Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said this week that he would not visit Israel any time soon because such a visit could thwart peace talks between Israel and Syria.
“If I thought my visit to Israel could help the peace process, I would come tomorrow morning,” Mubarak said Wednesday, addressing Israeli reporters who were accompanying Israeli President Ezer Weizman on a trip to the Egyptian capital.
Explaining his decision, Mubarak said such a visit could cause Damascus to feel isolated, which would cause Syrian President Hafez Assad to harden his position in the long-stalled Israeli-Syrian negotiations.
There were expectations that Weizman’s three-day visit to Egypt this week would lead to a reciprocal visit by Mubarak, who, much to the dismay of Israelis, has not made the trip since he became president in 1981.
Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem in November 1977, paving the way for an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979.
Despite the treaty, relations between the two countries have been described as a “cold peace.”
Weizman reportedly tried hard to persuade Mubarak to change his mind, but without success.
While turning down the invitation to visit Israel, Mubarak and his ministers nonetheless took pains to persuade the Israeli reporters – and through them the Israeli public – that Israeli-Egyptian relations are warming.
The Egyptian president also cautioned patience in negotiations with Syria, saying Assad has “problems with his public opinion.”
He warned Israel to expect further problems with fundamentalist terrorism among the Palestinians.
“Do not expect (Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser) Arafat to be able to restore security overnight,” he said.
He argued that years ago, Israel had supported the creation of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip to serve as a counterweight to the PLO.
Israel can not expect Arafat to immediately overcome a problem that Israel was originally responsible for, he said.
“It is not simple. These are crazy people,” said Mubarak, who has had to contend with Islamic fundamentalists in his own country.
But he added: “If anyone can deal with the problem, Arafat can. He is the most courageous person.”