence, barring any actions that could affect each other's security:

"Neither side will threaten the other by use of force, weapons, or any other means, against each other, and both sides will thwart threats to security resulting from all kinds of terrorism."

And it sets in motion a series of steps that promise to make Jordan and Israel more harmonious neighbors, with an eventual formalpeace as the capstone. The king and prime minister promised to meet "periodically or whenever they feel necessary" to review the relationship's progress, which King Hussein said he would do "with pleasure."

They pledged to open direct telephone links, hook up electrical grids, open two new border crossings, grant "in principle" free access to third-country tourists traveling between the two states, speed up talks on a direct air corridor between Israel and Jordan, and cooperate in combating crime and smuggling.

The two leaders also reached an understanding on the highly charged issue of Jerusalem that may rile both Palestinians and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, custodian of the two most sacred Muslim holy sites at Mecca and Medina.

The agreement says that "Israel respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines. In addition, the two sides have agreed to act together to promote interfaith relations . . . ."

The passage makes Jordan a player in the so-called final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who seek sovereignty over East Jerusalem as their future capital and draw little distinction between the city's territory and its religious importance.

King Hussein's assertion of responsibility for the upkeep of Jerusalem's Muslim shrines, which continued even after Jordan yielded nominal control of the West Bank in 1988, has been a source of friction with both the Saudis, who haven't forgiven King Hussein for supporting Iraq during the Persian Gulf war, and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

A senior Clinton administration official said the passage had been agreed to by Jordan and Israel and

that it would have been inappropriate for the United States to discuss it with the Saudis and Palestinians. But Mr. Clinton gave the entire declaration his blessing.

Mr. Clinton's remarks, in which he acknowledged King Hussein's "role as guardian of Jerusalem's Muslim holy sites, Al-Aqsa among them," struck a raw nerve among Palestinian officials.

"I am surprised," said an agitated Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Mr. Arafat. "If anyone thinks they can make an agreement at the expense of the Palestinians, he is mistaken."

In addition, right-wing Israelis balk at handing over control of any part of Jerusalem.

King Hussein, who as a teen-ager witnessed the assassination of his grandfather, King Abdullah, by Palestinian nationalists in Jerusalem, has been moving toward peace with Israel for decades but always refrained from blazing a trail. For years, he was held in check by Syria's militancy and domestic opposition from Jordan's large Palestinian population and radical Muslims.

After the Arab-Israeli peace talks opened in Madrid, Spain, in December 1991, Jordan took a back seat to the negotiations involving Palestinians and Syrians.

King Hussein looked on uncomfortably from afar in September when Mr. Arafat, long a pariah in Israel and the United States, achieved the status of statesman overnight by making peace with Israel and was welcomed at an electrifying White House ceremony.

But with the sea change in Middle East attitudes brought by the as

sumption of Palestinian authority over the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, King Hussein signaled his readiness to move.

And when he appealed to Mr. Clinton in June both for military assistance and relief from Jordan's burdensome $700 million debt, the president exacted a price in the form of a public meeting with Israel's prime minister.

This brought him to the first public encounter with the man who commanded Israelis against Jordan's Arab Legion in two wars.

Judging from the relaxed mingling of Jordanian, Israeli and U.S. officials in the White House Rose Garden before President Clinton welcomed them yesterday, it seemed less of a breakthrough than the acknowledgment of a relationship.

Instead of tension, there was something approaching camaraderie. The leaders' wives, Queen Noor and Leah Rabin, sat side by side.

"What you really have is a sense of release," a senior White House official commented later. Mr. Clinton, aides said, was struck by the two leaders' "comfort level and warmth."

The U.S. intent in pushing King Hussein and Mr. Rabin into the open was partly to put pressure on Syrian President Hafez el Assad to make progress in negotiations with Israel over its withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace.

Mr. Clinton, apparently anxious not to anger the Syrian leader, telephoned him after the ceremonies. But there were no U.S. predictions of any speed-up in Israeli-Syrian talks now progressing "inch by inch," as a senior U.S. official put it.

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