Mideast Agreement Signed Amid Hope and Some Tears

Ceremony overcomes logistical and emotional obstacles

THERE were tears, wide smiles, and most of all a lot of high expectations, when the ``unthinkable'' took place Sept. 13.

Henry Kissinger brushed back tears. Jimmy Carter's eyes watered. Cyrus Vance beamed as if he were the father of the bride. George Bush looked stern.

They were among a guest list of 3,000 movers and shakers, including many who tried and failed to bring peace to the Middle East, at probably the biggest event in Washington this year.

However, decades of diplomacy could not stop even these elder statesmen from joining the crowd and gasping when Yasser Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn after the signing of the peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Giving peace a chance looked so easy on Sept. 13 - the president of the United States gave his green and spacious back lawn over to two men who have warred with each other for decades and they pledged to stop generations of hate and bloodshed.

It looked easy but it wasn't.

Security was as tight at the White House as it has ever been in the building's long history. Guests and journalists formed long, slow-moving lines to get in and pass through metal detectors. Helicopters hovered overhead and security men stood on the White House roof.

Professionally, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Emotionally, it looked and was hard for the participants.

Mr. Rabin fidgeted while Mr. Arafat spoke, shuffling papers from one pocket to another, applauding his old foe only tepidly and as rarely as possible. Looking more like a baseball fan dragged into a night at the opera than a peacemaker, he applauded with his hands held below the belt.

Arafat was more relaxed but even he stood impassively while Rabin spoke, showing no emotion but applauding at times.

It took President Clinton to nudge Rabin forward to shake Arafat's outstretched hand; and when he did, the audience let out an audible sigh that filled the South Lawn for a long moment.

A group of Arab and Israeli schoolchildren brought down from a peace camp in Maine to watch the historic ceremony jumped to their feet to applaud.

It was a scene no one seemed to expect, certainly not Mr. Vance, the US secretary of state who brokered the Camp David peace accords 14 years ago and who recently tried and failed to bring peace to beleaguered Bosnia.

``I was doubtful that I would ever live to see this day,'' the peace warrior said as he left the ceremony, smiling broadly, signing program cards for people who told him, ``You started this, sir.''

He declined to draw any comparisons to Bosnia, other than to say, ``I've been working to bring peace to the Middle East for 25 to 30 years. Maybe it will take that long there.''

``This is a Biblical miracle and I'm all for it,'' said George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic candidate for president, adding: ``I think it is comparable to the Berlin Wall coming down. The cold war in the Middle East can never come back.''

``This is one of the most moving events I've ever seen,'' said former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, another veteran of many a Middle East crisis, who was spotted wiping tears from his eyes during the ceremony.

But he warned, ``All the substantive issues still have to be resolved. Only the psychological barrier has been passed.'' Former presidents return

This has been old presidents' week. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Carter accepted invitations to spend the night of Sept. 13 at the White House, marking the first time two former presidents have bunked with their successor. Then the two joined President Clinton on Sept. 14 to promote the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Carter and Bush were also on hand - along with President Ford, five former secretaries of state, and numerous other big wigs - for a dinner in the White House's Blue Room on Sept. 13 to celebrate a momentous day.

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