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Attempt at Breakthrough on Autonomy Eludes Israelis, Egyptians

November 16, 1981
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Israeli and Egyptian Ministers, ending two days of talks in Cairo, conceded that the “attempt at a breakthrough” on the issue of Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza Strip had eluded them. But both sides affirmed their commitment to the Camp David process and their determination to continue the negotiations, for the time being on the working team level.

A joint statement issued by the ministerial teams at the close of the session Thursday night said they had instructed the “working team” of Israeli and Egyptian civil servants to continue deliberation on a draft agreement “on understanding and principles for the ministers’ consideration” as soon as they could. No deadline was set. The “working team” resumed meetings in Cairo today and is expected to remain in session for most of this week.

The chiefs of the two delegations, Interior Minister Yosef Burg of Israel and Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali of Egypt, did not conceal their disappointment that the latest round of top level talks were not fruitful. Asked by reporters if he was “happy,” Burg said he could “imagine more happiness.” Ali referred repeatedly to “differences” that remain unresolved on basic issues in his remarks to reporters.

The joint statement concluding the session instructed the “working team” to concentrate on the “scope, structure and powers and responsibilities” of the proposed administrative council that would be the self-governing authority in the territories under autonomy. But the working level delegates were told, at the same time, to give priority now to security and to consideration of legislative and regulatory power.


Israeli sources admitted that the shift of priority was agreed to because the negotiators had “exhausted themselves” on the scope, structure and powers issue without making progress. Israeli sources blamed the Egyptians for being “unyielding.” They said Israel was “forthcoming” and had presented new formulations which were “a step toward the Egyptian viewpoint.”

These formulations were said to include readiness to enlarge the number of members of the administrative council — Israel had originally suggested no more than a dozen — and, more important, to invest the council with the character of an elected political leadership which the Palestinians could feel actually represented them rather than being merely a panel of administrative functionaries.

The Egyptians, however, insist that the administrative council be given the attributes of a quasi-parliamentary body both in its size and in its jurisdiction and powers.

The Israelis also contend that while the Egyptians would like to reach an agreement soon, they are in no hurry and see no urgency in concluding an autonomy agreement before the April deadline for Israel’s final withdrawal from Sinai. The Israelis, and Premier

Menachem Begin in particular, have made it clear that they are anxious for a breakthrough before April.

Israeli sources said the main “achievement” of the latest ministerial level talks in Cairo was the reiteration by President Hosni Mubarak to the delegates — and by the delegates themselves — of their commitment to the Camp David process.

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