Israeli effort to improve ties with Egypt brings scant results

The boldest Israeli attempt in months to improve relations with Egypt has failed to produce a breakthrough, clouding prospects for an early thaw in ties. Minister without portfolio Ezer Weizman flew secretly to Cairo early this week and met twice with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, but was unable to arrange a summit between the President and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

This failure is seen as a sign that future progress in resolving outstanding disagreements will be tedious and slow.

``The Weizman trip showed that there are no shortcuts,'' one observer said.

The visit was considered typical for Mr. Weizman, an architect of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and an enthusiastic proponent of improving ties. It was Weizman who reportedly proposed that Mr. Peres personally inform Mr. Mubar-ak, by phone, of the Israeli Cabinet's decision earlier this month to conditionally accept the Egyptian demand for arbitration of the Taba border dispute. But the two countries are divided over how to proceed with arbitration and the Israeli demand for a full Egyptian report on the Oct. 5 killing of seven Israeli tourists in Sinai by an Egyptian policeman.

Upon his return to Israel, Weizman could only say he had recommended a summit to Mubarak during ``very interesting and very thorough'' talks. ``Not every trip has to decide the fate of the nation,'' he said.

Weizman's visit was prompted by concern over recent Egyptian reaction to the Cabinet's approval of arbitration which was linked to normalization of relations, return of the Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv, and receipt of an Egyptian report on the Sinai killings.

Aides to Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir say he shared this concern. He secretly sanctioned the trip, which had been initiated by Weizman and Peres, to avoid a storm among ministers of his right-wing Likud party. This action reportedly infuriated the ministers. Well-placed sources say Shamir gave his assent so as not to appear to be an obstacle to improving relations with Egypt. If Weizman's trip had succeeded, they said, Shamir would have shared the credit.

Mubarak indicated there was internal opposition in Egypt to improving ties with Israel, and this influenced the Egyptian decision on a summit, Weizman said.

Yesterday, Shamir accused Egypt of reneging on its peace treaty and said the two countries' cool relationship had dimmed prospects for broader Israeli-Arab peace moves.

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