JERUSALEM (Sep. 14)
Premier Shimon Peres returned from his summit meeting with President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria last Friday with the solid achievement of improved bilateral relations between Israel and Egypt. Egypt will have an Ambassador in Tel Aviv for the first time since 1982.
But their agreement to advance broader peace in the region was couched in general terms. In the joint communique released in Alexandria at the end of the summit, the two leaders declared “1987 as a year of negotiations for peace.” The framework they chose — an international conference for Middle East peace — is likely, however, to run into obstacles.
As Peres left Sunday morning for Washington for talks with President Reagan and top Administration officials, it was already under fierce attack from his Likud partners in the unity coalition government.
Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Likud leader who will take over the office of Premier from Peres next month under the coalition rotation of power agreement, said it could mean “only trouble for Israel.” His Herut Party issued a formal statement opposing and rejecting an international peace conference.
PLEASED WITH SUMMIT TALKS
Peres, however, could be justifiably pleased with the results of his intensive talks with Mubarak. Their joint communique announced that Egypt has appointed Dr. Mohammed Bassiouny its new Ambassador to Israel and that the Israel government has accepted his nomination.
Bassiouny has been in Tel Aviv as the Egyptian Charge d’ Affaires since Egypt withdrew its envoy after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. His promotion is the first major thaw in the “cold peace” that prevailed between the two countries for four years.
The joint communique also stressed that “The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty reflects a shared commitment to proceed jointly and simultaneously to enforce the structure of peace between the two peoples and the achievement of a comprehensive peace in the region that will bring about a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the resolution of the Palestinian question in all its aspects.”
Peres and Mubarak expressed their shared “great concern” over the stalemated peace process. They promised to “continue their efforts toward a solution of the Palestinian problem … and the establishment of a comprehensive peace in the region.” In that connection, Peres and Mubarak agreed to establish a preparatory committee to pave the way for an international conference.
PERES STAYED WITHIN CABINET MANDATE
Peres was jubilant as he stepped from his plane at Ben Gurion Airport Friday afternoon. He insisted he had not gone beyond the mandate he had received from the Cabinet before his departure for Alexandria Thursday.
He noted that a year ago, after addressing the United Nations General Assembly and accepting “international accompaniment” for Middle East peace-making, his speech won overwhelming approval in the Knesset. There is no real difference, he asserted, between “international accompaniment” and an international peace conference.
Peres said that he and Mubarak had reached conceptual agreement on the key factor that the way to solve the Palestinian problem was “through agreement between Jordan and the Palestinians.” Officials who accompanied Peres to the summit disclosed that Egypt wanted a reference to a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in the communique but retreated after Peres balked at that.
Peres spoke of “a very warm and friendly atmosphere” in Alexandria. He said he found Mubarak to be “firmly in control.” He referred to the political “constraints” which affected both of them. But his overall feeling was that “a new page” is about to open in the Israel-Egypt relationship.
The preparatory committee for an international conference, he said, would consider “the character, procedure, timing and participation” in such a gathering.
AN INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK
Peres is understood to have anticipated Likud opposition. “I’m not employed as a contractor to meet the demands of the Likud only,” he told reporters at the airport.
He is expected to argue publicly, as he has in private, that Likud itself accepted the idea of an international framework when, in 1977, Premier Menachem Begin dispatched a high-level delegation to Cairo for a meeting of “the preparatory committee of the Geneva conference.”
The latter convened briefly in Geneva in 1973 under the joint chairmanship of the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but came to nought. Likud insists the Geneva conference has been superseded by the Camp David process which is now the only framework for Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Peres, for his part, concedes that an international conference cannot materialize without the direct or at least tacit support of Jordan and the Palestinians. He predicted difficulties with the Arab side and was doubtful the Soviets would participate under the condition set by Israel which is the immediate opening of its gates to Jewish emigration.
ISSUE OF SOVIET PARTICIPATION
An Administration official said in Washington Friday that the U.S. opposed Soviet participation unless Moscow changes its policies and attitudes. (See separate story.)
“If all the parties do not agree, we shall have to find ways of convening an international conference without the refuseniks,” Peres said.
With respect to the U.S., Peres maintained, “There is full agreement between us on the need to accompany the peace talks by an international conference.” But Shamir claimed the Americans knew there was a Cabinet majority against such a conference. Peres, whose current visit to Washington will be his fourth, and final one, as Prime Minister, did not anticipate that the subject of an international conference would arise.
There was no departure ceremony when he left Ben Gurion Airport at noon Sunday, less than 48 hours after his return from Alexandria. Before he boarded a U.S. Air Force Boeing jet for the trip, he told reporters he was not going to ask the Americans for new financial aid. “Help, in marketing, to foster economic growth, in investments, yes, but not for any assistance from government funds,” he said.
He added, “They (the Americans) have helped us greatly in the past and they still show readiness to help us, but within the present limitations of their budget.”