JERUSALEM (Sep. 11)
The long awaited summit meeting between Premier Shimon Peres and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt began in Alexandria Thursday. The Israeli leader was received at the airport by Egyptian Premier Ali Lofti and then flew by helicopter to the Ras el-Tine Palace for his first working session with Mubarak, which began at 4 p.m. local time.
The reception for the Israeli leader was low key and security was especially tight. The meeting is the first Israeli-Egyptian summit in five years and until late Wednesday it was uncertain it would take place.
The chief obstacle, an accord between the two countries on how to arbitrate their border dispute over Taba, was signed after midnight, ending 18 months of off-again, on-again negotiations.
This drew high praise from the U.S., which had been applying pressure to both sides for an agreement. “We extend our congratulations to the two governments and their negotiating delegations, which have engaged in long, hard discussions over the past year and a half,” the State Department said in a statement released in Washington Wednesday night.
“We are confident that completion of the agreement on Taba arbitration will significantly further Egyptian-Israeli relations and enhance the atmosphere for the broader peace process. This agreement reached between close friends of the United States, proves that negotiations work,” the statement said.
PERES: SUMMIT IS NOT MERELY A MEDIA EVENT
Peres told reporters aboard his plane during the short flight to Alexandria that he rejected the notion that the summit was nothing more than a media event. He said he anticipated serious discussions of both bilateral issues and the broader peace process.
He received a courteous send-off by his Likud colleagues of the unity government. The Inner Cabinet (five Labor and five Likud Ministers) approved his trip at a special meeting Thursday morning.
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said after the Premier’s plane took off that Peres enjoyed the consensual support of the Cabinet “provided he adheres to the terms of those documents that are agreed upon by the whole government.”
PLEDGES TO ADHERE TO GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES
Peres pledged to keep to the government’s guidelines in his talks with Mubarak. In a prepared statement released just before his departure from Alexandria, the Premier said: “I speak on behalf of all members of the Cabinet when I say that the peace process is a central theme of our national agenda. We will not allow the peace process to die or to fade.
“I hope we will be putting an end today to four years of the cooling of the peace, with the return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel and the renewal of the issue of bilateral ties between our two countries …. The government of Israel is determined to develop the relations between the two countries, to make sincere efforts to widen the peace process. An active peace between Israel and Egypt would constitute a major contribution to the broadening of the circle of peace in the region.”
The Israeli leader spoke in a similar vein to reporters in Alexandria. “We expect to reach a meeting of minds on how to advance the process of peace in the Middle East,” he said.
Peres was received in Alexandria with the full dress ceremony that protocol accords a visiting head of government. But observers noted that it was far from the warm welcome given Premier Menachem Begin on his first trip to Egypt following the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979.
Peres has long entertained hopes that once the Taba dispute is on the way to settlement, normalization of relations between Israel and Egypt would proceed rapidly under the peace treaty terms. He hopes for an end to the “cold peace” which has prevailed since Egypt withdrew its Ambassador from Tel Aviv after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.
But Peres, who will hand over his office to Likud leader Shamir next month under the Labor-Likud rotation of power agreement, will be constrained by the coalition guidelines in his talks with Mubarak. He has already rejected self-determination for the Palestinians and is expected to state unequivocally Israel’s position on terrorism.
PALESTINIAN ISSUE IS RAISED
The Palestinian issue was raised by Premier Lofti, who lunched with Peres prior to the first summit session. He stressed that recognition of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinians and granting them self-determination” would overcome a serious obstacle in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lofti also spoke in favor of an international conference for peace in the Middle East.
Peres, in his reply, observed that the Palestinians are a people “just like any other people” and expressed hope that their problems would be resolved. He stressed that Israel has no desire to rule another people.
Uri Savir, Peres’ communications advisor, described the atmosphere as “warm and cordial.” The Premier’s first working session with Mubarak was followed by a festive dinner. A second meeting was to be held either late Thursday night or early Friday morning. The summit meeting will end Friday, possibly with Peres and Mubarak holding a joint press conference.