Israel, Jordan forge more ties, marking a year of peace

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JERUSALEM — As the date for an economic summit of Middle Eastern and North African leaders approaches, Israel and Jordan announced that they would present plans for joint projects at the meeting.

The plans were unveiled as the two countries prepared to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty on Oct. 26, 1994.

On Sunday, planes and helicopters from the two countries took to the skies together to mark the anniversary, flying from the Jewish state to the Hashemite kingdom.

In New York on Sunday, Jordan's King Hussein referred to the flyover during his remarks before a special U.N. session commemorating the world body's 50th anniversary.

While in New York, Hussein held talks with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, with whom he signed the peace treaty last year.

But beyond the symbolic display of friendship in the skies above their lands, Israel and Jordan unveiled projects to present at the economic summit that include development of the Jordan Rift Valley and other sites along the 400-mile Israeli-Jordanian border.

The economic summit, which will bring together Israeli, American and Arab officials in the Jordanian capital of Amman for meetings starting Sunday, follows up on a similar meeting held last year in Casablanca, Morocco.

One of the goals of the conference is to raise funds for joint regional projects.

On Oct. 19, Israeli and American officials said plans for the establishment of two banking institutions to develop the Middle East would be announced at the Amman summit.

One of the institutions, to be based in Cairo, would reportedly be created along the lines of the regional development bank that American officials have long sought.

The second institution would operate under the auspices of an economic working group established at Casablanca last year.

The Cairo-based bank was announced by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who traveled last week to Amman, where he held separate meetings with King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan to discuss the joint Israeli-Jordanian projects.

Peres and Hussein also discussed setting up an airport to serve the neighboring cities of Eilat and Aqaba, as well as the establishment of a free-trade zone in Israel, Jordan and Egypt, Israel Radio reported.

Peres was accompanied on the trip by Trade Minister Michael Harish, Tourism Minister Uzi Baram and Transportation Minister Yisrael Kessar.

After the ministers' meetings with the Jordanian leaders, Israeli officials announced that the two countries would sign agreements this week in the areas of police cooperation, trade and agriculture.

Police Minister Moshe Shahal and the Jordanian interior minister signed the police cooperation deal in a ceremony Tuesday at Beit Gabriel, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The trade agreement was to be signed Wednesday and the agriculture agreement was to be signed Thursday.

The agriculture accord would allow Israel to import annually from Jordan some 50,000 tons of fruits and vegetables, 30,000 sheep, 2,000 tons of cheese and 500 tons of olive oil.

A transportation agreement would make it possible for Israelis to drive into Jordan in private cars.

Bus lines will also operate between the two countries as a result of the accord.

In a related development, Jordan reportedly rejected a proposal to make its Aqaba port a joint harbor for tourism and trade with the neighboring Israeli resort of Eilat.

The Jordanian trade director was quoted as saying that the Jordanian port can operate alone and compete with any other facilities in the region.

The Amman summit is seen as significant because, like last year's Casablanca meeting, it confirms Israel's growing role in the world — and particularly the Middle East — economic arena.

It also reflects growing recognition of Israel by the Arab world.

Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip said last week that they would attend the Amman meeting, despite reported threats that they would boycott it.

The Palestinian Authority official in charge of economic issues, Ahmed Karia, said Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat would head the delegation to Amman.