Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Peace proclaimed; much work ahead

In a moving and dignified ceremony Wednesday, Jordan and Israel put 46 years of war behind them and opened a new era of peace.

President Clinton was on hand to witness the signing of a treaty that makes Jordan only the second Arab state _ Egypt was the first _ to make peace with Israel.

The treaty was signed with almost religious solemnity on a desert minefield that had separated the two nations. Verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book, and from the Torah, the Jewish scripture, set the tone. The biblical mountains of Moab provided a striking backdrop to the Israeli, Jordanian and American flags flapping in a brisk desert breeze.

It was a day of remembering the pain of war, and looking forward to the contentment of peace. The ceremony began with a moment of silence for all of the fallen in Arab-Israeli wars. Two little girls, one Israeli and one Jordanian, whose grandfathers had died in the 1967 war, presented the leaders of Jordan and Israel with flowers.

It was a poignant scene of hope, and it belied the tremendous work that still awaits in building a lasting peace in the region. Shortly before the treaty was signed, Iran-backed guerrillas fired rockets into northern Israel to protest the accord. And in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian militants burned Jordanian and Israeli flags and decried Jordan's King Hussein.

But the words and spirit of the Jordanian and Israeli leaders were resolute on this historic day.

"No more death, no more misery, no more suspicion, no more fear," King Hussein told the 5,000 assembled dignitaries. "This is peace with dignity, this is peace with commitment, this is our gift to our peoples and the generations to come."

Future generations were also on the mind of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"As dawn broke this morning and a new day began," Rabin told the crowd, "new life came into the world _ babies were born in Jerusalem, babies were born in Amman. . . . The peace that was born today gives us all the hope that the children born today will never know war between us _ and their mothers will know no sorrow."

Rabin, who led Israel's army as chief of staff during the 1967 Middle East war, also had a personal message for his former enemy, King Hussein.

"It is not only our states that are making peace with each other today," Rabin said. "You and I, Your Majesty, are making peace here, our own peace, the peace of soldiers and the peace of friends."

President Clinton, clearly moved by the words of Hussein and Rabin, called on Israelis and Jordanians to turn treaty language into genuine social, economic and political relationships between the two countries.

"I say to the people of Israel and Jordan, now you must make this peace real," Clinton said. "To turn no man's land into everyman's home; to take down the barbed wire; to remove the deadly mines; to help the wounds of war to heal; open your borders; open your hearts."

Clinton, in one form or another, will make a comparable appeal to Syria's President Hafez Assad, whom he meets today in Damascus. Buoyed by the Jordanian-Israeli peace accord, Clinton hopes to give a serious boost to Israel's talks with Syria, a more bitter enemy of the Jewish state than was Jordan.

In Eilat, Israel, just two miles south of Wednesday's signing ceremony, Israelis seemed eager to heed Clinton's call to make the peace last. For 46 years, the citizens of Eilat have looked across the bay to the twinkling lights of Aqaba, wondering about their Jordanian neighbors. Starting next month, they will be able to meet them in person.

"It's like a dream come true and I know they're very nice on the other side," said Michal Zohar, 19. "I can't wait to go there."

Israel already has a peace treaty with Egypt, but many Israelis say it is a "cold peace" without the visits back and forth they would like to see. Many Israelis say they doubt that Jordanians will flock to Israel, but say it will take time.

Not everyone is enthusiastic.

"We're not used to living together," said Jacqueline Eisenshare, a jewelry store owner. "I think it will take a long time."

Her feeling was echoed by several Jordanians at the ceremony.

"It's a little strange for me," said one who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm not used to hearing Hebrew around me."

Security was extremely tight at the ceremony, held in a makeshift arena on a newly paved patch of the old minefield. The site was surrounded by barbed wire and everyone entering was thoroughly searched.

The Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement had threatened to disrupt the ceremony. Hamas had taken responsibility for three attacks in the past few weeks, the most striking the suicide bomb attack that killed 22 people in Tel Aviv a week ago. Hamas also had kidnapped an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Nahshon Waxman, and killed him during a failed Israeli rescue raid.

One of the guests at the ceremony was the soldier's father, his face unshaven as a traditional sign of Jewish mourning.

"It's a day of celebration for all of us," Yehuda Waxman said. "We must reach lasting peace and prosperity in the entire region."

And in what Israelis saw as an unprecedented sign of goodwill, Arab foreign ministers from several states that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, including Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Algeria, attended the ceremony.

"Welcome to the club," said Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.