JERUSALEM (Apr. 18)
Egypt appears to be moving to settle several last minute issues that stand in the way of Israel’s final withdrawal from Sinai on April 25. But the Cabinet decided neverthe less to reconvene next Wednesday after it has a full report from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Walter Stoessel Jr. on what transpired at his meetings with President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo over the weekend.
Stoessel returned to Israel from Cairo today, expressing optimism that the withdrawal will take place as scheduled next Sunday.
At the regular weekly session today, Premier Menachem Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon briefed the Cabinet on the latest contacts with Egypt. These included a visit here over the weekend by the Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Butros Ghali, and what Begin described as a “warm” letter from Mubarak. Egyptian Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Kamal Hasson Ali is due here tomorrow for further talks.
SAYS EGYPT MAKING SINCERE EFFORT
Begin noted that the Egyptians were making a “real and sincere” effort to correct violations of the peace treaty in Sinai. He quoted several passages from Mubarak’s letter that stressed Egypt’s commitment to the peace process. But Cairo apparently is balking at Israel’s last-minute demand for a written statement that Egypt is totally committed to the Camp David accords on which the Israeli Egyptian peace treaty is based.
Israel reportedly did not present this demand as arultimatum. But senior political sources here would not rule out the possibility that if Egypt rejected it, Israel might reassess its policy toward Egypt. That demand, along with Israel’s complaints of alleged Egyptian treaty violations, was brought to Cairo by Stoessel after two days of meetings with Israeli leaders last week.
The American diplomat reportedly indicated that Israel’s insistence on a written Egyptian reaffirmation of loyalty to Camp David was worth looking into. He agreed to raise the matter with the Egyptian authorities. It is believed the Israelis brought it up, too, in their talks with Ghali here Friday.
ISRAEL’S MOST SERIOUS COMPLAINT
Israel’s most serious complaint against Egypt was that the Egyptians were aiding or acquiescing in the smuggling of arms from Sinai to Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip and were, in fact, drawing closer to the Palestine Liberation Organization as part of their effort to mend ties with the Arab world.
The Israelis also accused the Egyptians of deploying more troops than allowed under the peace treaty in the limited forces zone of Sinai which they control.
Mubarak reportedly told Stoessel that Egypt would act to correct those matters over which Israel has expressed concern. He also reportedly gave him oral assurances that Egypt intends to adhere fully to the Camp David accords after Israel pulls out of Sinai.
Before he left Israel for Cairo, Stoessel indicated that the U.S. understood the problems raised by Israel and believed Israel should be given grounds for complete confidence as to Egypt’s intentions before the final stage of withdrawl. Stoessel, who is the ranking official at the State Department after Secretary of State Alexander Haig, said the U.S. for its part was fully confident that Egypt will honor its treaty commitments after it takes full control of Sinai.
NO PROGRESS ON BORDER DISPUTE
According to Begin, no progress has been made toward resolving the Israeli-Egyptian dispute over the Sinai-Israel border. Begin told the Cabinet today that in the absence of an agreement, Israel would withdraw its forces to what it considers to be the border and further discussions would be held. The Egyptians reportedly warned that if there is no agreement on the border, Israelis would not be allowed to visit Sinai after the withdrawal is completed.
The dispute focusses on about 125 acres of coastal land near the Israeli town of Eilat where an Israeli resort hotel is nearing completion. The region, known as Tabo, is claimed by Egypt according to the international boundary drawn in 1906 by the British and Turks. Israel insists that boundary was in error. Sharon visited Cairo last week in an effort to reach a settlement but apparently failed. The matter is expected to be on the agenda of the discussions with Hassan Ali here tomorrow.
ANTI-WITHDRAWAL PRESSURES CONTINUE
Meanwhile, anti-withdrawal pressures continued to mount within the Herut wing of the Likud Knesset faction. The faction is scheduled to meet Wednesday, possibly to urge the government to postpone the withdrawal from Sinai. Begin has been invited to attend. Seven Likud MKs are demanding a meeting with Begin tomorrow to insist that the withdrawal be stopped.
One of them, Yigal Cohen-Orgad has suggested a national referendum on whether the withdrawal should be completed, given Egypt’s “departure from the Camp David framework” on the Palestinian issue. The Prime Minister’s Office has not confirmed a meeting with this group.