Israel, Jordan Move Closer to Peace Treaty
Israel and Jordan moved closer to signing a peace treaty Wednesday, when Israel’s Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a declaration ending the state of war between the two nations and King Hussein flew over Israeli airspace for the first time en route home from Britain.
As a trio of Israeli F-16 fighter planes escorted Hussein’s private jet, piloted by the king, on its brief journey across Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin radioed the airborne monarch, informing him of the Knesset vote.
“I’m very happy indeed to learn from you of the welcome that the Washington declaration has received in the Knesset,” Hussein said. “To the people of Israel, we send our best wishes and our prayers for peace. Shalom.”
“Your Majesty, I see you now. Your plane is over me,” Rabin replied as the king’s plane roared over the coastal town of Herzliya. The prime minister was there, sitting outside an officers’ school and using an army radio. Hussein flew so low that people on the streets could see the Jordanian crown on the tail of his jet.
“What is your impression of Tel Aviv, Your Majesty?” the normally taciturn Rabin asked Hussein playfully.
“Beautiful city,” Hussein replied.
“Your Majesty, thank you very much. I hope that in your flight over Jerusalem you will see the tremendous development of this holy city,” Rabin said. “I hope that this city will be the city of peace for the future of all the peoples in the region.”
“That is, indeed, our dearest hope, and we will do everything we can to achieve peace in our region,” Hussein said.
Moments later, he streaked across the sky above Jerusalem’s Old City, which Hussein lost in battle to the Israelis in the 1967 Middle East War.
The conversation, broadcast live on Israel Radio, provided an electrifying cap to a day devoted to Israeli-Jordanian peacemaking.
As lawmakers spent the day debating the Washington declaration, Israeli and Jordanian negotiators worked feverishly to complete details to open a border crossing above the twin ports of Aqaba and Eilat, at the southernmost tip of each country.
Israel Radio reported that crews already were tearing down chain-link and barbed-wire fencing separating the two countries in the south.
Rabin hopes to join Hussein and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Monday in inaugurating the crossing. It will initially be used only by tourists carrying passports other than Israeli or Jordanian. But Rabin expressed hope Wednesday that, soon, Israelis and Jordanians will cross the border freely.
“Ours is a great privilege today to be witness and partner to beautiful moments in Israel’s history,” Rabin said, as he sought the 120-seat Parliament’s endorsement of the agreement he signed last week in Washington with Hussein.
Israeli President Ezer Weizman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar and dozens of dignitaries were present for the occasion.
Despite reservations expressed by some opposition members about the special status that the document recognizes for Jordan in administering Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, the non-binding endorsement passed by a 91-3 vote with two abstentions; 24 lawmakers were not present.
Rabin passionately restated his government’s commitment to maintaining Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital and insisted that the Washington declaration only recognizes Jordan’s existing role in caring for the Temple Mount and the Muslim shrines there.
“This government, like all those which preceded it, believes that there are no disagreements in this chamber over the eternalness of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” he said. “The whole, unified Jerusalem was and will be until the end of time the capital of the Israeli people, under Israeli sovereignty, a center for the longings and dreams of every Jew.”
Jerusalem, Rabin said, “is not to be bargained for,” brushing aside the insistence of PLO chief Yasser Arafat that talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization over the status of the city--holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians--should begin immediately.
It was a triumphant day for Rabin, who has withstood withering criticism from the government’s chief opposition, the nationalist Likud Party, over his dealings with the PLO and who has battled public sentiment strongly opposed to relinquishing the strategic Golan Heights to Syria.
The Washington declaration offered Rabin a rare chance to appear as leader of a united country, heading confidently toward making peace with its neighbors.
“The four pages placed on the Knesset’s table today are the essence of the dream of peace between Israel and Jordan, which will become in the coming days, we all believe and hope, a full peace treaty,” he said. “We no longer have a doubt in our hearts that the Arab peoples are joining us on the path to peace.”
No members of Likud voted against the declaration, although two abstained.
“In contrast to the impression that the government tries to create--that there is among the people a camp of supporters of peace and a camp of enemies of peace--the reality is the reverse, and we’re proving that here today,” said Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in his Knesset speech endorsing the Washington declaration.
Netanyahu said Likud still opposes the agreement between Israel and the PLO that allows the Palestinians to build a self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, starting with Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho.
He said Likud’s differences with the government over its efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict remain so deep that there is no chance Likud will join Rabin’s Labor Party and its leftist allies to form a broad-based government, as some Israeli pundits have urged.
“With such deep disagreements, there is no possibility of our joining this government,” Netanyahu said, addressing Rabin directly from the Knesset podium.
But Netanyahu’s party is in the grips of an internal wrangle about how best to respond to the government’s growing success in negotiating with Arab states and the Palestinians.
The Washington declaration triggered a fresh round of internal bickering in Likud, because the notion of making peace with Jordan wins such wide support here. The agreement with the PLO was initially easy for Likud to reject--because Likud still regards the organization as terrorist, and because the agreement may ultimately require Israel to relinquish territory in final negotiations on the future of the West Bank and Gaza.
But Likud predictions that Palestinian self-government would quickly prove unworkable and that the PLO would prove an unreliable partner have yet to come true.
Israel now is engaged in intensive discussions with the PLO on expanding self-government beyond Jericho to the rest of the West Bank. Israeli and PLO negotiators are also working out economic projects, and the Israeli army has said it is working well with Palestinian police in maintaining security.
Earlier this week, Moshe Katsav, head of Likud’s Knesset faction, publicly urged the party to accept the agreement with the PLO and consider joining a national unity government. He was immediately denounced by party hard-liners, including former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
In an interview Tuesday on Israel Radio, Sharon--who has said he will run for prime minister in 1996--accused Likud leaders of losing their heads and said the party has lost its way.
Debate continues to rage within the party about how to deal with the reality of Israel’s neighbors, one by one, offering peace in exchange for territorial concessions.
In recent days, Rabin has hinted that this may even include Syria--the Arab state that has insisted on a full Israeli withdrawal from land captured from Syria in the 1967 war.
Christopher is due back here Saturday night on yet another round of shuttle diplomacy between Damascus and Jerusalem.
Israeli newspapers are reporting that Syrian President Hafez Assad has accepted in principle the notion of a phased peace with Israel in return for a phased Israeli withdrawal from the Golan.
But Assad apparently has yet to spell out his vision of relations with Israel. The Israelis insist they will never withdraw totally from the Golan for anything less than full peace--open borders, trade relations and restrictions on deployment of armed forces on both sides.