US solicits Arab support for Mideast peace process
President Clinton Aug. 29 says time's short but Mideast peace deal still possible.
The diplomacy of the Arab world is done quietly, over thimble-size cups of cardamom-flavored coffee or a plate of hummus. Above all, it is done face to face.Skip to next paragraph
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President Clinton, following criticism of his administration's failure to win broad Arab assistance in its attempt to negotiate a final peace between Israel and the Palestinians, on Aug. 29 squeezed a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak into a busy schedule of international travel.
Their meeting, in an opulent reception room at Cairo's airport, took just an hour and a half. "It's a good move," says Judith Kipper, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Better late than never."
The meeting did little to dispel the uncertainty over whether the Israelis and the Palestinians can indeed bring an end to their century of conflict anytime soon. These days both sides mainly urge the other to face compromise or risk failure. US officials in particular refrain from optimistic pronouncements.
But President Mubarak sounded upbeat after his meeting with Clinton, and perhaps relieved to have been consulted. "I'm always hopeful," he said. "And I think with the cooperation with the United States and their support, I think [a peace deal] should be reached."
It may be that Egypt's involvement is coming at just the right time. "There was not enough Egyptian-American coordination at [last month's Camp David] summit," says Abdel-Monem Said, director of Egypt's state-funded Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Cairo. "If that had happened there might have been more progress, but I'm not so sure."
Going into the summit, Mr. Said says, Egyptian and other Arab observers were much less optimistic about the likelihood of success than the Americans, and cautioned against characterizing the meeting as one that might yield a solution to the core dispute of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They urged the US simply to open the discussions, but they were not consulted by US officials and found themselves effectively shut out of the proceedings.
Now that Camp David has "failed" and all the parties must face the prospect of co-existence - and perhaps conflict - in the absence of a deal, Egypt's president and other Arab leaders may be more willing to take part. But Richard Murphy, a former senior US diplomat, notes that it is anything but easy for these leaders to consider the compromises that peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians will require.
In making peace with Egypt or negotiating peace with Syria, Israel has demonstrated a willingness to give back all or very nearly all the land it seized from those states in Arab-Israeli wars. Not so with the Palestinians. In this instance, Israel appears willing to return a great deal of the Palestinian land it seized in 1967 - while insisting that it keep parts of both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians and their fellow Arabs, meanwhile, demand that Israel honor UN resolutions that require it to return lands seized in war as the basis for a peace settlement.