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MAKING A NEW MIDDLE EAST : Dreams of Peace Become Reality for Mayor of West Bank Suburb


DANA POINT — Issa Ibraghith never lost faith that there would be peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Even on days when his West Bank town was bloody with the violence, he always held out hope that someday the two warring peoples would lay down their weapons.

On Monday, watching a television screen in Orange County, he saw his wish come true as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shook hands after the signing of a historic peace treaty bringing self-rule to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"It's an essential start. It's very important and it's definitely going to be for the good," said Ibraghith, 83, mayor of Bait-Ommer, a suburb of the West Bank city of Hebron. "I hope this will be a permanent, just and lasting peace."

Ibraghith, a fruit farmer who has been mayor of Bait-Ommer for 18 years, has been in town for two months visiting his sons, Ahmad and Sam, who own the Rib Joint Roadhouse restaurant in Dana Point. The three watched the signing ceremony on television Monday morning, then celebrated afterward over breakfast.

Ahmad Ibraghith, 43, who was born on the West Bank but has lived in the United States since 1970, said most of his friends from the West Bank are excited and optimistic about the peace accord. A minority, he said, feel the peace won't last.

In an interview translated from Arabic into English by his son Ahmad, the elder Ibraghith said there were many days during the worst of the intifada, or Arab uprising, when Bait-Ommer was the scene of violence. On one particular day, he recalled, four young Palestinian men from Bait-Ommer were slain by the Israeli army.

"It was like a war," he said.

Still, Ibraghith said, he always believed there would be peace. But he said he is surprised that it happened so quickly, with so little warning.

Now, he said, he wants to see both sides stick to the bargain. He left open the possibility that Israel could renege if its leadership changes, but said he felt that was very unlikely.

Ibraghith plans to return home Wednesday.

"I am very excited to go home," he said. "I am optimistic about the peace and I want to go home and be a part of it."

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