WASHINGTON (Oct. 3)
Fourteen Jewish leaders, who met with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt for more than an hour today, came away reassured that Egypt is committed to peace with Israel but disappointed that the Egyptian leader has allowed the relationship between the two countries to cool over the last year.
Julius Berman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who led the group, told a press conference inside the Egyptian Embassy that the Jewish leaders had also expressed disappointment to Mubarak that he and other Egyptian officials have been calling for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon instead of the simultaneous withdrawal of Israeli, Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces.
Secretary of State George Shultz told Jewish leaders after the May 17 Israeli-Lebanese agreement that Mubarak and other Arab leaders accepted the need for simultaneous withdrawal of all foreign troops, according to Berman. But he said today that the Egyptians have only been urging Israel to withdraw.
Berman said that when Mubarak was confronted with this position he explained that he believed once Israel makes clear it will withdraw from Lebanon, Syria will eventually withdraw due to pressure from other Arab countries and because the Syrians do not want a war with Israel. “To be very candid, we were not pleased” with this argument, Berman noted.
MAJOR CONCERN IS THE ‘COLD PEACE’
But it was the “cold peace” that has developed between Egypt and Israel that appeared to be the major concern of the Jewish leaders in their talk with Mubarak. Berman said that Israel made major sacrifices in the peace treaty with Egypt “not just for a piece of paper but to prepare a new relationship between two ancient peoples of living together.” He warned that in this relationship, if “you don’t move forward, you move backward.”
Berman noted that when Jewish leaders met with Mubarak January 28, he told them that he had recalled the Egyptian Ambassador from Israel and had cooled other ties in order to save the peace from public opinion. At today’s meeting, Mubarak said that “public opinion will not allow the sending back of the Ambassador at this point in time,” according to Berman. The Egyptian President expressed the hope that public opinion will “mellow,” Berman said.
After Mubarak met with President Reagan last Friday, a senior American official also stressed that Mubarak was unable to give the U.S. any new assurances that the Egyptian Ambassador will return to Israel anytime soon.
Berman said today that the Jewish leaders stressed to Mubarak that the task of leadership is “molding public opinion not just reacting to it.” They expressed concern that the Egyptian press was contributing to the anti-Israel opinion in Egypt and would make it harder to reverse the situation.
Berman said the Jewish leaders had gone to the Egyptian Embassy believing that Mubarak was committed to the peace with Israel. But they were pleased to hear him “repeat again and again the commitment to peace by not only himself, but also his people.”
Mubarak stressed that when he recalled the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel after the massacre of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, he had not asked that the Israeli Ambassador be withdrawn from Egypt. He also noted that he and other Egyptian officials continue to see Israelis.
PURPOSE IN MEETING WITH MUBARAK
Berman said the Jewish leaders were invited by Mubarak today through Ambassador Ashraf Ghorbal, apparently so he could explain his position to the American Jewish community. He said the purpose in the Jewish leaders meeting with Mubarak was to “very candidly set forth our major concern and to not let him walk out of this country believing the American Jewish community is not concerned.”
Mubarak described several issues besides Lebanon needed for Egypt to send its Ambassador back to Israel, according to Berman. Berman said he spoke a great deal about the need for negotiations to begin over Taba, where the Egyptians are claiming the Israelis are building a hotel illegally. Mubarak also mentioned the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a hindrance to improved relations. But the Palestinian issue never came up, Berman said.
Mubarak told the Jewish leaders that he has taken some steps to improve relations, particularly in the areas of tourism and commercial ties. Berman said that when he was asked about the problem Egptians were having in getting visas to travel to Israel, Mubarak replied that he had heard about this and had taken steps to correct this.
But Mubarak added that it was cheaper for Egyptian tourists to go to Cyprus and Greece than Israel and suggested the American Jewish community might subsidize tourism to Israel.
Mubarak also expressed regret that Israeli Premier Menachem Begin had resigned, according to Berman. Mubarak called Begin a “strong man and a man who kept his word.” He also said that Begin understood Mubarak’s problems with Egyptian public opinion.