NEW YORK (Sep. 28)
Egypt informed Israel on Thursday that it accepts Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s proposal to hold Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid conveyed that message to his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Arens, during a 90-minute meeting the two men held with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Meguid also told Arens he would be willing to visit Israel in the near future.
But according to Arens, the Egyptian side stopped short of accepting the other elements of the Israeli peace initiative endorsed by the Cabinet on May 14.
“I did not hear agreement from the Egyptians that they accept it,” the Israeli foreign minister told reporters.
“It was not a meeting that led to an agreement,” Arens explained. “It was a meeting for each to present his position.”
Nevertheless, Baker appeared to be buoyed by the outcome of the trilateral session.
“I can say that maybe, and I would like to emphasize maybe, there was potential for progress,” he told reporters afterward.
Officials from the three countries convened shortly after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres concluded separate talks in the same hotel. Arens is to meet with the Egyptian president on Friday.
Mubarak reportedly told Peres that he visualizes a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation as being a possible end result of the peace process.
Peres, briefing reporters after the hour-long meeting, said Mubarak is prepared to accept a “more complex solution than a Palestinian state.”
NO PLACE FOR PLO IN TALKS
Peres, who heads the Labor Party, emerged from the meeting enthusiastic about his dialogue with Mubarak. He said that the Egyptian president expressed his desire to keep the peace process moving and seemed sensitive to Israel’s concerns.
He said Mubarak told him that it was “no coincidence” that his 10-point plan to advance the peace process makes no mention of Palestinian self-determination, a Palestinian state or the Palestine Liberation Organization.
He also said Mubarak made it clear that the PLO would not participate in preliminary talks the Egyptian leader has proposed to hold between Israel and a delegation of Palestinian leaders.
But Peres confirmed that he and the Egyptian president spoke of a delegation that would include “one or two” Palestinian representatives from outside the administered territories.
The issue of PLO representation also came up in Arens’ talks with Baker and Meguid. The Israeli foreign minister said he made it clear that his government would not negotiate with any PLO representative.
When asked by reporters if Egypt was suggesting a PLO role, Arens, a Likud leader, replied, “I heard echoes to that effect.” The PLO issue, he said, was “a focus of disagreement.”
Another issue to come up during the round of talks Thursday was Mubarak’s perceived reluctance to meet with Shamir.
During a meeting with American Jewish leaders early Thursday morning, Arens blamed a great deal of the strained relations between Egypt and Israel’s Likud bloc on the Egyptian president’s apparent refusal to discuss the peace initiative with the Israeli premier.
Mubarak’s meeting in Cairo last week with Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Labor’s No. 2 official, “highlights the fact that he won’t meet with Shamir,” Arens complained bitterly.
In the aftermath of the 1978 Camp David accords, meetings between Israeli and Egyptian leaders should be “a routine thing,” the foreign minister said.
He added that Shamir “shouldn’t have to make commitments” in order to persuade Mubarak to meet with him. “We don’t have to go begging for a Mubarak-Shamir meeting,” he said.
‘NOT BOYCOTTING’ SHAMIR
Peres told reporters later in the day that he pressed Mubarak on the subject. The vice premier said Mubarak told him he was “not boycotting” any meetings with Shamir, but merely wanted to avoid going into such a meeting unprepared.
“Holding a meeting without assured positive results will cause great damage,” the Egyptian president was said to have remarked.
Mubarak also reportedly stressed to Peres the importance of the Israeli people rallying around the current peace proposals. Nimrod Novik, an aide to the vice premier, quoted the Egyptian president as saying:
“The opposition to the initiative in Israel feeds the extremists in the Palestinian camp who also oppose it. We have to make it clear to them that we have to put an end to the state of war. Even if it isn’t love at first sight, there will be a new atmosphere, new relationships, a new Middle East.”
Arens’ morning meeting with the Jewish leaders was held under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which gave him a polite, if unenthusiastic, reception.
The American Jewish leaders pressed Arens repeatedly on Likud’s rejection of Mubarak’s 10-point plan and expressed concern about the current turmoil between Likud and Labor.
“There does not need to be a pubic show of unity, but surely there should not be a public show of disunity,” commented Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents.
Arens acknowledged to the Americans that Israel has “the beginning of a coalition crisis” on its hands. He said that while he hoped the crisis would be resolved, he could not say for certain that the government would not fall.
A showdown over the Egyptian plan is likely to occur Wednesday, when the Israeli Cabinet is scheduled to convene for a special session on the peace process.
Peres told reporters he hoped Israel would “not kill this chance” to take a step toward peace. “I don’t want the issue to be whether or not there is a government,” he said. “I want it to be whether or not there’s a peace process.”