JERUSALEM (Feb. 28)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in an apparent effort to take a more active role in the Middle East peace process, sent his senior adviser, Osama el-Baz, to Israel on Sunday.
El-Baz met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and reports said the two discussed issues ranging from a possible Rabin Mubarak summit to further proposals to resolve the ongoing crisis of the Palestinians deported by Israel to Lebanon.
El-Baz’s visit came three days after the United States and Russia announced they would co-sponsor the ninth round of the Middle East peace talks in April.
The deportation issue continues to present an obstacle to resuming the talks, although there are signs that a solution is in the works.
Israeli sources said that an undisclosed personal message el-Baz carried from Mubarak to Rabin did not deal with the deportation issue. However, reports from Cairo indicated the opposite, saying the Egyptians are pushing for a plan under which all of the deportees would be back by June.
The Egyptian plan calls for their return in three stages, all within the next three months and with most deportees returning to Israel before resumption of the talks.
According to the same sources in Egypt, Israel would also promise not to resort again to the use of deportations, and it would agree to accept back some deportees who had been expelled in the past.
Israel’s position thus far has been that deportations are no longer a part of standard policy, but rather a deviation from the policy. However, Israel refuses to renounce deportations in principle.
There was no confirmation of an Israel Radio report that el-Baz discussed with Rabin a possible summit with Mubarak.
The two leaders met in Cairo half a year ago, shortly after Rabin assumed office.
NEW U.S. PLAN ON DEPORTEES?
The el-Baz visit was arranged Saturday through telephone calls between Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mohammed Basyouni, Egypt’s ambassador to Israel. El-Baz was due to return to Egypt on Monday morning, after meeting Sunday night with Peres.
El-Baz’s visit came in the wake of intensive consultations within the Palestinian political community over whether to join the peace talks.
The Palestinian delegation left all options open last week, following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The Palestine Liberation Organization leadership has also refrained from making its position clear.
Members of the Palestinian delegation were expected to leave this week for Tunis for face-to-face consultations with the PLO leadership.
Christopher, upon his return from abroad, said in Washington he was confident the Palestinians would join the peace talks.
“We also have, I think, a plan for the solution or resolution of the deportees problem, which has kept them the Palestinians from the table,” he said in a television interview.
At the end of his trip to the Middle East and Europe, Christopher had also talked about using Syrian help in getting the peace process back on track.
The secretary met for a second round of talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa in Brussels last week.
Speaking at a news conference at NATO headquarters, Christopher said he discussed with Sharaa the American invitation to Arabs and Israelis to resume the peace talks.
The Syrian minister announced his country would convene a meeting of Arab parties involved in the peace talks to discuss restarting the peace process and solving the deportees question.
“Syria keeps hope that a solution will be found to the problem of the deportees because it is in the interest of all parties to see all the deportees returned home in order to resume the peace talks,” Sharaa told reporters.
“The peace process should be resumed in a positive atmosphere, in order to enable the negotiating parties to produce results,” the Syrian minister stressed.
(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Joseph Kopel in Brussels.)