New Major Mideast Peace Initiative Peres is Meeting with Hassan

Premier Shimon Peres is in Morocco for talks with King Hassan II in what many observers see as the first major Middle East peace initiative since President Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem nine years ago. Peres’ trip was unannounced but reaction in Israel was broadly positive.

Peres arrived in Morocco Monday night in an Israel Air Force executive jet. He was expected to remain there 48 hours as Hassan’s guest at the King’s summer residence at Efrana, about 160 mile southeast of the capital, Rabat.

Political experts and diplomats here and abroad believe the talks will concentrate on ways and means to break the deadlocked Middle East situation. Some diplomats in Rabat were said to believe Hassan may try to arrange an official summit meeting between Peres and King Hussein of Jordan.

It was recalled that Hassan acted as an intermediary in helping arrange Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. Details were worked out by the late Moshe Dayan who was Foreign Minister at the time, and several of Sadat’s senior aides who met with him secretly in Morocco.

Peres and Hassan held their first round of talks shortly after the Israeli leader’s arrival, according to reports from Paris Tuesday. Peres is accompanied by Rafi Edri, chairman of the Labor Party’s Knesset faction, his media aide, Uri Savir, and broadcast crews from Israel television and radio. Edri, who is Moroccan-born, visited the country recently and met with Hassan, possibly in connection with Peres’ visit.

REACTIONS FROM ARAB LEADERS

In an immediate reaction to Peres’ visit, Syria broke diplomatic relations with Morocco Tuesday and Damascus radio accused Hassan of “a long history of treason against the Arabs.”

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt welcomed the meeting as “a good initiative” that must be supported by all who favor peace in the region. He told reporters in Cairo Tuesday, “I appreciate the meeting,” but he refused to speculate as to whether it might bring Hussein into the peace process. The visit made front-page headlines in the Egyptian press Tuesday.

Jordan’s state-controlled media did not mention the visit until late Tuesday morning, long after it was headlined all over the world. It stressed that Jordan had no advance knowledge.

REACTION IN ISRAEL

Most Israelis wished Peres Godspeed on his mission. There was less favorable reaction on the left of the political spectrum and bitter criticism on the far right. MK Geula Cohen of the Tehiya Party declared Tuesday, “Shimon Peres must be stopped before it is too late. Morocco is where they sold out all of Sinai … What are they going to sell out now?”

Likud circles greeted the surprise trip with some cynical comment and reservations. “I hope this is not a stunt designed to torpedo the rotation,” Likud Knesset faction chairman Sara Doron said, referring to the rotation of power agreement by which Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir will take over the office of Prime Minister from Peres next October.

Another Likud Liberal MK, Pinhas Goldstein, also expressed hope that “this is not a public relations gimmick.” Labor MK Ora Namir termed the visit “a vitally important development.” And Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of the Labor-allied Yahad Party suggested that there “must be more to it than just the visit itself and meeting with Hassan.” He speculated that Peres might meet with other Arab leaders in Morocco as well.

CAUTIONS AGAINST IMMEDIATE SUBSTANTIVE RESULTS

But Cabinet Secretary Yossi Beilin, one of Peres’ closest associates, cautioned against expectations of immediate substantive results. He said in a radio interview Tuesday that the meeting was not intended “for negotiations” but for a thorough exchange of views.

Nevertheless, Beilin noted that the very fact it was taking place publicly was “unprecedented … completely different from secret meetings ….” He spoke hopefully of the possible evolution of a bloc of moderate Arab states, including Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which was moving toward the “legitimization” of Israel’s presence in the Middle East.

Egypt alone among the Arab states has a peace treaty with Israel, dating back to 1979. But relations between Cairo and Jerusalem have been strained since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Minister-Without-Portfolio Ezer Weizman of the Yahad Party suggested Tuesday that Peres’ meeting with Hassan could help improve the Israeli-Egyptian relationship.

Weizman also observed that Hassan would not have invited the Israeli Premier for a public meeting to contribute about the Middle East peace process. “By the same token, Peres would not have gone to Morocco “empty-handed,” Weizman said.

OTHER REACTIONS IN ISRAEL

There were complaints from Meir Wilner, veteran leader of the Hadash Communist Party, that Peres’ move “deliberately avoided the main issue” which according to Wilner was the need to talk to the Palestinians through their legitimate representative, the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement (CRM) also stressed the need to address the Palestinian problem rather than peripheral issues. But his CRM colleague, Mordechai Baram, said the party welcomed every contact with Arab leaders and wished Peres well.

Eliezer Granot of Mapam said he hoped the visit would advance peace prospects but noted that past experience with Morocco had produced very mixed results. Mordechai Wirshubsky of the left-of-center Shinui Party called Peres’ trip a valuable development even if it did not result in immediate progress for the peace process.

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