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Formal Recognition of PLO Signed by Rabin


JERUSALEM — Acknowledging a heavy personal burden of responsibility, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Friday formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization in a bold bid to resolve the prolonged and bitter conflict between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors.

Rabin's signature on a letter to PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, declaring that "the government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people," completed a historic exchange of documents between the leaders that raises hopes of bringing peace to the troubled region.

"It is only the beginning, but (it is) a tremendously important agreement," Rabin told reporters crowded into a small room in his office complex for the signing ceremony. "I am aware of the heavy responsibility that I am taking on myself as the prime minister of Israel."

The signing ceremony was carried live on television throughout much of the world.

The recognition followed receipt late Thursday of two Arafat letters that committed the PLO to renouncing violence and terrorism and to recognizing Israel's right to exist in peace and security. The letters were carried from Tunis, Tunisia, by Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst, whose role as a mediator has been acknowledged as crucial to achieving the agreement.

President Clinton is expected to preside over a ceremony Monday in Washington at which Palestinian and Israeli representatives will sign a so-called Declaration of Principles that lays the foundation for Palestinian self-rule in territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Despite the historic nature of the breakthrough, conservative forces in Israel oppose the plan to give Palestinians self-rule in parts of the occupied territories, viewing it as both the first step to a Palestinian state and a reckless gamble with national security.

Hundreds of Israelis continued a noisy protest outside Rabin's office during the signing ceremony. Small numbers of protesters have remained in the area since opponents staged their first mass demonstration against the accord there last Tuesday.

Benny Karzover, one of the organizers, said opponents will not engage in violence to block implementation of the accord but will launch a campaign of mass civil disobedience against it.

"If we get 30,000 people lying in the streets, no police force can clear them away and no government can stay in power under those conditions," he said.

The measured, sober tenor of Rabin's comments seemed to acknowledge the risks for Israel, involved as it is in an agreement that effectively launches it on an untried policy of giving up land won by war in the hope of winning a stable peace.

But noting the commitments contained in the Arafat letters, Rabin described the PLO as a changed organization.

"I see in this commitment on the part of the PLO a change, a dramatic change, that opens the road toward reconciliation and peace between the Palestinians and Israel," he said. "I believe it starts a new era."

At the same ceremony, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres referred to an agreement that would touch everyone.

"We know that this is not just a political accord. This is really something that relates to every family in our country--to the mother, father and to the children . . . and we understand the seriousness of it."

Peres also used the occasion to underscore the sincerity of Israel's desire to work with Palestinians. "We wish from the depths of our heart, to the Palestinian people, a different future," he said.

On Friday night, a large celebration broke out in Arab East Jerusalem, with several thousand Palestinians milling in the streets and throwing candy to long lines of cars, overloaded with passengers, that paraded by. Many waved Palestinian flags and sang patriotic songs.

With the western section of the city quiet because of the Jewish Sabbath, noise from the celebration echoed throughout the city.

But hard-line Palestinians vigorously expressed their opposition to Arafat's recognition of Israel, which they see as a sellout. Radical Palestinian groups based in Syria insisted that they will continue guerrilla attacks on Israelis in the occupied territories and even predicted civil war among Palestinians and assassination attempts on Arafat.

While PLO supporters of the agreement drove around honking horns, carrying Arafat photos and waving the Palestinian flag, opponents held a protest rally in the West Bank town of Jericho. Along with the Gaza Strip, Jericho will be the first Palestinian population center to be given self-government.

At Jericho's main mosque, mullahs denounced the accord during Friday prayers, and some of those who spilled into the streets afterward expressed skepticism.

"I believe in the PLO leadership, but I want to wait and see what happens," commented Ahmed Karraim, a known pro-PLO figure in the town. "People's rights are at stake here."

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