Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s visit to President Reagan next week is increasingly being seen here as central to whether the Reagan Administration views the current Jordanian-Palestine Liberation Organization talks as possibly leading to direct negotiations with Israel or another highly publicized development that fizzles out.
This was true even before the Administration cautiously spoke last week about a willingness to “re-engage in the peace process” in the wake of Israeli Premier Shimon Peres’ endorsement of Mubarak’s proposals for direct talks between Israel and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. But the U.S. still wants an explicit agreement for the parties most directly involved, Jordan and the PLO, for direct negotiations with Israel as well as acceptance “without equivocation” of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The importance of the Mubarak visit was stressed by one Middle East expert here, William Quandt, a senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and former director of the National Security Council’s Middle East Bureau in the Carter Administration who recently returned from a visit to Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Israel.
“The Americans who are serious about the Middle East see that (the Mubarak visit) as the crucial visit in this period,” Quandt told foreign correspondents here last week. He added that it was “more important” than the visit last month of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, adding, however, that Fahd’s visit did serve to increase public attention toward the Mideast.
EGYPTIANS ARE MORE REALISTIC
“The Egyptians are more realistic about Israeli politics than anyone else in the Arab world” and they “have a pretty good understanding of the American position,” Quandt said.
This could be seen in Mubarak’s proposals following the announcement of the agreement between King Hussein and PLO chief Yasir Arafat. The accord expresses support for United Nations resolutions, instead of a specific acceptance of Resolutions 242 and 338 which the Reagan Administration requires as the basis for negotiations.
The Hussein-Arafat agreement also calls for an international conference which would include the five permanent members of the Security Council as well as the PLO. Both Israel and the U.S. want direct talks between the parties involved, not an international conference, and Israel flatly refuses to sit down at any table which includes the PLO.
Mubarak has urged the U.S. to invite Israel and members of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation for talks leading to negotiations, adding he was willing to host such talks in Cairo. He stressed the importance of direct negotiations and said the Palestinian delegates do not have to be known members of the PLO. He added that an international conference could be held to give its “blessing” once an agreement was reached.
Quandt conceded that a motive behind Mubarak’s latest actions could be Egypt’s desire to receive more U.S. aid. Mubarak has asked for $1 billion more in the 1986 fiscal year than Egypt is receiving this year, but the Reagan Administration has only recommended that Congress increase it by about $169 million. Mubarak also seeks to have the U.S. lower the interest rate on its military debt. Egypt reportedly is behind $250 million to $300 million in interest payments.
Mubarak is expected to come under strong questioning from members of Congress over the “cold peace” between Egypt and Israel. Some have even threatened not to vote for aid to Egypt if there is no improvement in this area.
Quandt stressed that Egypt’s diplomatic moves “have value whatever their motivation.” He said the Egyptians believe that if the peace process moves forward it would be “vindicated” of Cairo’s policies of the last decade.
The fact that Jordan and the PLO were able to reach an agreement “seems as evidence to me that Egyptian diplomacy was at work and was relatively effective,” Quandt said. “I think the Mubarak visit is going to be very important in taking the rather formal statement of the Jordanian-PLO position and translating it into a plan of action.”
But Quandt said the Camp David formula of having the Egyptians be one of the negotiators on the West Bank and Gaza “is dead.” He said the Egyptians’ role is to help others get involved, bringing the U.S. in, and offer their advice and suggestions.
Quandt explained that the Egyptians, and Jordan, Saudi Arabia and some parts of the PLO who support diplomatic efforts are more realistic now and know that the U.S. will not impose a solution on Israel. “I think they realize that time is short and they can’t wait for someone to hand them a solution,” Quandt stated. He said they must find a “partial Arab consensus” on the approach to a settlement and on the terms of a settlement.
VIEW OF SYRIA’S ROLE
This view was contrasted by Quandt to that of Syria which opposes negotiations and believes that eventually Israel will be forced out of the territories it occupied in 1967, without an agreement, as the Syrians claim is occuring in south Lebanon. The Syrians, however, will not try to sabotage the current effort but instead will wait to see if it falls by its own weight, according to Quandt.
He noted that the U.S. believes Syria has a role in Lebanon. Israel, too, concedes Syria has interest there. But the U.S. does not see a direct Syrian interest on the West Bank and Gaza, Quandt said.
However, the Syrians have argued that the Palestinians do not have the right to decide their own future by themselves since this is a pan-Arab issue and they in effect want a veto, Quandt said. He added that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat may have gone to Jerusalem because he did not want to give the Syrians a veto over the Sinai.
Meanwhile, Quandt stressed that the PLO-Jordanian dialogue should not have been started unless it was decided to continue the process. He said the Arabs negotiated over the eight points in the Fez accord of 1982 and then left it there.
“If the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the PLO have convinced themselves its worth talking about a new position, trying out a new formulation, I think it makes absolutely no sense for them to go this far and then say that’s all we have to offer,” Quandt said.
He said if the Arabs are not serious, “they are making a really big mistake because if it falls apart because of their backtracking at this stage, then I think it will be a very long time before any American regime takes them seriously at all.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.