JERUSALEM (Oct. 9)
Israeli Government leaders appear to attach little importance to yesterday’s statement by an official Egyptian spokesman that Egypt would be willing to enter into Rhodes-style peace talks with Israel provided that they were carried out through an intermediary and were not construed as direct negotiations.
Sources close to Premier Golda Meir said today that the offer by Dr. Esmet Abdel-Meguid in Cairo was nothing more than a restatement of Egypt’s old position “camouflaged.” The opinion in high Israeli Government circles is that the Egyptian statement was so full of bands, ifs and buts that it became meaningless, sources here said. There has been no official reaction as yet. But Foreign Minister Abba Eban was expected to state the Government’s position at a press conference tonight.
One point of contention concerns Dr. Meguid’s reference to the so-called “Rhodes formula” as the context for talks with Israel. Egypt insists that the 1949 Arab-Israeli armistice talks on the Mediterranean island of Rhodes with Dr. Ralph G. Bunche of the UN serving as mediator included no direct contacts between the opposing parties. Israel, on the other hand, says that records bearing Dr. Bunche’s signature proved that Arab and Israeli negotiators were in the same room on several occasions.
Dr. Abdel-Meguid indicated yesterday that Egypt considered the pattern followed by UN peace envoy Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring to be within the Rhodes formula. For nearly a year, Dr. Jarring shuttled between Jerusalem and the Arab capitals but his mission so far has been fruitless. Israel viewed his mission not as mediation but as an effort to bring the two sides together for peace talks. Government sources indicated today that Israel would not agree to Dr. Jarring becoming a mediator.
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told a student audience in Tel Aviv yesterday that Rhodes-style talks did not constitute a deviation from the principle of direct negotiations. He warned, however, that the United Nations must not be given any functional role in settling the Middle East conflict such as setting up demilitarized zones.