Israel Concerned over Egypt’s New Demands on the Gaza Strip

Unexpected new demands by Egypt with respect to the Gaza Strip clouded the atmosphere here today as official circles awaited clarifications from Washington of Egypt’s latest position on the peace treaty negotiations. President Anwar Sadat is believed to have defined his stand in a special message to President Carter conveyed by Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mubarak. Carter and Mubarak met at the White House today. (See related story P.3.)

Policy-makers here have expressed concern over statements by Sadat and Mubarak during the past two days stressing Egypt’s former role as occupier of the Gaza Strip which it held from 1948-1967. Both have spoken of Cairo’s “special responsibilities” for the area and its population.

At the same time, the Egyptian delegation to the peace treaty talks in Washington has demanded that the treaty specify a “special statuts” for Egypt in Gaza which they have referred to as a “liaison presence.” They also want an Egyptian police contingent in that territory. The precise nature of the “liaison presence” has not been defined by the Egyptians. But the demand is far in excess of the limited supervisory role envisaged in the Camp David framework for local autonomy.

TANTAMOUNT TO RE-ANNEXATION

Because the Egyptian demands and statements have been vague they are subject to differing interpretations in Israeli government circles. One highly placed source said they are “tantamount to the re-annexation of Gaza” and quoted Premier Menachem Begin as vowing that “this will never be.”

Another source suggested that the Egyptians were escalating their demands as a “pretext to suspend or break off the talks” in Washington. The source contended that Sadat wants out because he is apprehensive about the outcome of the Arab rejectionist front meeting in Baghdad last week. Most of the Arab leaders attending condemned the Camp David agreements but the Egyptians were said to be particularly concerned over the negative altitude of Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

MORE OPTIMISTIC ASSESSMENTS

But there are more optimistic assessments. According to one, the sudden Egyptian focus on Gaza may be a signal from Sadat that he is willing to drop his demands for a precise timetable for autonomy on the West Bank if Israel agreed to a timetable for the Gaza Strip. The basis for this view is the fact that most West Bank leaders have expressed opposition to the autonomy scheme but the reaction in Gaza has been more equivocal. Gaza’s influential Mayor, Rashad A-Shawa, has been non-committal so far. He is believed to be close to Egypt’s leadership and amenable to influence from Cairo.

Because of the lack of authoritative information, the Cabinet has postponed further deliberations on the Washington treaty talks and the U.S. compromise proposal on the linkage issue. It probably will not convene again until its regularly scheduled meeting Sunday. Defense Minister Ezer Weizman met with Mubarak in Washington today and is to return to Israel to participate in the Cabinet discussions. But other members of the military negotiating team will remain in Washington to avoid the impression that Israel is breaking off the talks.

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