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Greater U.S. Involvement Promised to Resolve Israeli-egyptian Dispute over Autonomy Talks Venue

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Yehuda Ben-Meir, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said today that the State Department has promised greater U.S. involvement in helping solve the dispute between Israel and Egypt over the latter’s refusal to hold any sessions of the autonomy negotiations in Jerusalem.

Ben-Meir, responding to questions at a breakfast meeting with reporters here, said that Lawrence Eagleburger, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told him yesterday that the U.S. had hoped that Egypt and Israel could resolve the problem themselves. But Eagleburger promised to involve the U.S. more in the issue and said it would be taken up by Richard Fairbanks, the American special envoy to the autonomy talks, who is meeting with Egyptian officials in Cairo today. Ben-Meir noted that Israel does not care whether some sessions are held in Washington, Cairo, or even in Geneva, as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly suggested. “But it must be held also in Jerusalem,” he stressed. He said it would not matter if Jerusalem were first, second or last on the list in the next round of talks. But, he insisted, the issue must be resolved before the negotiations can begin.

“The business of not having talks in Jerusalem is something we cannot accept and we don’t even understand,” Ben-Meir said. He pointed out that if the Egyptian delegation came to Jerusalem, this “does not imply their acceptance of Israel’s position on Jerusalem.” He noted that Presidents Carter, Anwar Sadat and Francois Mitterrand among others, have come to Jerusalem without any implication of their “full acceptance” of Israel’s position on its capital.

ISRAEL FULLY COMMITTED TO NEGOTIATIONS

Most of the autonomy talks, up to now, have been held in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv or in Giza, a suburb of Cairo. Ben-Meir said he believed Herzliya was originally selected because the hotels there were cheaper than in Jerusalem. He said the present difficulties arose when President Mubarak refused to come to Jerusalem earlier this year, which caused postponement of his planned visit to Israel.

Ben-Meir added that Mubarak’s position was the cause of some of the difficulties before Israel completed its withdrawal from Sinai last April 25 because many supporters of the peace agreement with Egypt were concerned about Mubarak’s commitment to the peace treaty.

Ben-Meir stressed, however, that Israel accepts Mubarak’s assurances that he is committed to the Camp David peace process and to the autonomy negotiations which are the next step in that process. He said Eagleburger also assured him yesterday that the U.S. believes there is no alternative to the Camp David process.

As for Israel, Ben-Meir declared that “Israel remains fully committed to the negotiations.” He noted that Premier Menachem Begin is persona-ally committed since it was he who originally proposed autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Ben-Meir blamed the Palestine Liberation Organization for the “unrest” on the West Bank which, he said, was initiated by the PLO because it realized that the peace process was going ahead as planned. He said the PLO wants to prevent autonomy from being achieved since it knows that if conditions are improved for the residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the PLO influence will be lessened. He maintained that only five percent of the West Bank population is involved in the unrest.

Ben-Meir also stressed that when residents of the West Bank and Gaza realize that the U.S. is fully committed to the autonomy negotiations and that there is no other alternative but continued military control, they will accept the process.

ISRAEL REGRETS LOSS OF LIVES

The American-born official who is a social psychologist, tried to explain the present situation on the West Bank. “Israel regrets any loss of lives,” he said. He said the problem on the West Bank is not that Israel is confronted with announced demonstrations or riots but that a group of soldiers going through a street or alley is suddenly confronted by a mob.

Ben-Meir said the soldiers do everything possible to disperse the crowd without shooting at civilians, but if they are forced to shoot, then injuries do occur. He said the same thing happens to civilians, meaning Israeli settlers, in vehicles who are confronted by a mob on the road.

He gave as an example mini-buses carrying children to school and civilians having to shoot their way-out sometimes because of the threat to their own lives. He said Israel is trying to find ways to meet the threat from mobs without causing injuries.

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