NEW YORK (Mar. 14)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak assured American Jewish Congress leaders who recently visited Egypt that stresses and strains brought on by sharp differences over autonomy will not interfere with “normalization” of relations between Israel and Egypt.
But he acknowledged there is no way to “narrow the gap” on autonomy in the next six weeks. The Camp David process of negotiating will ultimately succeed, but it cannot be forced into an “unrealistic timetable,” he said. It will take time for Egypt and Israel to work out their differences, Mubarak told the visiting AJCongress mission during a private meeting in the presidential palace in Heliopolis. “Meanwhile, we must not lose patience.”
The Egyptian head also had some kind words to say about Menachem Begin. “Prime Minister Begin is a tough negotiator, but he is a man of his word, a man of honor,” Mubarak told the seven-member mission headed by AJCongress president Howard Squadron. “When he signs an agreement, he can be counted on to live up to its pledge. Mutual willingness to continue to talk is real reason for hope and for optimism.”
Mubarak predicted that if there is an eventual autonomy agreement, Jordan “certainly will join” in a comprehensive peace arrangement, and the Palestinians will recognize that they “have to participate, regardless of the PLO.”
But Mubarak was frank in listing immediate stumbling blocks to an agreement, including Egypt’s inability to afford any compromises on autonomy at this time for fear of offending other Arab states. He also cited Israel’s alleged failure to engage in “confidence building” measures to nullify the effects of its bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor, the attack on the Palestine Liberation Organization compound in Beirut and the extension of civil law to the Golan Heights.
Mubarak emphasized, however, that in spite of these problems, the normalization process will continue. Egypt will keep the door open to other Arab states, he noted, “but not at the expense of Israel. It is, after all, in the best interests of our neighbors (for us) to have good relations with Israel.” After Cairo, the mission went to Israel where it met with Begin and other ranking officials.