JERUSALEM (Jul. 20)
The official visit here of Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, the first by a top Egyptian statesman since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, began under a cloud Monday.
Feelings are running high over Egypt’s invitation to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim–issued by Meguid last week — to visit Egypt. In addition, the Labor-Likud conflict over the peace process was aggravated by Meguid’s call upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport for the Israeli government and people “to stand together and support” an international conference for Middle East peace.
Meguid also indirectly triggered a row among Labor Party Knesset members and between Labor and Likud over what many in both parties saw as a slight by the Egyptian visitor toward the Israeli lawmakers. According to Abba Eban, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, there was no slight, only a misunderstanding.
The official aspects of Meguid’s visit went off smoothly. He was greeted at the airport with full diplomatic protocol. He met separately with Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres Monday morning and lunched with President Chaim Herzog.
Political observers said Meguid’s call for an international peace conference would carry no weight with Shamir and Likud, who are flatly opposed to that scenario. Shamir’s aides briefed reporters in advance of his arrival not to expect any changes.
In his airport remarks, Meguid said, “Egypt will continue to exert all its efforts for an early resumption of the peace process through convening an international conference before the end of the year.” He said, “The message to the Israel government and people is the urgency of peace.”
Meguid had scarcely arrived when the Knesset House Committee plunged into debate over Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel’s order to cancel a meeting between Meguid and the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee because it would take place at the King David Hotel rather than in the Knesset.
Hillel felt the venue was an insult which amounted to a boycott of Israel’s parliament by the Egyptian Foreign Minister. Likud members of the House Committee backed Hillel, a Laborite.
But Eban, also a Labor MK, criticized Hillel’s action and called the House Committee’s debate “insulting and superfluous.” He said it was never intended for the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee to meet with Meguid at a hotel, and he would not think of convening it anywhere but in the Knesset.
According to Eban, he had arranged for some committee members to meet with Meguid informally at his hotel because the Foreign Ministry had not scheduled a visit to the Knesset for him. Eban said he would meet privately with Meguid at the hotel. Shamir and Peres both announced before Meguid’s arrival that they would raise the issue of Cairo’s invitation to Waldheim, who is accused of complicity in Nazi atrocities during World War II. The announcements drew an angry response from Meguid before he left Cairo warning Israel not to meddle in Egypt’s internal affairs.
But the feeling here is that the invitation, issued almost on the eve of Meguid’s visit here, showed an insensitivity to Israeli and Jewish sensibilities on the matter. Shamir charged over the weekend that Arab countries seemed to “court” Waldheim as a way of “expressing hatred” for Israel.
Waldheim has visited Jordan at the invitation of King Hussein and reportedly has been invited to Libya.