JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
New initiatives in the Middle East peace process seemed to be brewing in Cairo and Jerusalem over the weekend.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt said in Cairo he was ready to visit Israel if he thought it would have some “positive result.”
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said in several radio interviews that he was working on a new peace plan. It is believed to be based on the 1978 Camp David peace accords.
The prime minister said on television Sunday that he would be glad to welcome Mubarak to Israel. “I am sure that if we meet and talk, we shall reach positive results,” he said, using the Egyptian leader’s phrase.
Yossi Ben-Aharon, director general of the Prime Minister’s Office, said Sunday he was confident a visit by Mubarak would not be a wasted opportunity.
If Mubarak comes, he will be the first Arab leader to visit Israel since the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his historic trip to Jerusalem in November 1977.
In the past, Mubarak has conditioned a visit to Israel on progress made toward an international conference for Middle East peace. But he did not refer to that condition when he suggested the visit in an interview published in the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba.
However, Mohammed Basiouny, the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, said over the weekend that Israel would have to present “new ideas” in order for a Shamir-Mubarak summit to materialize.
“If Shamir says that he agrees to an international conference which would include the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mubarak will agree to meet with him immediately,” the envoy said.
Basiouny on Monday was the first ambassador received by Israel’s new foreign minister, Moshe Arens. No details were released of their conversation.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Voice of Israel Radio that he welcomed Mubarak’s reported willingness to come to Israel. However, he said, the attached preconditions cannot be overlooked.
There was no official word about Shamir’s reported peace initiative. According to local press reports, the prime minister has long held the Camp David accords to be the cornerstone of Israel’s peace policy.
Local sources said his new plan would no longer insist on a five-year interim period before the final status of the administered territories is decided.
Israel would also show greater flexibility regarding the personal structure of a Jordanian-Palestinian peace delegation.
The sticking point, however, is whether Israel would veto PLO members on the joint delegation, particularly in light of Egypt’s promotion of the PLO’s recent moderation.
The need for an Israeli peace initiative became apparent after PLO leader Yasir Arafat’s extraordinarily successful peace offensive at the United Nations.
The United States announced on Dec. 15 that it was opening a dialogue with the PLO. Peres suggested that Israel respond by allowing municipal elections in the administered territories, out of which an indigenous Palestinian leadership presumably would emerge.
Up until now, Shamir has insisted that elections must follow a successful conclusion of talks on autonomy, as prescribed by the Camp David plan.
But over the weekend, the prime minister promised that Palestinians in the administered territories would be allowed to elect representatives with whom Israel could negotiate, within the Camp David framework.
He said in a radio interview that Israel is committed to holding “democratic elections by the Palestinian Arab population in the territories for an administrative council that would also be the legitimate representation of the Palestinian-Arab population.”
According to Shamir, the elections would be held in the first stages of the autonomy plan, which represents a “very important clause of the Camp David agreements.”
He stressed that the elected Palestinians should not be members of the PLO. The elected council would have to be a “living body of the population of the territories,” he said.