Haig dispels Egypt's fears on autonomy
American Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. has decided, belatedly, to take a personal interest in the progress of negotiations on Palestinian autonomy.Skip to next paragraph
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But he agrees with the Egyptian view that there is no need to set a deadline for such negotiations.
After conferring with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Jan. 13 at the Uruba Palace in Cairo, Mr. Haig said he had received a ''firm and clear commitment'' from Mr. Mubarak to intensify the negotiations on Palestinian self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza in the coming period.
Senior officials with the Haig party have said that the purpose of the secretary's current visit to Israel and Egypt was to assess the amount of flexibility on both sides on points of major difference, and with a clear outline of the issues, attempt to bridge some of the gaps.
Mr. Haig's position marks a change from the more passive role the Reagan administration had so far with regard to the autonomy talks. The Palestinian autonomy negotiations have dragged on for 2 1/2 years with little sign of progress, and Egypt and Israel still have serious fundamental differences in their positions on the powers and responsibilities of a self-governing Palestinian authority, Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, and the status of east Jerusalem.
Mr. Haig has not appeared to bring any significantly new proposals to bring the two sides closer to agreement. But he has managed to assuage the worries of Egyptian officials, who feared they would be pressured to hastily sign a declaration of principles unacceptable to the Arabs and Palestinians, before the final Israeli withdrawal from Sinai this April.
Last September, when the ministerial committees from the Israeli, Egyptian, and American sides met in Cairo for the first round of high-level talks since the assassination of President Sadat in October, they pledged to work toward a declaration of principles, or a general outline of an autonomy scheme.
Since then, the Egyptian side is adopting a harder line, and oddly enough, the stances that Egypt and Israel have adopted toward the talks have been reversed.
Egypt, under Mr. Sadat, had been anxious to have some sort of autonomy agreement by the date of the final April 1982 Israeli withdrawal, to prove to the Palestinians and the other Arabs that Egypt was dedicated to a comprehensive regional peace, and had not sold them down the river for Sinai.
To keep the talks moving, Sadat had been prepared to concede to Israeli requests, even at times when the Egyptian public was vocally hostile to the Jewish state.
Mubarak and his aides, however, seem content to adhere to the tough position on the talks that Egypt has taken since the beginning. They say that they will not settle for a declaration of principles that contains the same ambiguities and obfuscations contained in the Camp David accords, but need something saleable to the Palestinians and other Arabs.
Israel, on the other hand, at least in the Egyptian view, is the one who needs an agreement by April, when the leverage it has exerted through its possession of Sinai ends. Previously, it had moved slowly on autonomy, as it annexed Jerusalem, built more settlements, and asserted its control over the occupied territories.
The idea of a special Middle East negotiator, which was urged on the Reagan administration some months back to speed the momentum of the talks is now a low priority, and speculation is that the secretary of state intends to do most of the negotiating himself.