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Peace and the Flow of Water : Israel, Jordan prepare for an era of cooperation

October 18, 1994

Quietly, with visionary determination, the leaders of Israel and Jordan have led their countries into a new era. After 46 years of hostility, peace between Jordan and Israel is at hand.

On July 25, King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a nonbelligerency pact at the White House, a vital first step toward normalizing their relations. Now, in Amman, they and their top advisers have resolved the last of the outstanding issues between them and a draft peace treaty has followed.

Small territorial adjustments along their lengthy border are to be made and agreement has been reached to launch new water projects on the Yarmouk River with the aim of increasing the volume of water going to Jordan. The two countries share a landscape where water is as important to national survival as armies. The agreement to share the resources of the Yarmouk, which borders Israel, Jordan and Syria, addresses an issue that has always defied resolution. Beyond its practical value, it symbolically seals plans for peaceful cooperation between the two countries in coming decades.

Almost certainly this would have been impossible if Jordan had not earlier cut itself free from the political burden of the West Bank. Its unilateral incorporation of that territory in 1950 was an assertion of legal ties over a land--and a people--whose separateness and independence had been intended by the United Nations when it approved the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The subsequent failed Arab war to wipe out Israel left Jordan in control of the West Bank and Egypt in control of Gaza, none of whose inhabitants had any say in the matter.

Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 War. Six years ago, King Hussein announced that Jordan's claim over the West Bank--which had never been recognized internationally--was dissolved. The wisdom of that decision has been validated. Now it's up to the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel on their own behalf over territory and sovereignty, as Egypt did earlier and as Syria has been invited to do. Had the old Arab insistence on unanimity and a "comprehensive" approach to Middle East peace prevailed, clearly none of this would be possible.

President Clinton, who is expected to attend next week's formal signing of the Israel-Jordan agreement, has rightly hailed it as evidence that "moderation and reason are prevailing." No third country has worked harder over the decades than the United States in behalf of this result. No third country can feel more grateful for what is being achieved.

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