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Jordan and Israel Report Major Breakthrough on Road to Peace

A broad agreement between Israel and Jordan signed here Tuesday is being hailed widely as a giant step toward normalizing relations between the two states.

Two days of intense discussions here Monday and Tuesday signaled a major policy shift for Jordan, which had been reluctant to pursue bilateral talks with Israel without simultaneous negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanon tracts.

The talks also marked the first time Arab negotiators held official meetings with Israelis since the Feb. 25 Hebron massacre.

“We believe this session has been an important juncture in our pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” Jordanian Ambassador Fayiz Tarwana said at a news conference here Tuesday.

“The accomplishment of this session has surpassed expectations,” he said.

Israeli chief negotiator Eli Rubinstein said of the talks: “We are glad that yet another step in the road for peace has been taken.

“It’s a long road,” he said, adding, “It’s still a long road because all the topics that have been discussed here need deliberation, negotiation and finalization.”

“This is not a dramatic step,” Rubinstein continued. “It’s a fruit of a long, arduous effort by both sides. The achievements this time were beyond the ‘normal expectations.'”

The officials met for two days here for a series of informal talks under a trilateral economic commission, created last October, which included a U.S. delegation.

TO DELINEATE BORDERS. TALK ABOUT ECONOMICS

Among the most significant breakthroughs, Israel agreed to delineate borders with Jordan and the parties decided to meet to outline the future of economic relations between the two countries.

For the first time, the officials announced, the two sides decided to move the talks to Israel and Jordan, where beginning next month, officials will work toward a full peace treaty.

Unlike previous agreements with Jordan, this one appears to have inspired confidence among some observers that this one will end the Israeli joke that agreements with Jordan are like holograms: you think they are there but when you go to touch it, there is really nothing.

Last September, for instance, Israel and Jordan signed a much-touted agreement that provided the framework for a future peace treaty. But little progress has been made in the past nine months.

Jordan and Israel were reportedly close to another agreement only weeks before the Hebron massacre in which 30 Muslim worshipers were killed by an Israeli settler.

Recently, however, Jordan’s King Hussein has found himself increasingly at odds with the Palestine Liberation Organization leadership since the signing of the Declaration of Principles with Israel in September.

According to Middle East experts, the competition between Jordan and the PLO for control over the infrastructure in the West Bank during Palestinian interim self-rule fueled the pace of talks between Jordan and Israel.

Hopes for a written agreement were bolstered last weekend when Jordan’s King Hussein said the country would “pay attention to its own interests,” according to an Associated Press report.

When they convene in Jordan and Israel in July, negotiators will break out into about half a dozen subgroups to hammer out agreements on economic matters, security, boundaries, water and the environment, according to the officials.

Negotiators also plan to discuss master plans for the Jordan Valley.

As the talks proceed in the region, negotiators also will begin discussing plans for a national park spanning the borders of Israel and Jordan, according to officials at the news conference.

Negotiators also agreed to construct a road linking Jordan, Egypt and Israel near Aqaba and Eilat.

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