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Strauss Agrees with Israelis on Course and Pace of Autonomy Talks

September 13, 1979
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Robert Strauss, President ###ter’s special envoy to the Middle East, endear a series of meetings today with the ministerial committee on autonomy headed by Interior Minister Yosef Burg, apparently in agreement over the course and pace of the Israeli-Egyptian autonomy negotiations until the end of this year.According to Strauss, the scenario for the next three months calls for faster and more intensive negotiations between the Israeli and Egyptian working groups on such technical matters as agriculture, education and economics on the West Bank and Gaza Strip under the autonomy plan.

The delicate and far more controversial issues of the powers to be allocated to the autonomous council and whether East Jerusalem Arabs will be permitted to vote in the autonomy elections will be deferred for later discussions. Strauss and the Israeli ministers also agreed that there would be no rush to get the Palestinians to participate in the autonomy talks, a position taken by President Anwar Sadat and Premier Menachem Begin at their summit meeting in Haifa last week. All parties were in agreement, however, that the May, 1980 deadline for conclusion of the negotiations, set at Camp David, would be adhered to.

The decision to speed up one aspect of the autonomy talks and mark time on others, led to some confusion. Israeli sources said Strauss had agreed with the ministerial committee to slow down the pace of the negotiations. Strauss, however, told reporters that “We now move into second gear, in a bit of a quickened pace.”

He added by way of clarification, that “we intend to do so by intensifying our discussions on a far broader set of issues on a technical level, We hope those technical teams will be able to work for longer periods of time, with more intensity than they have been able to do in the past. We hope that sufficient technical progress will have been made by December so that we will be ready to take these up at the plenary level.”


Strauss said there was no urgency in getting the Palestinians, much less the PLO, into the autonomy talks. The U.S., he said, is not trying to “woo the Palestinians to negotiate. We are all interested in number one: seeing that these discussions proceed. Our mandate is, and I believe it is the intention of each of the other parties, that these discussions should continue within the framework of (United Nations Security Council Resolutions) 242, 338 and the Camp David accords. This is what President Sadat said in Cairo, what I have said here, what Premier Begin has said and this is what the President (Carter) has said.”

Strauss, who conferred with Sadat in Cairo before coming to Israel, reportedly told the ministers that Sadat was highly satisfied with his latest meeting with Begin and said that Begin had contributed more to the promotion of autonomy In the territories than he, Sadat, had done. Sadat praised Begin’s determination to pursue the goal of autonomy despite internal difficulties in Israel. Strauss said.

Sadat also reportedly agreed that the autonomy talks should continue at the present pace and fashion until the end of the year, and then, on completion of a half year’s negotiations, the progress made would be evaluated.

“We are in accord, as we found accord in Cairo, that in reviewing the progress of the autonomy groups, we really are certainly up to schedule, if not ahead of schedule, with respect to where we expected to be in September,” Strauss said. At his meeting with Begin yesterday, the American envoy raised the issue of Israeli air raids in south Lebanon which he said severely damaged Israel’s image in the U.S. Begin reportedly replied that if the terrorists did not renew their attacks on Israel the area would remain quiet.


Strauss took time out yesterday to meet with Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem who had just spoken in support of Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. Speaking in private at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem the two men “exchanged views” but there was no attempt to recruit Freij to join the autonomy talks, American sources said.

The Bethlehem Mayor, considered a moderate, expressed his opposition to Israeli settlements on the West Bank and its air raids on south Lebanon. He reportedly stressed that peace could come only by talking to the PLO. Freij told reporters later that Strauss planned to meet with more Arab leaders on his next visit to the region.

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