WASHINGTON — With a few swift pen strokes Monday, the Middle East was remade.
Under brilliant sunshine on the South Lawn of the White House, representatives of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed a framework agreement for peace, and a beaming Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, clasped hands with Yitzhak Rabin, the dour Israeli prime minister who once led his country's armed forces in crushing victories over its Arab foes.
The dramatic tableau beneath the gleaming facade of the White House evoked hope for an end and a beginning--an end to one of history's most cruel conflicts and a beginning to one of its most difficult works of reconciliation.
"We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!" declared Rabin, the 71-year-old former general who barely allowed a single smile to cross his face during the emotion-laden, hourlong ceremony.
"The battle for peace," responded Arafat, wearing an olive dress uniform and his trademark black-and-white kaffiyeh, "is the most difficult battle of our lives. It deserves our utmost efforts because the land of peace, the land of peace yearns for a just and comprehensive peace."
Both sides recalled the generations of sorrow and bloodshed that preceded the historic ceremony and pledged to press forward with the diplomatic tasks that remain, calling upon the United States and other nations to aid in the process of turning the theoretical framework into concrete results for Israel and the Palestinians.
Witnessing the historic ceremony along with leaders of the Clinton Administration were former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III, Cyrus R. Vance, Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz and Edmund S. Muskie, and scores of others who had played central roles on the diplomatic road to the agreement.
President Clinton, whose role as host of the ceremony underscored how much both Israel and the PLO are counting on the United States for the next steps, called the signing "an extraordinary act in one of history's defining dramas."
Clinton repeatedly stressed that Monday's accord would not diminish the longstanding U.S. commitment to Israel's security. He pledged U.S. support for enforcing the agreement and marshaling the resources to make it work.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that the Administration will "spare no effort" in transforming the agreements on paper into reality on the ground.
"We will remain a full partner in the search for peace," Christopher said. "This Israeli-Palestinian agreement cannot be permitted to fail."
Russian Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, who served as an official witness to the signing because of Russia's role as co-sponsor of the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace talks, also promised his nation's support for the accord.
After Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and top PLO political adviser Mahmoud Abbas signed the Declaration of Principles setting out the terms of the Israeli-PLO accord, at 11:46 a.m. EDT Rabin reluctantly took Arafat's offered palm in a quick and firm shake.
Rabin then stepped to the microphone and gravely proclaimed that signing the accord is "not so easy."
"Neither for myself as a soldier in Israel's wars, nor for the people of Israel, nor for the Jewish people in the Diaspora who are watching us now with great hope mixed with apprehension," he said.
"It is certainly not easy for the families of the victims of the wars, violence, terror, whose pain will never heal, for the many thousands who defended our lives with their own and have even sacrificed their lives for our own. For them, this ceremony has come too late," Rabin said.
Turning to the Palestinians, Rabin added: "We have no desire for revenge; we harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people--people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, live side by side with you in dignity, in affinity, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance and saying to you, saying again to you, 'Enough.' Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say farewell to the arms," Rabin said.
As many in the audience swallowed tears, Rabin then quoted the famous passage from Ecclesiastes: " 'To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to love and time to hate, a time of war and a time of peace.'
"Ladies and gentlemen, the time for peace has come," Rabin concluded.
Arafat adjusted the drape of his kaffiyeh one last time and followed Rabin to the microphone.