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Israelis, PLO Officialy End Three Decades of Conflict

By Doug Struk
The Baltimore Sun

JERUSALEM

Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization Thursday formally ended three decades of bitter conflict, and set the Middle East on a hopeful course for peace.

They agreed to mutual recognition, and pledged an end to the hostilities that led to five wars, made enemies of neighbors and left thousands dead. The movement toward reconciliation between the two sides was unthinkable only months ago.

The events of the last several weeks are "inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability," PLO chairman Yasser Arafat declared in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Letters whisked by a Norwegian diplomat from Paris to Tunis were to be signed Friday by two old and suspicious foes who spent the better part of their lives trying to destroy each other.

Rabin, who once ordered soldiers to break the bones of Palestinians and had declared "The PLO without terrorism is not the PLO," acknowledged Thursday he had been forced to change his mind.

"I have reached the conclusion that there is no other Palestinian partner than the PLO," he said. "You don't make peace with friends. You make peace with very unsympathetic enemies."

The letters, which were released Thursday night, end an era in which both sides refused to admit the legitimacy of the other. The PLO, long committed to elimination of the Jewish state, formally recognized the right of Israel to exist "in peace and security."

Israel, for the first time, recognized the Palestinians as a national people with political rights, and the PLO as "the representative of the Palestinian people."

The PLO also said it "renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence" and promises to control PLO members "to assure their compliance ... and discipline violators."

Israel considers that a declaration of the end of the "intifada," six years of turbulent confrontation in which Israelis killed 1,100 Palestinians, and Palestinians killed 150 Israelis.

"With the signing of the documents, an appeal will be made to all inhabitants of the territories that they refrain from all acts of violence against Israelis," said Israel's police minister, Moshe Shahal. "The Palestinians will have to deal with this issue. They will do it with their own police force, their own public."

The exchange of letters Thursday was the first in a line of diplomatic steps that could lead to the rarest of events here: peace.

The United States announced Thursday that after the letters are signed, it will resume formal discussions with the PLO, broken off in 1990.

A second agreement may be signed Monday to turn over Jericho and the Gaza Strip, areas occupied by Israel since 1967, to Palestinians. It also would start a five-year process to give autonomy over their homeland to 2 million Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It also may clear the way for Israeli agreements with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, and eventually for diplomatic recognition by other Arab nations.

The Israeli letter was to be signed in Jerusalem Friday morning at a 9 a.m. ceremony (3 a.m. EST). The Israeli Cabinet approved the documents and gave Rabin authority to sign them Thursday. In Tunis, the executive committee of the PLO debated long into the night before agreeing to permit Arafat's signatures on the letters.

In the letters, the PLO said the provisions of its covenant "which deny Israel's right to exist ... are now inoperative." It promised to convene the full Palestinian National Council for "formal approval" of the changes -- a requirement of the charter.

Israeli officials hoped to complete the signing Thursday night, but time ran out on the globe-trotting efforts of Norwegian Foreign Minister Johan Jorgen Holst.

The Norwegian diplomat, who hosted secret negotiations in Oslo leading to the breakthrough, oversaw agreement on the final details at the Bristol Hotel in Paris Thursday morning before jetting to Tunis, intending to proceed later to Tel Aviv.

But the PLO executive committee did not finish its deliberations until nearly midnight, finally giving Arafat the authority to sign the documents. Holst was reported to be en route early Friday morning to Israel with the papers.