Israelis, PLO sign historic pact at White House


WASHINGTON (AP)—In a breathtaking moment of hope and history, Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin exchanged handshakes of peace before a cheering White House audience Monday after the signing of a PLO-Israeli pact that once seemed unimaginable.

‘‘Enough of blood and tears. Enough,’‘ the gravelly voiced Rabin said with emotion. ‘‘We wish to open a new chapter in the sad book of our lives together, a chapter of mutual recognition, of good neighborliness, of mutual respect, of understanding.’‘

Arafat, wearing his trademark headdress draped in the shape of a map of Palestine, said the agreement should mark ‘‘the end of a chapter of pain and suffering which has lasted throughout this century.’‘

The two men, mortal enemies for a generation, watched from several feet apart as aides signed historic agreements that will bring Palestinian rule to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Then, drawn toward Rabin by President Clinton, a grinning Arafat extended his hand.

After a second’s hesitation, the prime minister reached out for a businesslike handshake. Rabin, who as an Israeli general captured the West Bank and Gaza, was stony faced.

Cheers of delight roared from the crowd of 3,000 people assembled on the sun-soaked South Lawn. Arafat and Rabin also shook hands at the end of the ceremony.

The audience included former Presidents Carter and Bush, both instrumental in moving peace talks ahead. There were eight former secretaries of state, the Cabinet, the Supreme Court and most members of Congress as well as diplomats and Arab and Jewish leaders in the United States.

Jihan Sadat, the widow of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, assassinated for making peace with Israel, also was present.

Clinton expressed regret later that Arafat, in his speech, had not reaffirmed commitments he’s made in writing to renounce terrorism and violence and to recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.

‘‘I think I would have loved the speech better had he done so,’‘ the president said in an interview on Israeli television.

The president said he told Arafat, in a 10-minute private meeting, that it was important for him to live up to his word.

Arafat and Rabin first came face to face in a meeting with Clinton before the ceremony. ‘‘They looked at each other really clearly in the eye for the first time and the prime minister said, ‘You know, we are going to have to work very hard to make this work.’ And Arafat said, ‘I know and I am prepared to do my part,’‘’ Clinton recalled.

Arafat, in a separate PBS television interview, was asked about the weekend slaying of Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories. ‘‘We have to expect this until the implementation’‘ of the peace accord, Arafat said.

Asked how difficult it would be to implement the agreement, Arafat replied: ‘‘Very difficult.’‘

Like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO is another dizzying event that had seemed impossible.

Yet, after months of secret negotiations, the PLO last week recognized the right of Israel to live in peace and renounced violence; Israel in turn recognized the PLO as the representative of Palestinians.

The fast-moving chain of events is expected to continue Tuesday with an announcement by Jordan and Israel at the State Department on a negotiating agenda that could lead to a peace treaty and diplomatic relations.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, meanwhile, said his country was ready for a withdrawal on the Golan Heights if it negotiated a peace pact with Syria. Yossi Beilin, was quoted in Tuesday editions of USA Today as saying Rabin’s regime ‘‘is the first Israeli government which is ready to withdraw’‘ from areas seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The success of the Israeli-PLO agreement depends on the international community providing billions of dollars to develop the economy of the West Bank and Gaza. Clinton made clear he expects other nations to provide the lion’s share.

The president pledged that the United States would try to nurture Monday’s agreement into a broader peace throughout the Middle East.

‘‘We know a difficult road lies ahead,’‘ Clinton said. ‘‘Every peace has its enemies, those who still prefer the easy habits of hatred to the hard labors of reconciliation.’‘

The agreement faces formidable opposition among Israelis who fear their government has gone too far, and among Palestinians who accuse Arafat of accepting a sellout that falls short of a full Palestinian state.

After the ceremony, the administration underscored its commitment to Israel’s security.

Martin Indyk, a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council staff, said the United States is discussing new aircraft sales to Israel. Israel hasn’t indicated what it wants, he said, but ‘‘There is no problem there.’‘

Returning from the South Lawn, Clinton and Arafat held an unscheduled meeting in the Map Room.

The president said he told Arafat the United States was prepared to take the lead in organizing financial backing and political support for Palestinian autonomy. However, Clinton said he also told Arafat, ‘‘It was imperative that he honor the commitments made to Israel’s security, to renouncing terrorism, to assuming responsibility within the areas of self-government and for maintaining law and order.’‘

As for the money that will be needed, Secretary of State Warren Christopher Japan would be ‘‘very helpful’‘ with contributions and that Nordic countries, the European Community and Gulf states also would assist.

Arafat remained in Washington to socialize and make the rounds of television talk shows. Rabin returned to Israel after attending a reception at the Israeli Embassy.

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