JERUSALEM (Jan. 25)
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has launched a peace initiative aimed at restoring calm in the administered territories while advancing negotiations for a peace settlement.
According to commentators here, the plan appears to have gained broad support in principle, but sharp differences remain over specifics.
A major issue of contention is whether the peace process should take the form of an international conference, which Jordan insists on but is vigorously opposed by Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud.
Shamir told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that the international conference idea is a “trap” and vowed that Israel would not “fall into it.”
He also lashed out at his political rival and coalition partner, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of the Labor Party, who he said had become an “obstacle” to peace prospects by backing the international conference option, instead of Shamir’s plan for direct talks with Jordan and Egypt on Palestinian autonomy.
Peres, responding in what appears to be an increasingly acerbic series of exchanges between the two leaders, said he has no objections to Shamir’s plan, but pointed out that the Arab parties have rejected it.
Shamir’s remarks were triggered by a direct appeal from Mubarak, urging the Israeli premier to drop his objections to the international peace conference. The Egyptian president called Shamir’s rejection of the conference “an unnecessary hurdle on the road to peace.”
At the same time, an American Jewish Congress delegation visiting the Middle East has urged Mubarak and Jordan’s King Hussein to consider Shamir’s objections to the peace conference and to see if they could modify their positions to keep the peace momentum going.
The delegation, led by Theodore Mann, AJCongress national president, and Henry Siegman, the group’s executive director, met with the two leaders last week before arriving in Israel over the weekend.
AJCONGRESS GROUP REPORTS
Reporting their findings at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, the delegation said Mubarak believed that alternatives to the peace conference were worth pursuing, but Hussein’s response was “unclear.”
The delegation met Sunday night with Shamir and, according to Siegman, the premier showed no flexibility in his position.
Mubarak’s new peace plan was conveyed to both Shamir and Peres over the weekend by Mohammad Bassiouny, the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv.
It apparently calls for a six-month cessation of disturbances in the administered territories and a concurrent freeze on Israeli settlement activity.
It is based on two principles: The first is that until negotiations for a settlement have begun, the political process will concentrate on drawing plans for a transition period in the territories.
Second, the idea of an international conference would be shelved for the time being and the focus would be on the preparatory process.
The plan also would guarantee that if an international conference is convened, “no outside power will have the right to dictate to the parties or to veto whatever they agree upon.”
That provision is similar to wording contained in the so-called “London document” that Hussein and Peres hammered out last April during a secret meeting in the British capital.
While the Mubarak plan has gained broad acceptance in principle, there are a number of differences on both sides. Egypt, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Soviet Union want the territories to be put under international supervision or administration during the interim period.
Israel and Jordan prefer that they be put under Jordanian-Palestinian administration. But the two disagree over the extent of Israeli presence in the territories during the transition interval.
Mubarak is currently in Europe and is due to arrive Thursday in Washington, where he will undoubtedly present the plan to American officials.