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Behind the Headlines: Israelis Wax Hopeful, Not Euphoric, over Signing of Israel-jordan Accord

Pleased as they are by the prospects of peace with Jordan, Israelis didn’t miss a beat on Monday as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein signed a declaration of non-belligerency.

At 5 p.m. Israel time, when the proceedings in Washington were broadcast live, most people appeared to be immersed in routine activities.

The usual crowds packed the cafes around town, and most shops and supermarkets were full of shoppers. Judging from the gridlock on the roads, few drivers had rushed home to catch the television news.

Asked why she wasn’t at home watching the ceremony on televison, one woman replied, “I think the meeting is great, but it’s not as if Rabin and Hussein have signed a peace treaty.

“It’s no secret that Israel and Jordan have been negotiating for years, and most of us assumed that Jordan would eventually want to make peace. I’ll stay home when a real peace treaty is signed,” she said.

While most Israelis contented themselves with watching a replay on the evening news, people here are far from indifferent to ties with Jordan.

Uncertain that Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat can deliver the peace he has promised, Israelis are particularly eager to strike a deal with Hussein — someone they feel they can trust.

In the days preceding the historic meeting, Israel’s dailies devoted a great deal of coverage to the king and his relations with Israel over the years. Both right-and-left-wing papers set an optimistic tone, endorsing continued negotiations with Jordan.

VAST MAJORITY OF ISRAELIS OPTIMISTIC

According to the latest opinion polls, the vast majority of Israelis are equally optimistic. Last Friday, the weekly paper Shishi reported that 73 percent of Israelis are “happy” with recent peace developments with Jordan. Of those polled by the Shelach public opinion research firm, 22 said they were unhappy with the talk, and 5 percent did not answer.

Optimism was also apparent in a Gallup poll published by the Hebrew daily Ma’ariv last week. Twenty-two percent said that there is a “very high chance” that Isarel and Jordan will sign a peace treaty by the end of 1994. Another 32 percent said there was a “high chance,” while 25 percent said there “was some chance.”

Random interviews with Jerusalemites reflected this upbeat tone. Sophie Rein, 18, said, “Jordan has no interest in being in a state of war with Israel. It knows that it has a lot to lose in a war, especially water from the Jordan River.”

Six months away from her induction into the army, Rein added, “Peace will give Israel security, something we really need.”

Then, turning her attention to the ancient Nabatean city located in southern Jordan that many young Israelis have risked their lives to visit over the years, she added, “And if there is a peace treaty, I’ll be able to visit Petra.”

Dani Kreiner, 25, also said he would like to visit Petra, but stressed that his desire for peace was rooted in more serious concerns.

The owner of a kiosk near the city center, Kreiner said, “We need peace. All this time, we have been fighting, fighting for 100 years. It’s enough.”

He asserted that “the time is right to make peace with Jordan. The world is changing. First we saw the end of apartheid in South Africa, and then we signed an agreement with the Palestinians. Peace with Jordan is an extension of the overall peace process.”

Asked whether it is also time to forge ahead with Syria, Kreiner replied, “I believe more in Jordan than in Syria. Syria is more dangerous. It has a strong army, and (President Hafez) Assad as its leader. It may be too soon to attempt peace with Syria.”

Victor Hoffman, an American-born rabbi who has lived in Israel for many years, theorized that peace with Jordan would not be possible without consent from Syria.

“Assad seems not to be opposing the fact that Jordan is moving beyond Syria (in the peace process). That gives the negotiations with Jordan all the more chance of succeeding.”

‘PROBABLY WANTED TO MAKE PEACE A LONG TIME’

Assuming that the negotiations with Jordan continue at the same pace, Hoffman said, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty by the end of the year. Hussein has walked a tightrope for many years. He has probably wanted to make peace for a long time.”

As hopeful as she is about peace with Jordan, Ilanit Weizman, 23, foresees a long, tough road ahead. “It will be hard, but there will be peace,” she said. “The problem is, not everyone wants peace. When it comes time to give back territory to Jordan, some Israelis won’t want to.”

Weizman does not expect a treaty to be signed anytime soon. “A treaty by December? No way! I consider myself left-wing, but I can’t say I support everything the government does. There are too many problems.

“Look at the bombing in Argentina,” she said. “I can’t support Rabin with a full heart when we are still at war, both in Israel and outside. If this were a peace treaty only on paper, it would be easy.”

Many Arabs in Israel and the territories also have qualms about an Israeli treaty with Jordan.

When asked their opinions on the new peace track, a group of Arab fruit vendors admitted some ambivalence. All said they wanted peace, but most said peace between Israel and Jordan could hurt their chance for a state.

“A treaty is good for Israel and Jordan, but it may not be good for the Palestinians,” said one man who, like others, would not give his name.

“If Jordan and Israel make peace, Hussein will insist that the Palestinians join forces with Jordan. Where does that leave Arafat and our right to an independent state?” he asked.

“Hussein is afraid of the Palestinians,” said a Palestinian worker. “We make up 75 percent of Jordan, and Hussein is worried that a strong Palestine could overtake Jordan. That’s nonsense. All we’re looking for is peace in our homeland.”

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