On the Eve of Haig’s Visit: No Breakthrough Seen in Autonomy Talks with Egypt

Israelis are displaying no real optimism, on the eve of Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s visit, that there will be a breakthrough in the autonomy negotiations with Egypt which have been dragging on fitfully for the last 32 months. Sources here said Israel’s position has softened slightly on some outstanding autonomy issues and this will be reflected in the proposals offered to Haig who is due here tomorrow.

But the consensus in official circles is that the substantive concessions must come from Egypt on such key issues as the powers of the self-governing authority and the right of East Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the autonomy elections. Concern has been expressed that the Egyptians are not particularly anxious for progress in the autonomy talks at this time because they believe Israel’s negotiating position will be weaker after its complete withdrawal from Sinai next April 25.

That view seemed to be borne out by Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali’s remarks greeting Haig on his arrival in Cairo yesterday. “Egypt, on its part, will spare no effort to keep the talks going until they bring their desired results, either before or after the complete Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, taking into account the current practical considerations,” Hassan Ali said. He said Egypt’s aim remains “to achieve a real full autonomy for the Palestinians.”

VIEW OF HAIG’S VISIT

Haig said today in Cairo that the U.S. was setting no deadline. But he has given no hint of any new ideas he might be bringing with him. Observers here, in and outside the government, believe the primary purpose of Haig’s trip is to revive the autonomy talks in order to prevent any new “surprises” by Israel, such as its annexation of the Golan Heights on December 14.

In addition, the observers say, Haig wants to re-engage the parties in the autonomy negotiations to ensure that the Camp David process will retain its momentum after all of Sinai is returned to Egypt. In that way, the challenges posed to Camp David by the Saudi Arabian plan and the European Mideast initiative can be warded off. Those challenges are expected to be pressed anew after Israel’s withdrawal is completed.

WASHINGTON’S MOST SERIOUS CONCERNS

Israeli observers believe Washington’s most serious concern now is the possibility of Israeli military action either against the Palestine Liberation Organization in south Lebanon, against the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Lebanon — or against both. The Golan annexation, coming unexpectedly and with out prior consultation with the U.S., has led the Reagan Administration to a wary watchfulness.

The Administration is said to fear that Premier Menachem Begin, having guessed correctly that he could annex the Golan Heights without endangering the peace treaty with Egypt, might seek to “settle scores” with the PLO and the Syrians on the same assumption.

Another American concern, according to Israeli observers, is that the government might decide to apply Israeli law and jurisdiction to the settlements on the West Bank, the same formula it used on the Golan. Haig, therefore, feels it imperative to demonstrate U.S. commitment and engagement in the autonomy talks in order to forestall such dangerous action.

He is expected to tell both Egyptians and Israelis that they share a common interest in making progress on the talks before the April deadline in Sinai in order to ensure a smooth withdrawal and strengthen the Camp David framework. But Haig was quoted as saying in Cairo today that “there has never been a deadline and we do not visualize deadlines. What we seek is a reasonable outcome.”

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