U.S. Optimistic That Deadlock over Autonomy Talks Can Be Broken

The Reagan Administration expressed optimism last week that the deadlock over Egypt’s refusal to hold any sessions of the autonomy negotiations in Jerusalem could be broken, although it did not appear’ to have, at least in public, any plans for accomplishing this.

President Reagan, in a nationally televised press conference last Thursday night, refused to make any proposals for solving the Jerusalem Issue, noting that “this is one to be worked out between” Egypt and Israel. “But I do have faith that both President (Hasni) Mubarak and Prime Minister (Menachem) Begin intend to pursue … the autonomy talks and we stand by ready to help them,” Reagan added.

Earlier in the day, a State Department official, answering questions at an Overseas Writers luncheon here, said both Egypt and Israel had “good reasons” for their positions on Jerusalem. But, he added, ” I think it really has to be understood that it is something that really can’t be allowed to stay in the way” of resuming the autonomy talks.

Israel has declared that the autonomy talks will not be resumed until it is agreed that Jerusalem will be one of the sites for the negotiations. Egypt has refused to meet in Jerusalem,

DOWN TO THE HARD ISSUES

The official, who asked not to be named, conceded it is a difficult problem. But he said that Richard Fairbanks, the U.S. special envoy to the negotiations, has expressed a “positive” attitude in his reports from the Middle East to Washington on the issue. At the same time, the official indicated that there was no “stalemate or paralysis” in the talks, noting that he expects them to start slowly “like a freight train and build up gradually.”

He said “we are down to the hard issuers” on autonomy. These were the size of the self governing authority and what its powers would be, whether the Palestinian Arabs in East Jerusalem would be allowed to vote for the authority and various issues involving the land itself. He did not elaborate.

The official expressed hope that some of these issues may be resolved when Premier Menachem Begin meets with President Reagan, as expected, in June either of the United Nations special disarmament conference in New York or more probably in Washington.

The official also expressed hope that if an autonomy agreement is reached, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza will realize that it is better to take something less than they want in hope of getting more in the future and will join the autonomy process. But he ruled out any participation by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“The ball is in their (The Palestinians!) court,” he said. If they want to play the game they have to follow the rules.” The official stressed that the U.S. “tokes the Camp David process seriously,” as do Israel and Egypt. “There is no alternative to the Camp David process,” he said. “This is pretty much it.”

He said other plans that have been proposed, such as the eight points offered by Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, are not alternatives to Camp David because they are outcomes rather than a method of negotiations. He said the final peace agreement could conceivably look like the Fahd plan but not before there would be hard negotiations in which every point would be argued out.

The official rejected the view that Egypt may now go back on its peace treaty with Israel in order to rejoin the Arab world. “The Arab world is awakening to the idea that they ought to rejoin Egypt” since it has been successful, he said.

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