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Knesset Votes Overwhelmingly to Ratify Treaty with Jordan

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On the ever of the peace treaty signing ceremony between Israel and Jordan, the Knesset voted overwhelmingly to approve the accord.

Submitting the treaty to the Knesset on Tuesday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said it would reflect “a fundamental and substantive change in our very existence.”

The prime minister also voiced the hope that the treaty with Jordan will bring Israel closer to a comprehensive regional peace.

“We want to believe that the peace treaty with Jordan will push forward the treaty with Syria,” he said. “The agreement with the kingdom of Jordan, which comes after the agreement with Egypt and the agreement with the Palestinians, proves there is a point in patience, there is truth in a serious approach.”

Referring to the recent wave of terror attacks perpetrated by the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, including the Oct. 19 suicide bus bombing that claimed 23 lives, Rabin said there is no way to prevent terror attacks completely.

But, he added, “Peace will show the nations of the region that there is another way.”

The treaty was approved by the Knesset –after nine hours of debate and 95 speeches — by a vote of 105 in favor, three against and six abstentions.

Ariel Sharon, a Likud Knesset member and former minister of defense who had led the opposition’s support of the treaty, announced shortly before the vote that he could not support the treaty but would abstain instead.

ARAFAT CONDEMNS ACCORD

Joining him in the abstentions were four other Likud members and Hanan Porat of the National Religious Party.

All three members of the right-wing Moledet Party opposed the accord.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu supported the treaty, saying it was “the best accord of its kind.”

Addressing the Knesset before the vote was taken, Likud faction leader Moshe Katzav welcomed the peace with Jordan, but raised several reservations about the treaty.

He objected to the fact that the treaty does not obligate Jordan to outlaw Hamas. He also criticized Rabin for not including a statement asserting Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

A clause in the accord recognizes Jordan’s historic role as guardian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, and Katzav worried it might cast doubt over access to those shrines which have Jewish significance as well.

The clause regarding Jerusalem has elicited bitter condemnation from Palestine Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Addressing some thousands of cheering university students in Gaza City on Tuesday, he reaffirmed his stance that Jerusalem will be the capital of an eventual Palestinian state, adding that “Jerusalem is not for buying and selling” by Israeli and Jordanian negotiators.

Those who do not like” the PLO’s stance, Arafat said, “let them drink from the sea of Gaza.”

The clause regarding Jordanian stewardship over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has increased tensions between the PLO and Jordan that were sparked by a similar clause in the Washington Declaration signed by Israel and Jordan in July.

Over the weekend, for example, Palestinian demonstrators in Jerusalem burned the Jordanian flag and a picture of King Hussein.

But Hussein remained firm that his country would not yield control over the Jerusalem religious sites, leaving open the possibility of a re-evaluation of his stance only after the final status of the Palestinians had been determined in talks with Israel. Those negotiations are slated to begin by May 1996.

“When the Palestinian people regain their rights on their national soil, then we can discuss the matter,” Hussein said in a speech to army officers Monday. “As for now, we are not going to give up this trust for the unknown.”

Hamas leaders also condemned the treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Calling it a danger to the Arab world, Hamas warned in a statement that the treaty would lead to Israeli economic dominance over the region. The statement also criticized Jordan for ignoring the rights of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israeli security forces were continuing their crackdown on Hamas activists in the West Bank.

In Nablus, dozens of Hamas activists were detained, including local movement leaders. Troops also carried out searches in mosques.

Two senior Hamas members were also arrested in Bir Nabala, the village north of Jerusalem where Israeli soldier Nachshon Waxman was held by his captors after he was abducted on Oct. 9.

Waxman, his three Hamas abductors and Israeli commando Nir Poraz were all killed when Israeli soldiers attempted to rescue Waxman from a Bir Nabala safe house on Oct. 14.

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