JERUSALEM (Jul. 6)
Despite the general sense of deadlock hanging over the Middle East peace talks, Egypt’s President. Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sought to project an air of optimism as they met Tuesday in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.
Peres concluded his two-day trip to Egypt feeling confident that the Egyptians will play an active and constructive role in the peace process and press the Palestinians to be more flexible in the negotiations.
Peres told reporters Tuesday that Egypt had agreed to urge the Palestinians to continue the peace talks using an American-drafted paper as the basis for discussing Palestinian self-rule.
Despite statements of disappointment regarding the American paper by both Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Peres said in Alexandria, “I think that we have agreed that while the American draft is not a holy script, it should not be retracted.”
“We have to take it as an opening position, introduce the necessary changes and try to impress the Palestinians with the need to continue preparations for the next round right away,” the Israeli foreign minister said.
Peres met with Mubarak on the second day of his visit to Egypt, which was arranged to boost progress in both the bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
Egypt has encouraged the parties to persist in their negotiating efforts and aided indirect communication between Israel and the PLO.
During Peres’ stay in Egypt, Arafat passed briefly through Cairo and reportedly met with Mubarak presidential aide Osama el-Baz. Peres met with el-Baz on Monday.
The Israeli foreign minister also met Monday with his Egyptian counterpart, Amre Moussa. He said after that meeting, “I personally believe that we are nearer to having an agreement with the Palestinians than most people think. It is not a locked gate.”
Peres and Moussa asserted that the American bridging proposals, put forward at the end of the 10th round of talks in Washington last week, are a basis for further negotiations.
Diplomatic sources said the negative reactions to the paper given by both Palestinians and Israelis are not meant to be seen as the last word, but rather as jockeying in advance of a planned visit to the region by a delegation of U.S. State Department officials, who aim to narrow the gaps regarding the paper.
The Americans are trying to get both sides to agree upon a joint declaration of principles, to be signed by Israel and the Palestinian delegation to the talks.