TEL AVIV (Jan. 12)
The joint Israeli-Egyptian military committee, which met for two hours last night, went into its second session this morning and all signs point to long and very difficult negotiations ahead. The Egyptians, from the very outset, are taking an extremely tough line. In response to Israel’s five-point proposal for Sinai released yesterday, Egypt has laid down seven stiff counter-proposals, the semi-official daily Al Ahram reported today.
According to Al Ahram, these include complete Israeli withdrawal from Sinai within 18 months; no joint administration of Sharm el-Sheikh or the leasing of that strategic point to Israel; no Jewish settlements to be built in Sinai after the signing of a peace agreement; the evacuation of all three Israeli military air bases in Sinai; and the establishment of demilitarized zones on both sides of the border.
The Egyptians would agree to stipulate freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aqaba and the presence of a United Nations peace-keeping force in the region. They would also expand the demilitarized zones in Sinai to guarantee Israel’s security after the peninsula is evacuated. They would establish early warning stations but insist that they cannot be manned by Israeli soldiers.
Israel’s five-point proposal, released last night, called for phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Sinai; designation in the Sinai of areas of limited forces and armaments, demilitarized zones and the presence of United Nations forces; maintenance of Israeli settlements in Sinai and the determination of their status; the status of Israeli airfields in Sinai; control over security measures.
TRYING TO PROJECT HOPE
Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Minister of War Mohammed Gamassy, the heads of the Israeli and Egyptian delegations, held their first joint press conference at the end of today’s sessions. They projected a little more hope than had been apparent earlier that the Israeli and Egyptian positions could, eventually, be reconciled.
Gamassy chided the media for focussing too much on the issue of Israeli settlements in Sinai and reminded the reporters that this was “only one of the questions we have to deal with.” He said it would be dealt with in the talks and added that while there is a gap between the Israeli and Egyptian viewpoints, everything can be bridged.
The Israeli and Egyptian plans for demilitarized zones in Sinai are apparently one aspect where an agreement may be possible without too serious difficulties. After seeing the Egyptian proposals, Israeli circles said that while the Egyptian map is quite far from the Israeli map, the Egyptians willingness in principle to have demilitarized zones raised hopes for a possible accord on that question.
EXPLAINS ISRAEL’S SECURITY NEEDS
In his official address last night, Gamassy said Israel would have to withdraw from all of Sinai. An Egyptian spokesman said later that Gamassy was referring to all Israelis, civilians and military alike. Israel’s proposals called for a phased withdrawal from Sinai without stipulating a timetable. At today’s meeting, Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur explained Israel’s security needs to the Egyptians in detail.
There were unconfirmed reports that Israel may invite members of the Egyptian delegation to tour its borders, not only the old international line with Sinai but the borders with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan so that the Egyptian generals could get a first hand look at Israel’s security problems.
The climate at Al Tahara Palace in suburban Heliopolis where the joint military talks are talking place is far from the relaxed atmosphere at Mena House last month where the first Israeli-Egyptian teams met and spent almost as much time joking and fraternizing as negotiating.
There was an embarrassing moment last night when it was decided at the last minute that no opening statements would be made by the heads of the two delegations. Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman had already distributed the advance text of his statement to newsmen who were barred from the meeting. He drew Gamassy’s attention to that fact. The Egyptian War Minister drafted an impromptu statement of his own which was given to the press.