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Across Land and Sea: History Marches from Israel to Jordan and Back Again

This week marked a series of firsts in Israeli-Jordanian relations.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Jordanian Crown Prince Hassan, the brother of King Hussein, cut a white ribbon to inaugurate the first border crossing between the two countries.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, Rabin set another precedent by becoming the first Israeli prime minister to publicly set foot on Jordanian soil.

The historic events came exactly two weeks after Rabin and King Hussein signed the Washington Declaration, officially ending 46 years of Israeli-Jordanian hostilities.

The July 25 declaration made the border crossing and other advances in Israeli-Jordanian relations possible.

Though Hussein was absent from Monday’s ceremonies, the king later hosted Rabin and other Israeli leaders at a lunch at his winter palace on the Aqaba seashore.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was in the Middle East this week in an attempt to advance the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations, shared the rostrum with Rabin and Hassan during the border-opening ceremonies.

About 1,000 Israelis and Jordanians witnessed the historic event, which took place some two miles north of Eilat.

Among those present at the ceremonies were Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, former Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Judge Meir Shamgar, the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

In a brief address, Rabin said it was significant that the spot chosen for the crossing point had been a minefield until two days earlier, when the reminders of the 46-year-long official state of war between Israel and Jordan were hastily cleared away.

‘WE CANNOT WAIT EVEN ONE DAY MORE’

“Friends say to us, ‘The pace of events is too fast. We cannot keep up. Wait a moment,’ ” he told the gathering, which, along with government officials and reporters, included Israeli and Jordanian war veterans.

Addressing Hassan, Rabin then added, “Your Royal Highness, our friends in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, we have waited 46 years. We have gone through war, pain and suffering. To prevent further loss and so on, we cannot wait even one day more.”

Hassan, who quoted the Bible in Hebrew during his speech, reiterated a biblical injunction to “turn the valley of troubles into a gate of hope.”

For now, only foreign tourists and Israelis with foreign passports will be able to use the newly opened crossing to travel between the two countries. Israeli and Jordanian citizens will have to wait for a formal peace treaty before being allowed free travel between the two countries.

After the lunch hosted by the Jordanian king, Hussein and Rabin held a joint news conference at which they said plans were under way for a meeting of Israeli, Jordanian and Egyptian officials that would deal with advancing the regional peace process.

Hussein said he had received several invitations to visit Israel, but had not yet decided on a date for the trip.

One invitation to visit Jerusalem was presented to Hussein the day before, when President Ezer Weizman inaugurated the first direct phone links between Israel and Jordan with a call to the Jordanian king.

During the call, Weizman greeted the king in Arabic, adding, “You have an open invitation to Jerusalem. (Let us know) within two hours of takeoff time, any time.”

After the lunch, Hussein took Rabin and his other guests on a short cruise across the Gulf of Aqaba on his royal yacht, named “Haya,” the Arabic word for life.

Hussein set another history-making first when his yacht, accompanied by a flotilla of Israeli navy and pleasure boats, entered Israeli waters.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly began transferring about 140 million cubic feet of water from the Yarmuk River to Jordan this week. The gift, valued at some $700,000, represents about 1 percent of Jordan’s annual water usage.

The transfer, made at Rabin’s request, to serve as a gesture to Hussein, was aimed at temporarily easing Jordan’s severe water shortages.

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