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Movement on Autonomy Talks

November 13, 1981
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Israel’s ministerial delegation met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo this morning. Afterwards, Interior Minister Yosef Burg told reporters that Mubarak shared the view of all the parties concerned that substantive agreements should be reached as quickly as possible in the current round of negotiations over autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mubarak did not speak to the press after the meeting, nor did Burg’s Cabinet colleagues Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. But Burg described it as a “good meeting.” He told reporters that “the firm and only basis for the process of peace in our region” is the Camp David agreements and that Mubarak had affirmed that in “very clear and distinct words.”

Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, who heads the Egyptian negotiating team, also expressed hope today that some progress would be made in the autonomy talks. Alfred Atherton, the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, told reporters today that the U.S. would continue to be a full and active partner in the peace process in every useful way.

Atherton and Samuel Lewis, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, are representing Washington in the current round of autonomy talks and have done so since negotiations were resumed in September. But the Reagan Administration has not appointed a special representative to the talks as the Carter Administration had done in the person of Ambassador Sol Linowitz.


Israel’s aim at the moment is an agreement with the Egyptians on a “declaration of principles” which it hopes to reach before the April, 1982 deadline for Israel’s withdrawl from Sinai. The Egyptians, while also professing their desire for progress in the negotiations, have indicated that they are prepared to negotiate as long as necessary to assure that future Palestinian interests are not harmed. The well informed Cairo daily Al Ahram said in an editorial today that the autonomy talks would take a long time.

The differences between the parties emerged at a working dinner given by Hassan Ali last night for the Israeli Cabinet ministers. While the Israelis want to focus the current talks on the size and functions of the proposed administrative council which would be the self-governing body in the territories under autonomy, the Egyptians seek to broaden the discussions to include the issues of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the application of autonomy in East Jerusalem and the present Israeli policy toward the Arab population in the occupied territories.

The Egyptians are asking the Israelis to lift their ban on the pro-Palestine Liberation Organization National Guidance Committee on the West Bank; to re-open Bir Zeit University near Ramallah which Israel contends is a hotbed of Palestinian nationalism; allow the return of Mayors Fahd Kawasme of Hebron and Mohammed Milhem of Halhoul who were deported last year; and to end Israeli military exercises in the territories.


Israeli sources said there was apparent progress in the “working level sessions” but when specific detailed problems were examined, the fundamental differences over the character of autonomy remained as wide as ever. Both sides agreed to issue a statement on the points of agreement reached when the current round of talks ends, possibly tonight.

Meanwhile, Sharon and his Egyptian counterpart, Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Halim Abu-Ghazale, met today to discuss details of Israel’s final withdrawal. The Egyptian Minister will visit the military installation to be evacuated by Israel and the future international boundary between the two countries.

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