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Egypt’s Criticism of Begin’s Statement on Jewish Settlements Draws Low-key Response from Israel

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Israel issued a low-key response today to the tough public criticism by Egypt of the Knesset’s approval yesterday of Premier Menachem Begin’s statement that Israeli settlements will never again be removed even in the context of peace treaties with Arab countries, and of Begin’s insistence that the autonomy talks be held in Jerusalem.

“Israel would prefer it if these issues and disputes were discussed at the negotiating table and not in public statements.” officials here said.

As for the venue of the autonomy talks, the officials said it was standard practice throughout the world that international negotiations are held in the parties’ capitals and “We cannot agree that through Egypt’s refusal, Israel is boycotted in this way.” Those remarks were directed at a flurry of statements from Cairo last night, in the wake of the Knesset vote endorsing Begin’s policy-statement.

Egypt’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali said the Knesset’s approval of Begin’s statement on the future status of Jewish settlements had no validity for Egypt and indeed both Egypt and the U.S. regarded the Israeli settlements as illegal. All maintained that at Camp David, Israel had undertaken to freeze new building of settlements, a claim that Begin has consistently denied.

President Hosni Mubarak’s top political aide, Osama El-Baz, also reacting to Begin’s Knesset speech, said Egypt continued to object to Jerusalem as a venue for the autonomy talks because it regarded the Arab part of the city as an integral part of the West Bank and thus part of the subject matter of the talks themselves.

The Israeli officials, in their response on the settlements issue, said that while they preferred not to enter into “public argument” it should be noted that the Knesset action does not contravene Camp David. On the contrary, it is based on Camp David, they said.

The Egyptians, in their criticisms, argued that Camp David calls for a negotiated final status of the West Bank and Gaza based on UN Security Council Resolution 242.

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