Visiting Senior Egyptian Official Urges Israel to Freeze Settlements

A senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry official visiting here this week urged Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the administered territories.

Ambassador Fawzi el-Ibrashi, who is an assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister, said such a move would be seen as a confidence-building measure and would be reciprocated by the Arabs.

Ibrashi, who is the first senior Egyptian official to visit Israel since the Knesset elections last week, stressed repeatedly that he was expressing his own personal views, and the claim seemed to enable him to speak freely.

Ibrashi spoke at a banquet organized here by Tel Aviv University and Temple University of Philadelphia, which have an exchange program.

The Egyptian minister maintained that an announcement by the next Israeli government to halt building settlements will have “very good repercussions in all the Arab countries.”

The settlers who already live in the territories could remain there, “provided they be subject to Palestinian courts,” Ibrashi added.

Israel should be the country to initiate the confidence-building measures because it is the occupying power, he said. But he cautioned Israelis not to expect progress in the multilateral talks on regional cooperation before there is “real, genuine progress” in the bilateral talks.

“Don’t expect cooperation between states that are still in a state of war. The Arab states, apart from Egypt, are all, legally speaking, in a state of war,” he noted.

“Unless you are talking about withdrawal from the occupied territories, you cannot expect cooperation,” he said. “But if real progress is achieved in bilateral talks, it will definitely be reflected in the multilateral talks,” he said.

U.S. AMBASSADOR OPTIMISTIC

Ibrashi urged Israel not to waste time on procedural matters, as in the past. He reminded his audience, many of whom were jurists, that in courts “you can spend 10 years just discussing procedures.”

“If you really want to end the case,” he said, “address yourself to substantial questions. We hope the new government in Israel will really address itself to the substantial question,” he said.

The speaker characterized Israeli-Egyptian ties as normal but not completely so “because everything depends on a comprehensive peace.”

Earlier at the banquet, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, William Harrop, said he believed the peace process “is going to be reaching a state of substance as opposed to procedure.”

He expected another session of talks by September and stressed that the U.S. commitment to them “is complete and will prevail.”

President Bush is “in a difficult election campaign, but this is not in any way going to diminish the time that he spends on this process,” the ambassador stated. He said Bush and Secretary of State James Baker would continue working on the peace process, “and the prospects are really very fine.”

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