NEW YORK (Sep. 25)
President Bush took an opportunity during his meeting Monday afternoon with Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres to praise Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s efforts to act as a mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Briefing reporters after the meeting. Peres said that Bush was “impressed by the progress Mubarak has produced” Peres quoted the U.S. president as saying he had “great respect” for Mubarak and thought the Egyptian leader was “doing a very important job.”
At a separate briefing here Monday, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker also praised Mubarak’s proposal. Baker said the Bush administration was “committed to promoting direct discussion between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Until now, the Bush administration has been cautious about reacting to a 10-point plan Mubarak has proposed to advance the peace process.
It calls, among other things, for preliminary negotiations between Israel and a delegation of Palestinian leaders, including some from outside the administered territories. Israel’s Labor Party has reacted positively to the plan, while the Likud rejects it.
Peres, who heads the Labor Party, told Bush that he interpreted Mubarak’s 10-point proposal as acceptance of the Israeli government’s peace initiative. He told the president he believes a real possibility now exists for negotiating with Palestinians.
ARENS CRITICIZES PERES
Bush reportedly told the vice premier that the United States would go “full steam ahead” with efforts for peace. But there was no immediate indication about what specific action the administration plans to take.
Peres said that he explained to Bush that internal Israeli disagreement about the Egyptian proposals presently falls along party lines, but he added that there was potential for divisiveness within each of Israel’s major parties.
The Labor-Likud squabble over the Egyptian plan was evident in remarks made earlier Monday by Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Arens of Likud, who like Bush, is here to attend the 44th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Speaking at a news briefing, Arens criticized Peres, saying he was undermining the unity government by speaking out publicly in favor of the Egyptian plan.
Arens said Likud rejects the Egyptian plan, because it believes no negotiations should take place until after the Palestinian elections Israel proposes to hold in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“We want to talk to people elected in democratic elections,” he maintained. “There can be negotiations only after elections.”
Arens said that Peres. who serves as finance minister in the Cabinet, should confine his remarks to financial issues. He also said that the U.S. government is well aware that Peres does not speak for all of Israel.
The Americans “have a very good understanding of who won the last election and who would win the next one,” he said, referring to Likud’s current dominance over Labor in Israeli public opinion.
BUSH POLICIES A ‘NICE SURPRISE’
Arens was scheduled to meet separately with President Bush during a Monday evening reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Peres’ meeting with Bush, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, lasted one hour. Immediately afterward, he telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem to brief him on the session.
Joining Peres at the meeting were his political adviser, Nimrod Novik, and the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Moshe Arad.
Accompanying Bush on the American side were White House Chief of Staff John Sununu; National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Dennis Ross, head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff.
Peres reportedly told Bush that he has found the president’s policies “a nice surprise” — regarding both the Middle East and the subject of Soviet Jewish emigration.
Earlier this month, the Bush administration announced that as of Oct. 1. it would no longer grant refugee status to Jews who emigrate from the Soviet Union with Israeli Visas.
During the meeting, Peres told Bush that Israel “needs Soviet Jews more than the United States needs them.”
When Bush asked Peres about the principle of freedom of choice for Soviet Jews, the vice premier replied that there was no such thing as choice for soviet Jews after “70 years of (Soviet) propaganda” against Israel.
Peres told Bush that 1989 had been “a good year for democracy” and indicated that he saw the Israeli proposal for Palestinian elections as part of the worldwide movement toward democracy.