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Autonomy Talks Continue with Top Negotiators Trying to Bridge the Wide Gap Between Israel and Egypt

The autonomy talks continued at the top negotiating level today in an effort to find some way to bridge the wide gap between the Israeli and Egyptian positions on the nature of autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Interior Minister Yosef Burg, head of the Israeli ministerial negotiating team, his Egyptian counterpart, Prime Minister Mutapha Khalil and U.S. special Ambassador Sol Linowitz conferred privately for nearly two hours in the Herzliya hotel where the talks are being held.

It was their second private meeting since Khalil and his delegation arrived from Cairo late yesterday. Premier Menachem Begin was at Ben Gurion Airport to greet the Egyptians, the first time he had extended the courtesy to Khalil. Burg, Khalil and Linowitz had their first meeting last night–in private without aides present or stenographers. Sources here said that Linowitz preferred that format.

This afternoon, the chief negotiators were due to meet in plenary session to hear the reports of the Israeli and Egyptian “working groups.” However, this session was postponed until tomorrow. An Israeli spokesman declined to explain the reason for the delay.

QUESTION OF FUNDAMENTALS, NOT DETAILS

The gap that separates the Israeli and Egyptian views is one of fundamentals rather than details. The Egyptians insist on the broadest power of self-government defined by legislative, executive and judicial authority. The Israelis are prepared to give the Palestinians only the most limited administrative control over local matters and public services.

American sources accompanying Linowitz predicted no dramatic breakthrough in this round of talks. They said the President’s envoy was not discouraged by the wide gulf between the two sides and felt that now that each has “put its cards on the table,” the painstaking process of practical negotiations could finally begin.

American and Israeli sources indicated that Linowitz will try to speed up the tempo of the autonomy talks in the weeks ahead and that he will seek more top level sessions and more meetings of the working groups on specific issues. Linowitz has also stressed the necessity to bring representatives of the Palestinians into the negotiating process.

He met yesterday with two prominent Palestinians — Mayor Roshod A-Shawa of Gaza and Anwar el-Khotib, the former Jordanian Governor of Jerusalem. The meetings were held at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. A-Shawa, the only mayor from the occupied territories who agreed to meet with the American envoy, described their talk to reporters as a “private and social occasion.” He said he did not engage in any negotiations but stressed to the American that only the Palestine Liberation Organization is authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.

Despite the impasse in the autonomy talks, normalization between Israel and Egypt is progressing. Gen. Abraham Tamir, counselor to Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, left for Egypt today to discuss a number of issues with Egyptian officials. One subject will be trade, industry and tourism. Another matter is transportation and communication.

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