This Week in History: Peace on the Eastern border

Controversially, the 'Washington Declaration' safeguarded Jordanian control over the Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem.

King Hussein, Yitzak Rabin share a ciggie 370 (photo credit: GPO)
King Hussein, Yitzak Rabin share a ciggie 370
(photo credit: GPO)
On July 25, 1994, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan, in the presence of US President Bill Clinton, signed the Washington Declaration, formally ending the 46-year-old state of war between Israel and her eastern neighbor.
Although the declaration marked the first public meeting between the two leaders, bilateral talks had begun almost three years earlier, emanating from the Madrid Conference of 1991. In fact, quasi-normal relations had begun as early as the 1970s.
These clandestine relations were unbeknown to the Jordanian public, although informed Israelis had heard of meetings between leaders. For the Israelis, this preparedness, combined with the thought of peace without having to concede land, awarded both public and political approval for a solution to be found between the two countries.
The Jordanians, however, were kept in the dark. While the nation cheered for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, its king was protecting Israel through its eastern frontier with Iraq.
It was the Madrid Conference and the possibility of peace with the Palestinians that allowed Jordan to come out of its princely closet. However, the Hashemite Kingdom did not wish to move ahead with talks with the Israelis before the Palestinians, seeking not to antagonize their large Palestinian population. Thus they baited their time with their own talks, seeing themselves instead as ideal mediators, even forming a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to represent Palestinians at the Oslo Accords (at Israel’s request.)
As Jordan’s king proclaimed at the 14 September 1993 ceremony: “In fact, we had a Jordanian-Israeli agenda worked out but we held back until the Palestinians moved.”
By that time King Hussein had already laid the foundations, both publicly and politically, for a peace agreement with Israel, and waited for the onslaught of the peace process with the Palestinians before formally announcing the declaration on the lawns of the White House.
The declaration itself committed Jordan and Israel to aim at the “achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Arab states and the Palestinians, with Israel.”
It also mandated a number of practical steps such as the establishment of direct telephone links between Jordan and Israel, the opening of two new border crossings between the two countries, linking of the Jordanian and Israeli power grids and police cooperation in combating crime. More controversially, the document also safeguarded Jordanian control over the Muslim Holy Sites of Jerusalem.
It promised that Israel would give “high priority” to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines. According to PLO officials, Yasser Arafat was infuriated by the declaration, viewing it as a step towards restoring Jordanian authority to the whole West Bank. For the Palestinians, the Jordanian claim to Jerusalem undermined Palestinians claims of sovereignty over the holy city.
The words of the resolution on Jerusalem did not only have religious and political consequences, but also made dramatic – and recent - changes to the city itself.
In 2006, the Hashemite Kingdom announced plans to construct a fifth minaret on the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. It is to be the highest of the minarets on the Mount, and the first to be built in over 600 years, according to Dr. Raief Najim, vice chairman of the committee running the project. The declaration's unpopularity was not necessarily initially echoed in the Jordanian public arena, as the benefits of increased tourism and economic gain were rife with promise.
However, basic support for the treaty lasted for about a year and a half, after which it came to dawn that attitudes on either side remained unchanged.
The signing of the Washington Declaration paved the way for Jordan and Israel to reach agreement on their Treaty of Peace, which they signed on October 26, 1994.