Geneva Peace Talks: Historic Milestone, but What Lies Ahead? View from Geneva

Israeli circles in Geneva described Foreign Minister Abba Eban as “satisfied” with the work of the Geneva peace conference up till now. These circles made this declaration as Eban was on the point of leaving Geneva for Israel after having attended the first two sessions of the Geneva peace conference the first Arab-Israeli peace talks since the creation of the State of Israel. The peace conference, according to a United Nations source, is “continuing its work in the absence of the four foreign ministers who attended the conference’s opening phase.”

A military committee composed of Israeli and Egyptian officers of general rank will meet this week in Geneva. Reliable sources say that these talks could start Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. The talks are expected to continue into Jan. when the conference will probably meet again in plenary session though at ambassadorial level. Israeli sources said that it would be reconvened at ministerial level “whenever necessary.” The military committee will continue the Suez Canal disengagement talks started at Kilometer 101 and suspended Dec. 10. Israeli circles do not believe, however, that any major decisions will be taken at this level before next month.

These circles believe that Egypt will have to make a number of concessions to obtain a viable solution to the Suez Canal issue. Such concessions, which would not be to Egypt’s detriment moreover, may include the promise to reopen the Suez Canal, the revival of the city of Suez and a restriction of military concentration on the eastern bank. It is believed that the reopening of the canal and the revival of the cities bordering it might be an effective way to prevent renewed Egyptian military aggressions. Both the Israelis and the Egyptians realize and openly say that there must be a sense of “continuation and achievement” in the course of these talks if the second phase is to be reached.

50 YEAR WAR. OR PEACE?

It is only after the first obstacle is surmounted that the plenary will consider the creation of “work parties” which will deal with other specific issues such as the border situation, the consistency of peace, free navigation, the holy places and even a modus vivendi on Jerusalem. Israel believes that Egypt will agree to simultaneous consideration of all these subjects and that the co-sponsors, the United States and the Soviet Union will want the conference to accelerate its activities next year.

“This opening phase was the easiest,” Israeli circles here say. “The real tough part will come next year” is the general consensus of opinion of Israeli delegates and observers. Egyptian spokesmen in Geneva also indicated satisfaction but stressed that the real “down to earth talk” will come at the disengagement talks

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