Jerusalem (Oct. 25)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali began a three-day visit to Israel today with a statement of reassurance that Egypt, after the death of President Anwar Sadat, remains unchanged in its commitment to the peace process.
Arriving early this morning at Ben Gurion Airport, Ali declared that nothing has changed in Egypt, except for the sadness and sorrow over Sadat’s assassination. The very fact of his visit here, which was scheduled before Sadat was killed Oct. 6, was the best proof of Egypt’s policy and should serve to dispel all doubts.
Ali was welcomed by Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and spent the afternoon in conference with Sharon and his aides at the Defense Ministry on issues concerning Israel’s final withdrawal from Sinai next April. Tomorrow, Ali will meet with Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem for wider ranging discussions on aspects of the peace process, including normalization and autonomy talks.
Ali was expected to take time out to attend — or at least involve himself indirectly — in the on going round of autonomy talks which were resumed last Thursday in Tel Aviv by Israeli, Egyptian and American sub-ministerial rank officials and technicians. The initial session of this round reportedly has produced no significant progress.
ISSUES CLOUD THE ATMOSPHERE
A number of public statements and other issues clouded the atmosphere on the eve of Ali’s visit, including his own statement in an interview last week that Israeli obduracy in the autonomy talks had been a contributory factor in Sadat’s assassination. Israeli sources said Shamir intended to “clarify” this statement with the visiting Egyptian Minister.
Similarly, Egyptian sources made it clear yesterday that Cairo took a dim view of Shamir’s assertion Friday that “Jordan is Palestine” and can be ruled either by King Hussein or by the Palestine Liberation Organization. “For us it is not important who rules this state,” Shamir said in an Israel Radio interview.
This plainly echoed Sharon’s long-held view that Israel would be better off if PLO chief Yasir Arafat ruled in Amman, rather than the ostensibly more moderate and Western-oriented Hashemite House of Hussein. Sharon recently repeated his belief that Israel made a “historic error “in 1970, when, at the request of President Nixon, it mobilized in order to aid Hussein who was fighting off PLO subversion and a pro-PLO Syrian invasion.
Asked about the prospect of Soviet domination of an Arafat-run Palestine-Jordan, Shamir said “Israel cannot intervene in the internal conditions of a neigh boring state.”
SHARP RETORT BY EGYPT
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry retorted with a sharply-worded statement branding Shamir’s remarks as a violation of Camp David. “Egypt considers this declaration a violation of the concept of full autonomy as expounded in the Camp David agreements,” the statement said.
It also blasted Israel’s ongoing settlement-building on the West Bank. In a separate interview with Israeli newspapers, Egyptian Minister of State Butros Ghali singled out the settlements as the “greatest impediment’ to the autonomy talks.
Another factor clouding Ali’s visit is the tough reaction that Israel’s Tourism Minister, Avraham Sharir, has encountered during the past few days of negotiations with Egyptian officials. Above all, the Israelis were disappointed that Egypt insists that all air passengers landing on charters at Etzion airfield, just across the international border from Eilat, obtain an Egyptian visa for the 15-minute bus ride into Eilat.
Israeli officials see this as deliberate obstreperousness on Egypt’s part and say it will deal a death blow to Eilat’s charter flight tourism.
Similarly there is disappointment here over Egypt’s refusal to allow Israel’s Arkia airline to continue flying to Santa Katherina Monastery in Central Sinai, as it does at present.