TEL AVIV (Aug. 4)
In a dramatic step toward implementing the Washington Declaration signed last week by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordan’s King Hussein, Israelis and Jordanians this week began tearing down a stretch of fence that has separated their countries for decades.
After getting a signal from generals on either side of the border, the two teams of workers used tractors and wire cutters Wednesday to break through a barbed wire fence and open a border crossing some two miles north of Eilat and the nearby Jordanian resort of Aqaba.
The new crossing between the countries comes as a result of the Washington Declaration, which officially ended 46 years of conflict. The agreement, in part, called for the opening of borders to third-country tourists traveling between Israel and Jordan.
Stations for passport- and customs-control will be built on either side of the breach in the 40-year-old fence. A new stretch of road will also be constructed to link the two countries with already existing roads.
In another sign of the changed relationship between the two countries, King Hussein flew in his private plane over Israel late Tuesday. He passed once over Tel Aviv and then twice over Jerusalem as he made his way home from London to Amman.
Three Israeli air force F-15s escorted the royal aircraft as it passed over Israeli air space, which at the time was closed to all other aircraft.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke to Hussein by phone as the king passed over Tel Aviv, which he described as a “beautiful city.”
A WALL-TO-WALL SHOW OF SUPPORT
During their phone conversation, Rabin informed Hussein that the Knessef had given the Washington Declaration an almost wall-to-wall show of support.
With President Ezer Weizman in attendance for same of the debate, 91 of the 96 Knesset members present voted for the government’s motion. There were only three opposing votes, and two abstained.
Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the opposition Likud, said his party was not giving Rabin “a blank check” with its votes of approval for the declaration. He voiced concern over a provision in the declaration about Jerusalem and said the Likud would remain vigilant for Israel’s interests.
In a speech before the Knesset members voted, the prime minister dismissed the controversy surrounding the Jerusalem provision as “a fuss about nothing.”
Rabin solemnly reiterated his government’s commitment to keeping Jerusalem as Israel’s sovereign capital. This was sufficient to persuade almost all the opposition parties to join with the government in a rare moment of unity when the vote was taken.