Israelis Buoyed by Positive Egyptian Attitude on Normalization

The three-day visit to Israel this week by Egyptian Foreign Minister Kemal Hassan Ali has left a veritable glow of satisfaction among his Israeli hosts. They cite both the warm tenor of Ali’s talks here, and the businesslike content, to explain their favorable reaction.

There is to be another round of talks by the “Higher Committee on Normalization” under the joint chairmanship of Ali and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in Cairo on January II. In the interim period, numerous sessions are scheduled of the various subcommittees on aspects of normalization, and also of the Israel-Egypt Joint Military Committee which will set about marking the new-old border line.

The success of the normalizations talks this week, according to observers here, stemmed primarily from Egypt’s realization and recognition of the importance that Israeli opinion sets by the arrangements for the Sinai. Many Israelis regard the Sinai border — whether it is to be an open border as between friendly neighbors or a barrier difficult to cross — as a touchstone of the entire peace process.

EGYPTIANS MODIFY POLICY

There has been little Egyptian sensitivity to this Israeli attitude. Indeed, as late as Sunday of this week an Israeli delegation headed by Tourism Minister Avraham Sharir was reporting from Cairo of obstacles and tough terms over Sina tourism arrangements. But in Tel Aviv meanwhile Ali was already reaching favorable agreements or these very issues with Sharon.

Israeli sources feel there was a deliberate and quite radical turnabout of Egyptian policy — with the Cairo policymaking leadership coming to the realization that, in the wake of Anwar Sadat’s assassination, the reassurance of Israel and alleviation of its anxieties was a key priority.

Thus, for example, Egyptian formalism and unbending attitudes over visas suddenly melted away, and, as a result, Israelis will be able to continue visiting Sinai tourist spots after the April withdrawal without the need for an elaborate visa-application procedure beforehand. (See separate story.) They will be able to receive across-the-counter entry permits at the border crossing-points.

Similarly — and this was another issue on which Cairo hitherto had been inflexible — charter passengers from abroad landing at Etzion airport will not need visas for the short bus ride across the border to Eilat. They too will get entry permits on the spot.

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