JERUSALEM (Jul. 8)
The Cabinet approved today the forthcoming visit of Premier Menachem Begin to Alexandria for a meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Begin’s visit will begin Tuesday and will last until Thursday. Begin will probably have two or three meetings with. Sadat although Sadat has not yet forwarded a list of issues he wanted to discuss with his guest.
Egypt is expected to ask for additional “gestures” such as the release of political prisoners, and perhaps even concessions on Israel’s settlement plans. Israel, on the other hand, is expected to ask to speed up the process of normalization.
The climax of the last summit between Begin and Sadat was the announcement of opening the borders between the two countries- which was followed by a limited exchange of tourist visas. Egypt so far has approved 10 of the 310 visa applications received from Israel. Israel approved the only 10 applications which arrived.
At this stage, therefore, it seems that the two leaders may discuss any of the outstanding issues between the two countries. The Cabinet made a point, anyway, of stating today that the Premier should not discuss any issues which go beyond the terms of reference of the Camp David agreements – such as the settlements and the status of Jerusalem. Thus, even if Sadat raises these issues, he is likely to hear from Begin the reply he had often heard in the past: this is up to the government to decide.
SIGNIFICANCE OF “WORKING GROUPS”
Meanwhile, last Thursday night, in Alexandria, “Israeli and Egyptian negotiators agreed under the prodding of Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special Middle East envoy, to set up a number of “working groups” which will focus on the various aspects of the autonomy negotiations. The difference of approach between Egypt and Israel, over whether to negotiate a declarative agenda or plunge straight into the practical issues of the autonomy surfaced Thursday.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Dr. Yosef Burg, once again stressed the Israeli view that a political-ideological debate on aims and objectives was a sure recipe for paralysis. He said that Israel would be prepared, in principle, to discuss the Egyptian proposal for a declarative agenda-but only on the clear understanding that this meant reopening the Camp David “framekwork,” since Israel regarded many of Egypt’s suggested points as contravening the letter or spirit of the “framework.”
Egypt’s Premier Mustapha Khalil maintained that the 17 points which he had suggested at Herzliya a week earlier as components of an agenda did not contravene or go beyond the Camp David “framework” – but were merely an elaboration of it.
ISRAEL GETS STRAUSS SUPPORT
But the Israeli position received the powerful and energetic support of Strauss who said he would not want to challenge. Khalil’s argument – but he was by nature an “active negotiator” and believed in frontal assault on the specifics of the issues. He therefore recommended that the talks focus on the specifics – for if they were side tracked into ideology and philosophy, they could go on for two years, not one.
Strauss said expressly that he was against having an agenda at together and it was plain that his proposal to set up “working groups” was intended to ease Egypt’s way towards she ling its demand for a declarative agenda at this stage.
Strauss had already outlined his proposal to Burg in a private meeting before the formal Thursday morning session began, and the initial Israeli reaction was positive. The Egyptian team also indicated their agreement to the principle of working groups as soon as Strauss raised the subject presumably he had discussed it privately in advance with Khalil, too.
Strauss deportment, and the position he took on the agenda, clearly pointed, a senior Israeli negotiator said, to his determination to achieve progress-and achieve it fast.