Israel, Jordan vow peace Signing of treaty ends 46 years of formal state of war CLINTON VISITS THE MIDDLE EAST


WADI ARAVA, Jordanian-Israeli Border -- Under the mountains of Moab and Edom and beside the Red Sea, Israel and Jordan signed a formal treaty yesterday swearing to live in peace.

A hot desert wind dried the signatures on the treaty putting an end to a formal state of war that had lasted 46 years since the founding of the Jewish state. President Clinton, King Hussein of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke loftily of a new era of conciliation.

King Hussein called the event "the end of a chapter of darkness and the opening of a book of life." He said it is "the dawning of a new era of peace, mutual respect, tolerance and the coming together of our people."

Mr. Rabin added, "The peace that was born today gives us all hope that the children born today will never know war between us and their mothers will know no sorrow."

The treaty is a pledge to transform into trading partners and friends two nations whose armies fought pitched battles in 1948 and 1967 over Israel's very right to exist.

It is more remarkable in that it was signed -- with mutual statements of affection -- between two leaders deeply involved in their long history of hostility. Mr. Rabin, a career army officer, fought in the 1948 War of Independence and led the Israeli military in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan River from Jordan. King Hussein took the throne in 1952.

The pact was the result of secret contacts held between the Jordanian monarch and Israeli leaders through the years -- contacts that apparently resulted in something close to friendship between Mr. Rabin and the king as veterans of one of the 20th century's most enduring conflicts.

The treaty they signed calls for "friendly relations" and the "right and obligation to live in peace with each other . . . in particular, to avoid threats and the use of force between them."

The two countries will open reciprocal embassies in a month. In mid-November, Jordan will begin issuing 500 visas a day to traveling Israelis, and Israel will reciprocate.

The first benefits of peace already have appeared. In recent weeks, Israel and Jordan have opened a border crossing here and are building another over the Jordan River; they have unblocked telephone communications; Israelis with second passports already are streaming into Amman, the Jordanian capital, and such archaeological wonders as Petra.

The promise of a flush of business between the two countries might be slower to fulfill. But that, too, will likely come as governments talk enthusiastically of free trade, joint projects and shared resources.

"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," Mr. Rabin said yesterday.

The signing ceremony itself was held in an area between the two borders, until recently laid with mines. The site yesterday was ringed with Jordanian, Israeli and American flags. Security was intense.

The ceremony began with a short silence dedicated to the fallen soldiers on both sides "for whom this peace ceremony came too late."

"Hopefully, we have contributed to a better future for ourselves and for all to come," King Hussein said.

Mr. Clinton made the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty signing the chief stop of his whirlwind trip through the Middle East. He flew to the ceremony directly from Cairo yesterday and then took a helicopter to Amman to address the Jordanian Parliament.

Yesterday's ceremony completes a process actually started in 1947 -- the year before Israel was born -- when Jordan's King Abdullah met secretly with Golda Meir, who was eventually to become Israel's prime minister.

Mr. Clinton acknowledged as much yesterday. "Truly you have fulfilled your grandfather's legacy," he told a beaming King Hussein, who was at his grandfather's side in 1951 when King Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem by Arab opponents of his policies.

"This vast bleak desert hides great signs of life," Mr. Clinton said. "Today, we see the proof of it, for peace between Jordan and Israel is no longer a mirage. It is real. It will take root in this soil. It will grow to great heights and shelter generations to come."

This tinderbox region has been a preoccupation of the world and the setting of five wars since Israel's creation in 1948.

The treaty was reached just four months after King Hussein and Mr. Rabin in Washington shook hands publicly for the first time. The swift action came because King Hussein concluded that he must make his own arrangements with the Israelis, without waiting for other Arab support.

Israel now has formal peace accords with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is negotiating with Syria and Lebanon.

But as a reminder of the difficulties that remain, Hezbollah guerrillas fired small Katyusha rockets from Lebanon to Israel shortly before the signing ceremony. The shelling sent Israelis living along the northern border into their bomb shelters. No casualties were reported.

It was a continuation of an exchange of artillery that began last week when Israel bombarded South Lebanon. In the attack that Israel later called a mistake, five civilians, including a child, died.

The peace accord ceremony also follows recent attacks against Israelis by the Muslim extremist Hamas group. The attacks killed two civilians in downtown Jerusalem, two soldiers in a kidnapping, and 22 passengers on a bus in Tel Aviv.

The agreement with Jordan is welcomed by most Israelis, who have regarded Jordan as a quietly accommodating neighbor since their second war, which Israel warned the king to stay out of or risk the loss of territory he ruled from Amman, including the Holy City. Jordanians, about half of whom are Palestinians from families who fled to Jordan during or after the wars with Israel, are generally less enthusiastic about the treaty. But most are willing to follow King Hussein's lead.

"The majority are willing to wait and see," said a diplomat in Amman. "If peace brings a benefit, an improvement in the economy for them, they will support it."

But Palestinians might attempt to be a spoiler. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has complained angrily that the Israeli-Jordanian treaty is intended squeeze Palestinians out of their claim to Arab East Jerusalem.

The PLO and Hamas both issued calls for a strike in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians demonstrated in Hebron and scrawled anti-Jordan slogans on walls.

Mr. Clinton is supposed to visit Jerusalem's Old City late this evening. He will arrive in Israel after a quick trip to the Syrian capital, Damascus, this morning.

"Now you must make the peace real," Mr. Clinton urged other Arab states. "Turn no-man's land into everyman's land. Open your borders. Open your hearts."

After bulky books with the treaty and maps were signed, five Jordanian military chiefs and their Israeli counterparts formally shook hands and exchanged gifts.

In signing the treaty, Israel relinquished several narrow strips of land occupied since 1967, but got in return a 25-year lease to continue using some of the property for farms and electric facilities.

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