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Autonomy Talks Delegations Pledge to Move Rapidly Toward Agreement on Understanding and Principles

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The first round of the renewed autonomy talks between Israel, Egypt and the United States ended in Cairo last Thursday with a joint communique in which the three delegations pleged “to move as rapidly as possible toward … an agreement on understanding and principles.” They announced a timetable of almost continuous talks on the senior civil servants level to continue through the middle of January, 1982, alternating between Egypt and Israel.

Although the participants expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the first round of resumed negotiations, veteran observers could point to no tangible progress. In fact, Foreign Ministry Director General David Kimche conceded at a press briefing Thursday that “approximately 15 major issues” are still in dispute between Israel and Egypt.

On the key issue of associating the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the autonomy talks, the communique was vague, apparently deliberately so. “Ways will be sought to encourage the Palestinians … to engage actively in this process,” the communique said. One of the ways, apparently, is the new policy of Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to ease some of the strictures applied by the military government in the occupied territories and vest greater responsibility for local affairs in selected civilian authorities.

Sharon explained his program in some detail at the Cairo talks and the Egyptian delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, expressed approval in principle. But Israel balked at Egypt’s request for a formal commitment by Israel to “describe” in the future to the autonomy panel its “confidence-building” actions and policies in the territories.

Kimche said that Israel’s approach to the resumed autonomy talks is to seek agreement on broad principles and work out details “at a later stage when the Palestinians join the talks.” He said Israel “knew” that some Palestinian moderates “realize the advantages to themselves of the autonomy scheme” but were afraid of retri-

bution from the Palestine Liberation Organization if they came out publicly in favor of the plan.

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