Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed an interim accord yesterday that committed them afresh to exchange land and power for concrete steps to secure Israel from political violence. They agreed to commence in earnest next month the final stage of talks to resolve their national dispute.

The accord cemented Netanyahu's commitment to territorial compromise with the Palestinians, a concept to which he led opposition in Israel until his election in 1996. On Arafat's part, it marked a new willingness to subject Palestinians to close verification of painful promises they have made before and failed to keep.

For President Clinton, who hosted a nine-day summit on the Eastern Shore that represented by far the deepest diplomatic investment of his presidency, the White House signing ceremony represented a major political and foreign policy victory at a time when he needed one badly.

The summit had nearly ended in failure twice, with a walkout threat by Netanyahu on Wednesday and a rancorous standoff yesterday morning between the United States and Israel over the fate of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the Navy analyst sentenced to life imprisonment 12 years ago for spying for Israel. After Clinton told Netanyahu at 7 a.m. that he would not commit to freeing the convicted spy, the Israeli leader refused to depart the Wye River conference center for a White House signing ceremony scheduled for noon. Netanyahu's delegation put out word, with several variations for Israeli and U.S. reporters, that Pollard in fact would be released.

"He's creating realities through the media, and he thinks Clinton will yield," said one close observer of the interchange, in which enraged American officials were heard describing Netanyahu in unprintable terms. "This is brinkmanship in the supreme. This is showdown. Clinton is looking into Bibi's eyes and Bibi is looking into Clinton's eyes and Bibi is saying, Draw.' I've seen much, but I've never seen anything like this."

Clinton's spokesmen, using uncommonly undiplomatic language, described the president as "surprised and disappointed" by "inaccurate and false" Israeli claims, and officials speaking on condition of anonymity predicted lasting damage in an already prickly relationship. At an East Room signing ceremony some hours later, marked by great apparent warmth and mutual praise, Clinton made a point of volunteering: "With respect to Mr. Pollard, I have agreed to review this matter seriously at the prime minister's request. I have made no commitment as to the outcome."

With yesterday's accord, Israel and the Palestinians reached the midpoint of the road to peace they laid out in their path-breaking Declaration of Principles on Sept. 13, 1993, and a follow-up accord of September 1995. But they saved the hardest issues for last -- whether and within what borders the Palestinians will have a state, the status of Jerusalem, the division of water resources and the fate of West Bank Jewish settlements and the Palestinian refugees from decades of Israeli-Arab wars.

They have not begun to negotiate on those "permanent status" questions, and the five-year period of partial self-rule is set to expire on May 4.

The text of yesterday's accord, which closely followed an American proposal that the parties were briefed orally on last January, included few new obligations on either side but is more specific than previous agreements on vital details. By design, it lays out a sequence of reciprocal moves because strong mutual distrust has halted performance of most obligations by either side since Israel broke ground on Har Homa, a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, in March 1997.

In three phased stages over 12 weeks, Israel agreed to add 13 percent of the West Bank to existing areas of partial Palestinian self-rule, where Israel retains control over security but Palestinians manage their own civil affairs. That will put 40 percent in partial or full Palestinian control as the final stage of negotiations begins.

As importantly for Palestinians, the accord will increase their exclusive jurisdiction -- covering security as well as civil affairs -- beyond the seven Arab cities they rule today, covering roughly 3 percent of the West Bank's territory, to surrounding villages encompassing another 15 percent of the land.

Israel also promised to release 750 prisoners from its jails -- none involved directly in political killings -- and to allow the opening of an airport in the Gaza Strip, two secure land routes between the West Bank and Gaza and an industrial zone on the border between Gaza and Israel. A seaport in Gaza, equally overdue under previous accords, has been put off.

During the same period, in a sequence tied to the withdrawal of Israel's army, the Palestinians agreed to formal revocation of 26 anti-Israel paragraphs from their national charter, a step announced in April 1996 but considered incomplete by Israel. The final consent to the changes will come in about six weeks in what promises to be an extraordinary spectacle in Gaza, with Clinton addressing a gathering of hundreds of Palestinian leaders, including former terrorists such as Mohammed Abul Abbas and the chiefs of factions based in Syria that still reject the peace negotiated by Arafat.

Arafat also agreed -- under provisions calling for verification by the Central Intelligence Agency -- to arrest and confine 30 suspects wanted for murder by Israel, to fire 10,000 of his 40,000 police in compliance with force limits, to provide a complete roster of his security forces to Israel to allow screening for alleged terrorists, to seize unlawful firearms and to provide detailed intelligence-sharing to Israeli security services.

Netanyahu, who once took months to decide to shake Arafat's hand, did so warmly three times in the signing ceremony. Embracing a pact to carry out the September 1995 interim accord he had often described as a threat to the very existence of Israel, he spoke of "our Palestinian partners" and said "today is a day when Israel and our entire region are more secure."

"Now this has required sacrifice from both sides, and reaching into what Lincoln called the better nature of mankind," he declared. "This is an important moment to give a secure and peaceful future for our children and the children of our neighbors, the Palestinians. We have seized this moment. I'm asking all people of good will, of honesty and candor -- I'm asking all of them to join us in support for this important step for a secure future, a future of peace."

Arafat, wearing his invariable four-button olive uniform and keffiyeh draped in the shape of Palestine, allowed himself a brief complaint that "whatever we achieved is only temporary and has been late." But he joined Netanyahu in fulsome optimism that "the peace process is going ahead."

The former guerrilla leader also spoke the words that Israelis have often demanded, in likening him unfavorably to the famous 1977 pledge by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat of "no more war."

"We will never go back," Arafat said in Arabic. "We will never leave the peace process, and we will never go back to violence and confrontation."

Netanyahu, sitting behind him, nodded in grave acknowledgment, and Arafat added: "I will do everything I can so that no Israeli mother will be worried if her son or daughter is late coming home or any Israeli would be afraid when they heard an explosion."

Arafat, in what several observers believed to be a first, also managed to capture Clinton in an Arab-style embrace and kissed both cheeks.

"Most importantly perhaps, this agreement is actually good for the peace process itself," Clinton said. "For 18 months, it has been paralyzed -- the victim of mistrust, misunderstanding and fear. Now, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians once again can become partners for peace."

Jordan's King Hussein, who left his sickbed at the Mayo Clinic to exhort Arafat and Netanyahu to close the deal, made his first public display of the ravages of his chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Bald and gaunt, he smiled and said, "if I had an ounce of strength, I would have done my utmost to be there and to help in any way I can."

The monarch had turned up late on Thursday night at the Wye River dining room where Arafat and Netanyahu had stopped short of a deal. "He said this is an agreement not just for you but for your children and children's children, and he called upon both sides to make the final push," Jordan's ambassador to Washington, Marwan Muasher, said in an interview. "He particularly asked the Israelis to be flexible on the {Palestinian charter} and the prisoner issue."

Agreement on release of Palestinian prisoners led to Israel's demand for Pollard. Netanyahu also asked Clinton to press Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for release of Azam Azam, an Israeli Druze convicted of economic espionage and held in an Egyptian prison. Two sources said Clinton conveyed the request, but was rebuffed.

An Egyptian official described the Israeli move as a demand for baksheesh.

"Mr. Azam has nothing to do with this nonsense," the official said. "He is a man who has been judged, tried and he is spending his sentence. . . .It has nothing to do with it, and trying to introduce it is unacceptable."

The bitter negotiations over Pollard only underscored how little the recent process has resembled Clinton's description yesterday of the U.S. role as "a listening ear, a helpful suggestion now and then." Nearly every element of yesterday's agreement, down to the sequence and percentages of land to be transferred, was drafted by an American peace team led by special envoy Dennis B. Ross, and the principal negotiations since April -- when Arafat accepted the package in principle -- have been between Israel and the United States.

"I understand now what {former prime minister Menachem} Begin meant when he said of Camp David, it's a concentration camp deluxe,' " said one Israeli negotiator yesterday, in a reflection of a grim mood of power politics between the two delegations.

Another confidant of Netanyahu continued to insist late yesterday afternoon that Clinton "did make a promise" about Pollard and retreated from it after a backlash by U.S. intelligence and defense officials. He added that the news leaks were justified because "if you feel you're being betrayed and you want to explain why you're not going to sign something -- they weren't reneging on the agreement. They feel they're the ones who were being reneged on."

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin denied that strongly during the standoff, telling reporters at Wye that "any suggestion by any quarter that the president made a commitment to release Jonathan Pollard is inaccurate and false."

"And let me say," he added, "that we are surprised that there is uncertainty as to whether the Israeli government will agree to this agreement . . . because the agreement appears to manifestly meet the needs and the stated objectives of the Israeli government."

The White House ceremony began so late that it came very near to running into the Jewish Sabbath, something no Israeli prime minister could tolerate politically at home. There were even theological questions whether Netanyahu could participate when he did. Sabbath began precisely at 6 p.m. in Washington yesterday, 16 minutes after the signing ceremony drew to a close. But that was long past nightfall in Israel, and a leading Orthodox authority there, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said the live broadcast of events from Washington would tempt religious Jews in Israel to switch on their television sets and thereby desecrate the holy day of rest. THE WEST BANK NOW Under the Oslo accords, Israel has withdrawn from most of the Gaza Strip and eight West Bank cities. Beyond that, 27 percent of the West Bank is under Palestinian civil control, with joint security control. Under the new accord, Israel will pull back from 13 percent more West Bank territory. That land is thought to consist of scattered parcels of land, but details have not been disclosed. (This graphic was not available) CAPTION: PLO leader Yasser Arafat, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shake hands as King Hussein and President Clinton watch. ec CAPTION: Vice President Gore, Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, Jordan's King Hussein, President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, from left, discuss treaty after White House treaty signing ceremony. ec CAPTION: PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shake hands after signing peace treaty as national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, Jordan's King Hussein and Vice President Gore look on. ec