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Cabinet Argues over Value of Mubarak’s Peace Move

The Labor-Likud unity government was embroiled in angry recriminations at yesterday’s Cabinet session over the value of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s recent peace initiative and Egypt’s apparently adamant stand in its border dispute with Israel over the tiny Taba region.

Premier Shimon Peres, who may have gone out on a limb last week with his enthusiastic endorsement of Mubarak’s suggestion that a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation negotiate with Israel, appears to be taking a lower profile. Likud hardliners are heaping scorn on Mubarak’s proposals, questioning Egypt’s good faith and suggesting that Peres and his fellow Laborites — and Minister-With-out-Portfolio Ezer Weizman of the Yahad faction–responded to Mubarak naively.

Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir accused Peres and his colleagues of “drunken euphoria” over the Mubarak initiative. Other Likud ministers derogated the meeting Peres had last week with Mubarak’s personal emissary, Ossama El-Baz.

Sources close to the Premier said he is less concerned with Likud’s cynicism than the unpredictability of events and is therefore anxious to lower expectations. The next crucial diplomatic event is Mubarak’s summit meeting with King Hussein of Jordan later this week. It is impossible to forecast the Hashemite ruler’s position at the meeting where Mubarak presumably will press for a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team.

NO NEW ISRAELI STANCE NEEDED

Peres clearly does not want to find himself embarrassed by a totally negative Hussein, which would only add credibility to the Likud attacks on his policy. Peres stressed to the Cabinet yesterday that the Egyptian initiative did not require Israel to adopt any new positions at this stage. His positive response to Mubarak related to a suggestion that Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation meet in Cairo, with U.S. participation.

But the Egyptian leader, who will meet President Reagan in Washington on March 12, is also expected to urge the Americans to meet first with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation in Washington and then invite Israel to join the talks.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ronnie Milo of Likud said in a statement released last night that the Egyptians apparently consider the Israelis “naifs.” He charged that their initiative was intended solely to impress U.S. public opinion in advance of Mubarak’s visit to Washington next week.

What transpired at Peres’ meeting here with El Baz has not been disclosed. Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, a Likud hardliner who sat in at the meeting, reportedly spoke of it with unconcealed derision afterwards. Shamir, who was visiting Europe at the time, faulted an aide of Peres for allegedly telling a foreign reporter that the Camp David accords would be Israel’s “opening position” at future peace talks. Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, also of Likud, criticized what he discerned as the Premier’s readiness to abandon Camp David as the sole basis of Israeli policy. Likud has always insisted that talks with any of Israel’s neighbors must be within the Camp David framework.

SHAMIR WARNS AGAINST EUPHORIA

Shamir warned the Cabinet yesterday against attempts to create euphoria. “I do not say this gladly. I too want to see an improvement in relations with Egypt. But there is nothing practical or operative in Egypt’s latest proposals” he said.

The Taba issue is also souring attempts to thaw the “cold peace” with Cairo. Peres repeatedly has suggested that Israel and Egypt establish a joint administration over the disputed area, a sliver of beach on the Gulf of Aqaba which Egypt claims is part of Sinai. According to Peres, a joint administration would make Taba “a symbolic oasis of peace” on their common border and would remain in force whatever the outcome of the dispute over sovereignty.

Israel also reportedly advanced a proposal that the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) which presently monitors Sinai, extend its role to Taba.

All indications are that Cairo has not responded favorably to these proposals. It is understood, unofficially, that Peres and his senior aides have indicated that Israel would be prepared to submit the Taba dispute to international arbitration–as Egypt has been insisting all along — if this is done in the context of a “broad basket” of improved bilateral relations between the two countries.

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