Israel, PLO sign peace agreement in Washington Accord may lead to comprehensive peace in Mideast


September 14, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders overcame a century of hatred and bloodshed yesterday to unite behind a vision of peace on land sacred to both.

Two old warriors, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, used the White House signing of an interim accord between their peoples to say it was time, finally, to "give peace a chance."

"Enough of blood and tears. Enough," Mr. Rabin exclaimed in a raspy voice that evoked decades of suffering.

Mr. Arafat, who had led an armed campaign to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, said "the land of peace yearns for a just and comprehensive peace."

With symbolic handshakes and muted nationalist rhetoric, the simple, graceful South Lawn ceremony, televised worldwide, marked a clear turning point in the bloody history of Israelis and Palestinians and a major step toward a comprehensive settlement of the conflict between the Jewish state and its neighbors.

President Clinton called it an occasion of "history and hope." Among the psychological breakthroughs toward reconciliation was a line of Arab ambassadors shaking hands with Israel's prime minister and foreign minister.

"That is a first in the history of the Middle East conflict," a senior Clinton aide said.

With Mr. Clinton between them, the leaders looked on as Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas of the PLO signed a declaration of principles on interim Palestinian self-government. It calls for withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from much of the Gaza Strip and from Jericho on the West Bank and for the establishment of Palestinian authority there.

The pact also calls for a phased Israeli withdrawal from elsewhere in the West Bank, although Israel will retain the power to protect its citizens and external security.

It represents the first major step in ending a 100-year struggle between Jews and Arabs over the small strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River that includes Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Facilitated by Norway and negotiated in secrecy between Israel and an organization it earlier vowed never to recognize, the agreement is the first to emerge from the 22-month peace process launched in Madrid in late 1991. A late change before the signing made clear that the agreement was between Israel and the PLO, not just a "Palestinian team."

Pact with Jordan expected

Today, Israel and Jordan are expected to announce a detailed agenda for future negotiations over security, arms control, water, refugees and borders.

Jordan had waited to announce the agenda, nearly complete months ago, until a Palestinian accord had been reached.

A skeptical bystander to the Israeli-PLO breakthrough, the United States signaled as host of yesterday's ceremony that it will assume a leading role in seeing that the pact is implemented and supported financially by the world's wealthy nations.

"This Israeli-Palestinian agreement cannot be permitted to fail," Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said.

After the signing, Mr. Clinton grabbed Mr. Arafat for an unscheduled five-to-10-minute meeting in the White House map room, urging him to move quickly on putting the accord into effect.

The president later relayed a brief dialogue between Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat, according to NBC News:

L Mr. Rabin: "You know we're going to have to work very hard."

Mr. Arafat: "I know, and I'm prepared to do my part."

Indeed, the economic and political challenges ahead were clearly evident during yesterday's ceremony, overshadowing the political risks required to come this far and the long-term promise peace could bring.

A final agreement will have to tackle the burning issues of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, refugees and whether Palestinians will be able to call their homeland a state.

The pact has come under attack by some Israelis and Arabs, with Israel's leaders accused of selling out their country's security and the PLO of abandoning cherished aspirations.

"The difficult decision we reached together was one that required great and exceptional courage," Mr. Arafat said to applause. "We will need more courage and determination to continue the course of building coexistence and peace between us."

There was no pretense of a sudden friendship between two leaders who had spent years trying to destroy what each represented. Neither Mr. Rabin nor Mr. Arafat addressed the other by name in opening his remarks.

The prime minister, who has grimly noted that peace is made with enemies, never smiled during the ceremony. And he made it clear he would neither forget nor totally forgive.

'Grieving land'

He said he had come from "an anguished and grieving land" that has not known a single month in which mothers have not wept for their sons, and he paid tribute to Israelis who had "sacrificed their lives for our own."

But both leaders expressed the hope of reconciliation between their peoples and acknowledged each other as essential partners in the effort.

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