With a few swift pen strokes Monday, the Middle East was remade.
Under brilliant sunshine on the South Lawn of the White House, representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a framework agreement for peace, and a beaming Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, clasped hands with Yitzhak Rabin, the dour Israeli prime minister who once led his country’s armed forces in crushing victories over its Arab foes.
The dramatic tableau beneath the gleaming facade of the White House evoked hope for an end and a beginning--an end to one of history’s most cruel conflicts and a beginning to one of its most difficult works of reconciliation.
“We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!” declared Rabin, the 71-year-old former general who barely allowed a single smile to cross his face during the emotion-laden, hourlong ceremony.
“The battle for peace,” responded Arafat, wearing an olive dress uniform and his trademark black-and-white kaffiyeh, “is the most difficult battle of our lives. It deserves our utmost efforts because the land of peace, the land of peace yearns for a just and comprehensive peace.”
Both sides recalled the generations of sorrow and bloodshed that preceded the historic ceremony and pledged to press forward with the diplomatic tasks that remain, calling upon the United States and other nations to aid in the process of turning the theoretical framework into concrete results for Israel and the Palestinians.
Witnessing the historic ceremony along with leaders of the Clinton Administration were former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III, Cyrus R. Vance, Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz and Edmund S. Muskie, and scores of others who had played central roles on the diplomatic road to the agreement.
President Clinton, whose role as host of the ceremony underscored how much both Israel and the PLO are counting on the United States for the next steps, called the signing “an extraordinary act in one of history’s defining dramas.”
Clinton repeatedly stressed that Monday’s accord would not diminish the longstanding U.S. commitment to Israel’s security. He pledged U.S. support for enforcing the agreement and marshaling the resources to make it work.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that the Administration will “spare no effort” in transforming the agreements on paper into reality on the ground.
“We will remain a full partner in the search for peace,” Christopher said. “This Israeli-Palestinian agreement cannot be permitted to fail.”
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, who served as an official witness to the signing because of Russia’s role as co-sponsor of the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace talks, also promised his nation’s support for the accord.
After Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and top PLO political adviser Mahmoud Abbas signed the Declaration of Principles setting out the terms of the Israeli-PLO accord, at 11:46 a.m. EDT Rabin reluctantly took Arafat’s offered palm in a quick and firm shake.
Rabin then stepped to the microphone and gravely proclaimed that signing the accord is “not so easy.”
“Neither for myself as a soldier in Israel’s wars, nor for the people of Israel, nor for the Jewish people in the Diaspora who are watching us now with great hope mixed with apprehension,” he said.
“It is certainly not easy for the families of the victims of the wars, violence, terror, whose pain will never heal, for the many thousands who defended our lives with their own and have even sacrificed their lives for our own. For them, this ceremony has come too late,” Rabin said.
Turning to the Palestinians, Rabin added: “We have no desire for revenge; we harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people--people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, live side by side with you in dignity, in affinity, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance and saying to you, saying again to you, ‘Enough.’ Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say farewell to the arms,” Rabin said.
As many in the audience swallowed tears, Rabin then quoted the famous passage from Ecclesiastes: “ ‘To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to love and time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, the time for peace has come,” Rabin concluded.
Arafat adjusted the drape of his kaffiyeh one last time and followed Rabin to the microphone.
Speaking in Arabic, the 64-year-old guerrilla, who has survived countless brushes with death at the hands of Israelis and dissidents in his own movement, said: “My people are hoping that this agreement which we are signing today marks the beginning of the end of a chapter of pain and suffering which has lasted throughout this century. My people are hoping that this agreement which we are signing today will usher in an age of peace, coexistence and equal rights.”
He expressed appreciation for the difficulties that lie ahead in reversing decades of bloodstained politics and timeworn habits of mind.
“Now as we stand on the threshold of this new, historic era, let me address the people of Israel and their leaders, with whom we are meeting today for the first time, and let me assure them that the difficult decision we reached together was one that required great and exceptional courage,” Arafat said.
He said that Palestinian self-determination need not threaten Israeli security, nor should Palestinian economic development rob Israelis of their hard-won gains.
“Rather, putting an end to their feelings of being wronged and of having suffered an historic injustice is the strongest guarantee to achieve coexistence and openness between our two peoples and future generations,” Arafat said. “Our two peoples are awaiting today this historic hope, and they want to give peace a real chance.”
The text the two delegations signed was the subject of a last-minute revision, as Israeli representatives originally balked at a reference to the PLO in the preamble of the declaration.
But in telephone negotiations Sunday night and Monday morning, Israeli officials agreed to the use of the term “PLO” in the document and the handwritten change was added to the text in the White House Blue Room just minutes before Clinton, Rabin and Arafat emerged to witness the signing, a White House official explained. He described it as merely a “technical change” to reflect Israel’s official recognition of the PLO.
The first draft of Clinton’s remarks was written by National Security Council aide Jeremy Rossener, but Clinton extensively rewrote it after awakening at 3 a.m. and rereading the entire biblical book of Joshua, according to White House aides.
In crafting his remarks, Clinton sought to capture the “solemnity and spirituality of the moment,” according to senior adviser George Stephanopoulos. He consulted historian David McCullough, Arab-American intellectual Fouad Ajami and Harvard professor Michael Sandel for suggestions on appropriate remarks.
Clinton penciled in a passage that expressed his hope for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “ ‘The cry ‘Violence!’ shall no more be heard in your land, nor rack nor ruin within your border.’ The children of Abraham, the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, have embarked together on a bold journey. Together, today, with all our hearts and all our souls, we bid them Shalom, Salaam, Peace.”
The guest list for the ceremony, which started at 1,000 and quickly grew to 3,000, included the foreign ministers of Japan, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Morocco and Egypt. Johan Jorgen Holst, the Norwegian foreign minister, was accorded special honors because of the role he played in the secret negotiations in Oslo that led to the accord.
Also present were the entire Congress and Cabinet as well as Jihan Sadat, widow of slain Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Immediately after the ceremony, Clinton took Arafat aside for an unscheduled private meeting in the Map Room in the White House basement. While Vice President Al Gore entertained the Israeli leaders, Clinton and Arafat spoke privately for 10 minutes. According to a senior White House aide who briefed reporters afterward, Arafat told Clinton: “This event will help a great deal in giving my people a sense that this is something real and that there is real hope in this agreement.”
Clinton, after congratulating Arafat on the boldness of his initiative, stressed that it was “absolutely essential to move quickly and seize the moment,” according to the aide.
The President met in the Oval Office with Rabin and Peres for about 15 minutes and then lunched privately with the Israeli prime minister while Peres accompanied Christopher to the State Department for a luncheon that included Abbas, the PLO signer.
Although the U.S. government played a limited role in mediating the accord, the United States agreed to assume a major share of the responsibility for assuring that the Palestinians succeed in governing themselves.
U.S. officials said that the Administration will solicit funds from wealthy Arab governments, the European Community and Japan to defray the cost of Palestinian government, expected to exceed $1 billion in the first year alone. The stateless Palestinians have never been able to amass the kind of wealth needed to create the institutions and infrastructure of a self-sufficient people. The United States, which hopes to make only a limited financial contribution of its own, also expects to give political support to the Palestinian entity.
Rabin said that the true test of Palestinian self-government will come in the overcrowded and impoverished Gaza Strip. In a sardonic reference to the PLO’s worldwide diplomatic and public relations program, Rabin said that it would be better for the organization “to spend its money in Gaza than in so-called embassies all over the world.”
And the old warrior made it clear that he is embarking on this gamble with profound misgivings. “Peace you do with enemies--sometimes bitter enemies, enemies that you despise,” Rabin said. In a later meeting with American Jewish leaders, Rabin referred to the PLO as a “murderous organization.”
Back home in Israel, meanwhile, supporters of the pact danced in the streets even as its opponents continued their denunciations of the signing. In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, thousands of pro-Arafat Palestinians erupted in joyful marches, although some who see the pact as a sellout to Israel threw stones at the celebrants.
And blood was spilled in Lebanon when troops killed seven demonstrators and wounded 31 taking part in a peaceful demonstration against the accord.
The Israel-PLO accord is a statement of principles, not a fully worked-out peace pact. It calls for the Palestinians to begin governing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho as soon as the arrangements can be made. The agreement also envisions Israeli withdrawal from other Arab population centers throughout the West Bank, but the details were left for future negotiations.
Within nine months, the Palestinians are to elect a council to handle governmental functions. Until the council is elected, a PLO-appointed government will function in Gaza and Jericho.
Peres, the Israeli foreign minister who initialed the accord, said that peace between the two peoples was only a dream yesterday but today stands as a solemn commitment.
“The Israeli and the Palestinian people, who fought each other for almost a century, have agreed to move decisively on the path of dialogue, understanding and cooperation,” said Peres.
“We live in an ancient land and as our land is small so must our reconciliation be great. As our wars have been long, so must our healing be swift. Deep gaps call for lofty bridges.”
On another track of the U.S.-mediated Middle East peace talks, Israel and Jordan are to initial an agreement today on a preliminary peace treaty that, if confirmed by future negotiations, will be Israel’s second pact with an Arab government after its 1979 treaty with Egypt. The signing will occur in a low-key ceremony at the State Department.
Times staff writer Doyle McManus contributed to this article.
More Coverage on Peace Pact
* BUILDING RELATIONS--Thirty prominent members of Arab and Jewish communities gather at L.A. hotel to view ceremonies on TV. A6
* TEXT OF STATEMENTS--A text of speeches by President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and PLO leader Arafat. A8
* TEXT OF ACCORD--A text of the Israel-PLO peace accord. A9
The unresolved issues still existing in the region:
ISRAEL (AND OCCUPIED TERRITORIES)
THE WEST BANK
Home to 1.1 million Palestinians, its future is supposed to be addressed after Palestinian self-rule starts in Gaza and one West Bank town, Jericho. How much of the West Bank is Israel willing to relinquish? Will the territory be joined with Jordan in a confederated Palestinian State?
The chief obstacles to overcome:
* Israel’s concerns about security. Tel Aviv is only 12 miles away.
* Israeli settlers who cite the Bible as proof that God promised this land to the Jews.
* Jewish settlers: 120,000
THE GAZA STRIP
Where the authority of Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization have been eroded by Islamic fundamentalists, has the potential for tremendous violence during power struggles among rival factions. About 750,000 Palestinians are crammed into this economically deprived patch of desert.
One of the toughest questions. Both Israelis and Palestinians consider it their capital. It is the home of 350,000 Israelis and 150,000 Palestinians.
Endorsed the PLO-Israeli peace plan. Jordan’s chief concerns include the future of Palestinian refugees who fled to Jordan after the 1948 and 1967 wars. Other concerns include sharing water resources, such as the Jordan River.
* Palestinian refugees: 1.2 million, including about 225,000 in U.N. refugee camps.
Takes its cues from Syria, which maintains 40,000 troops in northern and eastern Lebanon. Lebanon’s main concern in the peace talks is to get Israeli troops to withdraw from south Lebanon.
This buffer enclave, which Israel calls its “security zone,” is supposed to guard northern Israel from attacks by Lebanese and Palestinian guerillas.
The most powerful of these guerillas are the Hezbollah, or Party of God, who are supported and trained by Iranians at camps in the Bekaa Valley.
* Palestinian refugees: about 320,000
Gave Arafat a tacit go-ahead for his peace efforts with Israel but is still negotiating on recovering the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in the 1967 war. About 12,000 Arabs, mostly Syrian Druze and Sunnis, live here.
* Jewish settlers in the Golan Heights: 7,000
* Palestinian refugees: about 400,000, including 250,000 in U.N. camps.
The first of the Arabs to make peace with Israel in 1979. In return, it got back the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.
Other Issues . . .
* ACCESS: How do Palestinians travel in and out of Jericho and the Gaza Strip, where self-rule is to start? Jericho can be reached from Jordan by crossing the Allenby Bridge, but Israel would still control the roads. Gaza is reachable from Egypt. Would passage from Gaza to Jericho be provided via a corridor to the West Bank? Hebron is the closest big West Bank town to Gaza, but it is also home to some of the most militant Jewish settlers.
* PALESTINIAN REFUGEES: What happens to about 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon? Most are in camps that were set up as temporary tent sites after the 1948 war and evolved into shantytowns.