Menu JTA Search

Autonomy Talks End on Note of Cautious Optimism; the Chief Negotiators to Meet at End of Feb.

Israel, Egypt and the U.S. ended their latest round of autonomy talks on a note of cautious optimism engendered by agreement on procedural matters and an apparent understanding between the parties over how they will approach substantive issues as the negotiations continue.

Ambassador Sol Linowitz, President Carter’s special envoy to the Middle East, spoke of “significant progress” after the two days of talks at Herzliyo concluded Friday. But neither he nor the other principal participants — Interior Minister Yosef Burg, head of the Israeli negotiating team, and his Egyptian counterpart, Prime Minister Mustapha Khalil — would elaborate. Linowitz flew to Saudi Arabia Friday night and conferred in Riyadh with Crown Prince Fahd and Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. He flew in Morocco yesterday for talks with King Hassan.

WORKING GROUPS TO MEET IN CAIRO

Before Linowitz left Israel it was decided that he, Burg and Khalil will meet again at the end of this month, probably in Europe, to review the autonomy talks and plan further progress.

Meanwhile, the Israeli and Egyptian working group on the “powers and responsibilities” of the autonomous authority will convene in Cairo next week for further deliberations. Working groups dealing with economic matters and other issues-yet to be defined will also meet with increasing frequency.

Acceleration of the autonomy talks, especially on the working group level, was announced in a joint communique and is believed to have been one of the main agreements achieved at Herzliya. Linowitz told a press conference Friday that it was “certainly possible” to conclude the autonomy talks by the May 26 deadline but he “hesitated” to predict that this would be accomplished. He indicated that the mode of the Herzliyo talks in which the three principals conferred privately and informally was more effective than elaborate “plenary” meetings and that this format would be followed in the future.

SHIFT BY EGYPT NOTED

The Israelis seemed buoyed by the results of the Herzliya talks. Israeli sources said Egypt had implicitly recognized the break-down-in-principle of the “powers and responsibilities” issue into three groupings: those that would come under the autonomous authority; those that would be shared; and those that would remain in Israel’s hands.

The sources said this represented a shift by Egypt, not overt but implicit in Khalil’s position. They said it was significant because when Egypt rejected the Israeli autonomy “model” last month it had refused to consider even in principle that some “residual” powers would be retained by Israel after autonomy goes into effect.

Agreement in principle on the categorization of powers will enable the negotiators to discuss the issues in detail, the Israeli sources said. They denied a report in the Cairo newspaper Al Ahram yesterday that agreement was reached on a package of 19 specific powers to be invested with the autonomous authority. The sources said that the talks had not yet advanced to that stage.

MARKED IMPROVEMENT IN PERSONAL RELATIONS

The Israelis were also pleased by the marked improvement in their personal relationships with the Egyptians. At a dinner last Thursday night, Khalil offered a toast in which he praised Premier Menachem Begin as “a great leader like Sadat” and said of Burg, “I love him…I love him.” This mode a powerful impression on both the Israeli and American participants, as the Egyptian Prime Minister obviously spoke with sincerity. Israeli sources observed that it was now inconceivable that the autonomy talks would collapse in total failure.

The joint communique issued after the talks Friday was non-committal as to what transpired. It said: “In order to reach rapid agreement, it is necessary to accelerate the negotiations. It was therefore agreed that the working groups on powers and responsibilities would meet on an accelerated and intensified schedule.”

NEXT STORY