Menu JTA Search

Ushering in a ‘new Era of Peace,’ Rabin and Hussein Look to the Future

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Moments after Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein signed a declaration ending the 46-year state of war between their two countries, the leaders stepped off the stage on the South Lawn of the White House to greet a handful of guests at the ceremony.

Indicative of the new era of peace, Rabin pulled Steve Grossman, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, close to his side and introduced Hussein to the Jewish lobby’s leader.

“In my wildest imagination I never imagined I, as president of AIPAC, would be introduced to the king of Jordan by the prime minister of Israel with the president of the United States wathching,” Grossman said later, still beaming from the encounter.

Although Monday’s White House ceremonies lacked the drama of the signing of the declaration of principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization 10 months ago, the public meeting was deemed a significant breakthrough by most Jewish leaders.

“This is a different kind of enthusiasm,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said after the White House ceremonies, echoing the sentiment expressed by many Jewish leaders in town for the ceremonies surrounding the summit.

“People were very moved, but this coming together is less dramatic and more substantive,” Hoenlein said.

Rabin and Hussein signed what they termed the “Washington Declaration,” pledging to settle all disputes peacefully.

Although what they signed was shy of a full peace treaty, both leader said full normalized relations are only months away.

The White House cremononies under a sweltering Washington sun-splashed summer day also lacked the careful choreography of the Rabin meeting with PLO Chairman Yasser Araffat at the same site last September.

THIS SUMMIT WAS EASY TO PREPARE

Senior White House officials had reportedly rehearsed the Rabin-Arafat handshake, carefully planning where the participants would stand, and giving the media the best possible vantage point for the historic moment.

In sharp contast this week, a White House aide scurried to lay name cards on the podium only minutes before President Clinton, Hussein and Rabin took the stage in a Rose Garden introduction ceremony.

The two leaders shook hands the moment they took to the stage in the Rose Garden. And Rabin, in his introductory remarks, said he anxiously awaits the day when greeting Hussein becomes so routine that “no one will want to take pictures of us shaking hands.”

The only minor glitch in the production came when Jordanian officials protested the plan to fly the Jordanian flag behind the Israeli flag, hoisted in alphabetical order, according to an official involved in planning the ceremony this week. Members of the Jordanian delegation reportedly reminded administration officials of the country’s official name, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

The order was reversed and a Marine band played the Jordanian national anthem before Israel’s Hatikvah.

The signed document strikes at the heart of what has proven to be one of the thorniest issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict: the question of Jerusalem.

The agreement affords Jordan “high priority” and pledges respect in maintainig Jordan’s “historic role” in administering Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

The declaration also guarantees Hussein a role in final-status negotiations for Israel’s capital scheduled to beging within two years from now.

Officials here have confirmed that Israeli negotiators insisted on adding the language concerning Jerusalem late last week following emotionally charged remarks by Arafat.

Arfat, with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher at his side at a news conference in Gaza, lambasted the Israeli government for inviting Hussein to pray in Jerusalem.

“They have no right to issue any invitations,” Arafat said. “It is my duty and my responsibility to invite my brothers and friends to come visit the holy Muslim and Christian sites, which are under Palestinian jurisdiction.”

‘THERE’S ANOTHER PLAYER’

Jordan has administered control of the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock through its Religious Affairs Ministry since Israel captured Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The agreement “puts the PLO on notice that there is another significant, serious player which didn’t exist before,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said during an interview at a reception sponsored by the Israeli Embassy after the signing ceremony.

Echoing the view of many Jews, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he supports Jordanian administration over Muslim holy sites “as long as it is crystal clear that Israel maintains sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem.”

Indeed, Rabin emphasized that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel in his speech to a joint session of Congress with Husein on Tuesday.

The session marked the first time any two foreign leaders have addressed Congress together.

During an emotional yet upbeat speech, Rabin repeated 10 times that he had come to Washington from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.

In an impassioned expression of thanks, Rabin turned to Hussein at one point and said: “Your Majesty, we have both seen a lot in our liftime. We have both seen too much suffering. What will you leave to your children? What I will leave to my grandchildren?

“I’ve only dreams to build a better world, a world of understanding and harmony, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much,” the prime minister said.

In his own emotional address launching what he termed a “new phase of peace,” Hussein also spoke of the great opportunities and challeges that lie ahead.

NEXT STORY