Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met face to face for the first time Thursday, at the start of a summit many doubted was possible until hours before it was announced. Mr. Peres and Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid hailed the talks as the chance for making a new start in Egyptian-Israeli relations.
Analysts say the summit provided an opportunity for the two nations to polish the dulled fa,cade of the historic peace treaty they signed in 1979. The summit was possible because of the successful conclusion Wednesday night of tortuous border negotiations over Taba.
The two leaders agree in principle that their American-brokered peace treaty probably will survive only if it is treated as the start of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement, rather than the end of one.
But all signs are that a vast gulf still separates them on how to expand the process started at Camp David -- the issue that each leader said he most wanted to discuss.
Both leaders also said their talks would focus on formulas for involving Palestinians in future peace negotiations. This has been a major obstacle in efforts to expand the Mideast peace process. At press time, no final communiqu'e had been issued.
Last month, Peres sought the United States' active intervention in his effort to entice Jordan's King Hussein to issue a joint statement of principles on how to advance the peace process. US Secretary of State George Shultz declined Peres's request that Shultz come to the region, but sent Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy, who apparently failed to convince Hussein of the usefulnees of such a move.
At the same time, the Egyptians failed to persuade Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat that now was the time for him to accept UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the US agree those resolutions should form the basis of future negotiations over the fate of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights. The resolutions call for Israel to return lands it occupied in the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and recognize the right of ``all states in the region'' to secure boundaries. The PLO has so far rejected the resolutions on grounds that they only refer to the ``refugee problem,'' making no mention of the Palestinians or the PLO.
The only possibility for a breakthrough during the summit appeared to lie with Peres. Mubarak was expected to pressure Peres to alter either Israel's position on dealing with the PLO or its refusal to recognize the Palestinians' right to self-determination.
Israeli analysts, in Alexandria for the summit, said that substantial concession by Peres on either issue was extremely unlikely.
Peres disagrees sharply with Mubarak on who should represent the Palestinians. Egypt supports the PLO; Israel condemns it as a terrorist organization.
Some of Peres's advisers, particularly Cabinet Minister Ezer Weizman and Abraham Tamir, director general of Peres's office, pushed hard before the summit began for Peres to make concessions that would break the deadlock that has existed in Middle East peace efforts since February. At that time, King Hussein broke with Arafat after failing to agree on a joint strategy to pursue Mideast peace negotiations.
Shortly before he flew from Tel Aviv to a military base near Alexandria Thursday morning, Peres was reminded by the hard-line Likud half of his government during a special Cabinet session that he remains bound by the government's guidelines. Those guidelines rule out Israel's recognition of the PLO.
In a speech he made during a working lunch between the Egyptian and Israeli summit teams Thursday, Peres said he recognizes that ``the Palestinians are a people and have the right to participate in the determination of their future.'' That wording barely deviates from the Camp David accords, but probably represents the most Peres can offer Mubarak, Israeli anaysts say.
Peres was scheduled to attend a working dinner with the Egyptians Thursday night, then hold a second session with Mubarak this morning, before returning to Israel. He is due to fly to Washington Sunday. He will meet with President Reagan and US officials Monday.
It is expected that Peres will use his summit with Mubarak as a prod to push the Americans toward a more active, high-level diplomatic role in the region.
Although he could only have expected his talks with the Egyptians to be tough, Peres was smiling broadly Thursday when he stepped out of an Egyptian helicopter on the front lawn of Ras el-Tin, the seaside presidential palace, and glimpsed a gigantic Israeli flag waving over the palace gate.
He strode to the palace steps with Mr. Weizman, the most consistent and vocal Israeli proponent of improving relations with Egypt. The prime minister was also accompanied by former Foreign Minister Abba Eban.
Watching from the palace balcony as the prime minister listened to the Egyptian military band play a tentative rendition of the Israeli national anthem, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, David Kimche, impulsively turned and hugged General Tamir.
Both Mr. Kimche and Mr. Tamir chaired the grueling Taba border discussions that concluded Wednesday night. Egypt and Israel agreed on the terms under which they would send their border dispute to arbitration. Taba, a small strip of land in the Sinai Peninsula, is under Israeli control. But Cairo claims that according to pre-1967 boundaries, Taba belongs to Egypt. The arbitration process is expected to take several months.