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Israelis Poised On New Jordan Border, Giving Neighbors Mixed Feelings With AM-US-Mideast, Bjt

August 8, 1994

EILAT, Israel (AP) _ As King Hussein’s yacht roared across the Gulf of Aqaba with senior Israeli and American leaders on board Monday, a flotilla lurched into the deep blue waters off this southern resort.

Israelis riding everything from jet skis to lumbering tour boats plowed through the wake of the yacht ″Haya,″ named after a Hussein daughter, waving Israeli and Jordanian flags or leaning on their horns.

It was the only spontaneous public outpouring amid the pomp surrounding the opening of the first border crossing between Israel and Jordan.

The crossing opens to the public Tuesday. But citizens of Israel and Jordan will not be allowed to use it until there is a formal peace treaty between their countries.

That dampened much Israeli enthusiasm, while Jordanians were still grappling with the mental leap needed to view Israelis as neighbors rather than enemies.

″The Jordanians had to cross more ground than us,″ said Abba Eban, an Israeli elder statesman and one of five dignitaries who attended the lunch at Hussein’s Aqaba palace after the ceremony. ″They didn’t accept our presence as legitimate. They’ve made a tremendous leap now.″

Israeli officials spoke hopefully of a prosperous era in which the nearby Red Sea coast, shared by Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would blossom into an unrivaled tourist mecca.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis with dual nationality and second passports are expected to pour across the border to visit the ancient cave city of Petra and other attractions.

The first group of 29 moved across the Allenby Bridge, the crossing from the occupied West Bank to Jordan, on Monday. Tour organizers said they were delayed for hours because the computer still identified Jordan as an enemy. Many in Eilat were unimpressed with changes to date.

″I don’t know what peace they’re talking about,″ said Shlomo Golan, a 42- year-old entertainer in an Eilat hotel. ″As long as I can’t use the crossing, the highflying words are a bit premature.″

Each new symbolic step gives Israelis a sense their lives are changing, a key factor in public support for the peace process. Government spokesman Uri Dromi said Israel wanted to make even incremental changes tangible.

″The psychological element is most important,″ he said.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher was on hand Monday, nodding approvingly in the desert sun as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Crown Prince Hassan snipped a white ribbon to inaugurate the crossing 2.5 miles north of Eilat and Aqaba.

Zohar Ginsburg, the 12-year-old girl who presented Rabin with golden scissors to cut the ribbon, said she was eager to visit Jordan. ″We killed them and they killed us,″ she said. ″It’s the same so I feel no hate.″

Normally taciturn Israeli generals were downright giddy, unable to stop grinning while facing into the television cameras.

″It seems as though we’ve never been at war,″ gushed Maj. Gen. Matan Vilnai, commander of the region.

The Jordanians were less forthcoming. Hussein himself stayed away from the opening ceremony and no Israeli flags were raised.

Very few people were on the streets to watch the dignitaries pass. The lackluster response in the city of 100,000 was not surprising given that a majority of Jordanians are of Palestinian origin, the peace process ending years of fruitless efforts to regain their land from Israel.

Mohammed Arar, owner of a shop crammed with mother-of-pearl trinkets, said he would not mind ″serving Israeli tourists visiting my shop, but I would not want to be friends with any of them.″

Eilat Mayor Gabi Kadosh said he expects the number of foreign tourists to rise from 130,000 to 200,000 by next year and the 6,000 hotels rooms to double by the year 2000. Israelis hope tourists will use Eilat’s facilities as a springboard for trips to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and Jordan.

Yoske Zuaretz has simpler goals.

″For more than 45 years I have been looking at the other side of the gulf at Aqaba and dreaming of the day I could go over there and have coffee with the people,″ said Zuaretz, a municipal gardener. ″I can see that day is coming.″

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