US President Clinton is to attend the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan on 26 October, the first peace agreement to be signed between Israel and an Arab state since 1979. However, the deal has been sharply criticised by Syria, which is still in deadlock with Israel over the future of the Golan Heights.

Jordan’s King Hussain and Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced the deal after initialling a draft agreement in Amman on 17 October. On the same day, the White House announced that President Clinton would attend the signing ceremony on the border of the two states.

Israeli and Jordanian negotiators resumed talks on 19 October to finalise the agreement. Under discussion was a timetable for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the land which will be handed back to Jordan.

The draft treaty includes 30 articles and five main annexes, including water and land-lease arrangements. Jordan is expected to receive 100 million cubic metres of water a year from Israel. In return, land which is handed back to Jordan will be leased out to Israeli farmers and settlers who now occupy it. This part of the treaty has been denounced by Syria’s President Asad.

Speaking during a visit to Cairo on 18 October, Asad said: ‘We consider it to be blasphemy for any country to speak of renting its land to any other leadership. Anyone who dreams or imagines that Syria would rent its land is shamefully wrong and making a major mistake. If people adopt this theory, it will lead to the opposite of peace.’ President Mubarak, who welcomed the agreement, also expressed reservations about the plans to lease back land.

Asad said in the press conference in Cairo that there had been no concrete progress at the US-mediated talks and that they were still at an exploratory stage. However, Syria has indicated that it is committed to continuing the negotiations with Israel. On 18 October, a group of 300 Syrian Jews with their religious leader, Rabbi Abraham Hamra, emigrated to Israel with official approval. It is one of a series of positive signals from Damascus, which includes an interview by Israel television of Syria’s Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara on 7 October.

Rabin said on 19 October, during a visit to the UK, that he would press ahead in talks with Syria. ‘I believe every Arab country has got its own leadership, its own interests, and therefore real negotiations that will lead to a real peace have to be done on a basis of bilateral (deals),’ he told BBC radio. Rabin cut short his visit after a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv (see below).