Clinton in the Middle East

October 26, 1994

President Clinton will witness today the signing of Israel's peace agreement with Jordan, a pact that has annoyed the PLO and its chairman, Yasser Arafat, just as Israel's accord with the PLO irritated Jordan. This does not diminish the value to world peace of both agreements.

At issue in both pacts is the fate of Jerusalem, which will be visited tomorrow by Mr. Clinton. Jerusalem is not likely ever to be a closed book. It is an open subject that requires decent respect for contradictory opinion and claims.

So whatever else Israel's treaty with Jordan is, it is not as charged a manipulation by Israel at the PLO's expense. Israel has been accused of recognizing King Hussein of Jordan as the protector of Muslim holy places in the Old City in order to impede the PLO's claim to East Jerusalem as Palestine. Actually, Israel recognized Jordan's king in the role he has played, at considerable expense, since Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967. Not to have recognized his role would have been radical change, and would have prevented a treaty.

During 19 years as steward of East Jerusalem, Jordan's monarchs respected the Christian but not the Jewish holy places. Israel has a better record as guardian in respect to all three faiths, a major reason for Israel's insistence that Jerusalem must remain undivided.

Pope John Paul II represents the position of many Christians that the holy sites be governed by an international regime with a Christian component. In this era of peace-making he has wisely chosen to pursue his goal through recognition of Israel rather than nonrecognition.

The statement in the treaty of King Hussein's role does nothing to deny the claims of the PLO to secular authority, or of the Vatican to an international regime for the holy places, or of Israel to sovereignty over all Jerusalem.

In the longest run, creative proposals are going to reconcile the essentials of most if not all competing claims. But this will come last. It can only be approached with a goodwill that solutions to lesser problems will create. Meanwhile, Jordan and the PLO need good relations with each other as much as each needs good relations with Israel.

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