JERUSALEM (Jul. 30)
Foreign Minister David Levy’s two-day visit to Cairo has apparently not produced Israeli-Egyptian agreement on a formula to advance the Middle East peace process.
Levy described his Monday night meeting with President Hosni Mubarak as “positive” but gave no details.
It appears to have been devoted at least in part to Israel’s complaints over the lack of normal trade and cultural relations between the two countries, and the negligible numbers of Egyptian tourists visiting Israel, despite the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Levy conferred Tuesday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa, extending to him an invitation to visit Israel. The invitation was accepted.
Levy is scheduled to have a final meeting with Mubarak on Wednesday before flying home.
Mubarak has not, so far, extended an invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to visit Cairo.
Shamir has not had a meeting with Mubarak since becoming prime minister, notwithstanding U.S. pressure on the Egyptian president to end his “boycott” of the Israeli leader.
The Israeli prime minister has been the target of vitriolic comments in the Egyptian press, which loosed a barrage of criticism of Israel coinciding with Levy’s visit.
“TWO NATIONS AT PEACE”
Israel and Egypt, the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, both support U.S. efforts to arrange a regional peace conference. But Israel rejects Egypt’s proposal that it freeze settlement-building in the administered territories as a confidence-raising measure during peace talks.
Moussa pointed out that, in fact, Prime Minister Menachem Begin did just that while Israel and Egypt were negotiating their peace treaty in 1979.
The Egyptians are dismayed by Israel’s position on the composition of a Palestinian negotiating team, which calls for the exclusion of East Jerusalem residents.
Levy, visibly irritated by reporters’ questions on the deadlock over that issue, observed, “We are not facing a situation where Egypt dictates or imposes conditions. We are consulting as two nations at peace.”
Moussa said Egypt takes the matter of Palestinian representation “very seriously” and hoped “we can do something to help form a Palestinian delegation.”
But the actual selection of delegates is the prerogative of the Palestinians, not Israel’s or Egypt’s, he cautioned.
At a joint news conference with Moussa, Levy declined to be drawn into an argument over the meaning of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which all parties acknowledge must be the basis of peace negotiations.
HARSH, ADMONITORY TONE
Moussa observed that “the international community” has agreed on an interpretation but what matters is implementation. He was referring to the resolution’s requirement that Israel withdraw to secure, recognized borders.
Levy said Israel accepted the resolution but had its own interpretation. He did not elaborate.
The Israeli government has accepted the withdrawal principle of Resolution 242 but maintains that it does not necessarily apply to all fronts.
It could be argued, according to Israel, that the withdrawal from the whole of Sinai, completed in 1982, satisfied the resolution’s conditions and that no further territorial withdrawals are required.
Israelis at home were meanwhile disconcerted by the harsh admonitory tone adopted during Levy’s visit to Cairo by what many consider to be a government-controlled Egyptian news media.
The sharp Egyptian press criticism of Israel was reported Tuesday in Ma’ariv by its correspondent, Shefi Gabai, who is covering Levy’s visit.
The semi-official newspaper Al Ahram accused Shamir of trying to impose “his nonsense” on developments in the Middle East. “Shamir has again brought up old, obsolete points, which have no place in this era of positive Arab positions,” the newspaper said in reference to the current U.S. peace initiative in the region.
It suggested that Shamir might willfully bring down his own government to hold “turbulent elections” and “stall the peace process indefinitely.”
Al Jumhuriya claimed Israel is trying to foil international efforts to set up a peace conference.
It referred specifically to an announcement by the Israeli Housing Ministry this week that 380 new homes would be built for Jewish settlers on the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and virtually annexed in 1980 by bringing it within the Israeli legal system.
“We expect more provocations like these from Shamir and his aide Sharon, as long as the yoke of peace continues to tighten around the neck of Tel Aviv,” Al Jumhuriya said, referring to Housing Minister Ariel Sharon.
By and large, the newspaper commentary was more moderate on Monday, when it was devoted to Levy’s arrival, Gabai reported. Nevertheless, there was plenty of implied criticism of Israel.
Al Ahram, in an editorial, said Egypt had long urged Israel to take practical steps to build mutual confidence with Palestinians and Arabs.
That is only possible if Israel accepts the suggestion of Egyptian President Mubarak to stop building settlements in the occupied territories in exchange for lifting the Arab economic boycott of Israel, Al Ahram said.
Israel has already flatly rejected that offer, made by Saudi Arabia.
The opposition newspaper Al Wafd said Levy’s visit only highlights the gap between Israeli and Arab aims. The editorial writer did not believe Israel could respond positively to all Arab demands and predicted a failure of peace efforts unless the United States applies real pressure on Israel.