The Peres-hassan Meeting: a Possible Step Toward Peace

Premier Shimon Peres’ surprise two-day visit to Morocco which ended early Thursday morning apparently amounted to little more than a frank exchange of views on the Middle East between the Israeli leader and his host, King Hassan II.

But that in itself was regarded by many observers as an accomplishment, as was the joint communique published simultaneously in Jerusalem and Rabat Thursday which made clear, politely, that the two leaders could reach no agreement. But the possibility was held out for further contacts in the future.

“I don’t think anyone expected that in one meeting we would reach agreement on all subjects,” Peres told reporters after his pre-dawn arrival at Ben Gurion Airport Thursday. He added, “It certainly contributes to speeding up the peace process.”

The joint communique described the meeting as “of a purely exploratory nature, aiming at no moment at engaging in negotiations.” It outlined in general terms the positions of Hassan and Peres.

The Moroccan ruler, who is chairman of the Arab League, urged Middle East peace on the basis of the resolutions adopted at the Arab League summit conference of September 1982 at Fez, Morocco, which called for Israel’s total withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Peres informed the monarch that those terms are unacceptable to Israel. According to the communique, “Peres clarified his observations on the Fez plan, putting forth propositions pertaining to conditions he deems necessary for the installation of peace.” The communique did not elaborate.

HASSAN IS DETERMINED TO MOVE AHEAD

Moroccan officials said Hassan is determined to go ahead with his search for better Israeli-Arab understanding. In a televised address Wednesday night, Hassan said Peres had refused to accept what he termed the “path to peace.” He said he had explained the meaning of the Fez statement and Peres replied that Israel could not withdraw from the territories and could not hold discussions with the PLO.

Peres, who said he hadn’t heard Hassan’s television address, told reporters at the airport, “I wasn’t surprised by the position the King took. I just remembered that when (Egyptian) President Anwar Sadat came to Jerusalem, in the Knesset itself, he delivered practically the same positions.”

He said he responded to Hassan’s presentation of the Fez plan by offering Israel’s plan for a Middle East settlement which is basically direct talks without prior conditions, where every party can suggest its own plan of approach, “and when direct talks take place between the Arab side and our side, I wouldn’t be surprised that the Arabs propose their position which is different from our own.”

He added, “It is because we don’t have an agreement that we have to look for an agreement.” Peres noted further that “The King was very careful to speak on behalf of himself, so the positions he has represented are the positions, as he describes it, of the 22 Arab countries. He says that the Fez plan represents the widest possible Arab consensus.”

MORE THAN A COMMON DENOMINATOR

Peres acknowledged that “the gap is still wide and demanding.” But he said he believed “The King and myself found there is much more than a common denominator, if not for anything else at least for the mere fact that we could have met face-to-face and tried to look where there are opportunities and not only where do the problems reside.”

Peres stressed that “The talks ended with two things — an agreement that there would be a continuation, and secondly, with a joint statement, despite the fact that in the joint statement there are separate points of view.”

He observed that “One must also remember that he (Hassan) is formally the head of the Arab League, and for this reason he naturally did not speak only for Morocco, but for what he assesses to be a consensus of the Arab states.” In that connection Peres said, “I want to express my appreciation for his courage. I believe that he is indeed a man who is seriously, honestly and deeply looking for peace.”

Hassan, in his television address, chastized other Arab states for remaining “passive” throughout the long Arab-Israeli conflict. He called the Arab countries “lazy.” The King had obviously taken a risk in talking to Peres. He was blasted by Syria and Libya for “treason.” Syria broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco on Tuesday.

Egyptian reaction to the Peres-Hassan meeting was strongly positive. President Hosni Mubarak welcomed it as a “good initiative” that must be supported by all who favor peace in the region. The Egyptian Charge d’ Affaires in Tel Aviv, Mohammed Bassiouny, speaking at a reception Wednesday night, said Egypt supported the Peres-Hassan meeting. He described it as a positive step toward direct talks between Israel and moderate Arab leaders and a movement toward peace in the Middle East.

PERES: ‘AN HISTORIC VISIT’

Peres said he considered his trip to Morocco “an historic visit” in the context of the Middle East peace process because it is in no way comparable to other visits in Israel or by Israelis in other places, and also not comparable to the contacts that were held previously with King Hassan.

“We know that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was there (in Morocco), the late Moshe Dayan was there, but the fact that he (Hassan) gave it public status — this is essentially another call to the Arab world” as if to say, ” ‘Sirs, the time has come to meet and talk in daylight, to speak about the topic which interests us all, and endangers us all’.”

Nevertheless, Peres would not call his talks a breakthrough. He said he preferred to think that another step and status was added to the peace process. “It certainly contributed to speeding up the peace process,” he said, referring in that context to Israel’s relationship with Egypt which he hoped would be improved once the Taba border dispute is on the way to resolution.

Peres said that King Hussein of Jordan had not been in the picture. “King Hassan told me that he wanted this meeting to be a Moroccan initiative — not a Russian, American or European one, or that of any other Arab state. This was his initiative. He did not want it described as a response to, or being carried out under an initiative by another country, and for this reason King Hassan and myself did not inform any other nation in the Middle East about the existence of the meeting.”

Peres said the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco was not discussed. “We had enough other topics to discuss,” he said.

NEWS COVERAGE WAS SCANT

Peres flew to Morocco Monday night in an Israel Air Force executive jet accompanied by a small entourage of advisers and Israeli radio and television reporters. He was Hassan’s guest at his summer palace at Efrana, about 160 miles southeast of the capital, Rabat. He had a total of 10 hours’ discussion with the King and with the King’s top advisors and ministers. These were interspersed with tours of the countryside and banquets.

News coverage of the meeting was scant during the two days, but all accounts agreed that Peres and his party were treated with warmth and friendship and the hospitality accorded them was lavish. On Wednesday Moroccan sources said Peres had delayed his departure an extra day for further talks with Hassan. But, as it turned out, his plans to return home late Wednesday were not changed.

Israelis were taken by surprise when news of the visit broke Tuesday morning. It was the first and only public face-to-face contact between an Israeli Premier and an Arab chief of state other than Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who went to Jerusalem in November, 1977. It was widely noted here that Hassan played a major role in arranging the Sadat visit.

Laborites in general were elated by the visit. Likud circles were dubious. There was some negative reaction on the left wing of the political spectrum which saw the meeting as an attempt to circumvent direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Peres’ trip was fiercely denounced by the far right.

The immediate reaction from the U.S. was strongly positive, though Washington stressed it had no hand in bringing about the Peres-Hassan meeting which it knew of in advance. The State Department said Tuesday that the talks were “an historic opportunity” and urged “all governments” to support the new dialogue. It hailed “the courageous initiative by these two leaders.”

Asked at the airport if he had been in any way constrained in his talks with Hassan by political factors in Israel, Peres replied, “I tried to speak within the framework of the agreed-upon policy of the national unity government.”

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