Egypt's Decade of Isolation Ends


AFTER 10 years of isolation, Egypt makes its grand return to the Arab League today at a summit in Casablanca, Morocco. The session is intended to highlight intra-Arab reconciliation, moderation, and support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Egypt, ousted for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, was readmitted to the League Sunday night during a preparatory session of Arab foreign ministers.

While the 20 Arab states expected at the Morocco meeting are intent on underlining a new tone of friendliness, informed sources say, few concrete results are expected from the session.

The summit will not deal with Israel's proposed elections in the occupied territories, diplomats here say. And no solution is expected for Lebanon, where Syrian troops recently battled the Christian community in the most serious violence there in years.

``The summit will not talk in details'' an Egyptian foreign ministry official said of the Israeli proposal. And, he added, ``nobody can resolve the Lebanon issue.''

Nevertheless, Egyptian officials, observers, and diplomatic sources see the very fact of the summit, which is expected to include leaders of all the Arab states except Lebanon and Libya, as a sign that the Arab world is intent on resolving its internal disputes peacefully.

``The Arabs are adopting the PLO's new pragmatism,'' says Tahsin Bashir, Egypt's last ambassador to the League before its membership was suspended in the wake of the peace treaty.

``There has been an intra-Arab change. There's a new attitude that says, `let's settle things amicably.' The past campaigns led nowhere,'' Mr. Bashir says.

Some conciliation between Arab states occurred before the convening of the summit when Syria dropped its opposition to Egypt's presence. According to diplomatic sources, the Syrians felt it was in their interest to concentrate on the Lebanon issue and their arch rival, Iraq, which is supplying Christian commander Michel Aoun with arms.

``The Syrians want their isolation to end,'' Bashir says, adding that Damascus hopes it can win Egyptian support on Lebanon or at least greater Egyptian distance from Iraq on the issue.

Once Syria had dropped its opposition to Egypt's return, the summit seemed to come together. Each nation welcomes the meeting for its own reason: The PLO seeks backing for the decisions of the Palestinian National Council last November, Jordan wants economic help, Syria seeks an end to its isolation, and so on.

IN the weeks before the summit, Arab leaders streamed through Cairo, underscoring Egypt's restored status. After building virtually unanimous support for his presence at the summit, President Hosni Mubarak felt Egypt to be in such a strong position that he insisted on being invited in the same way as every other head of state rather than arriving one day later, according to a previously accepted formula.

Egyptian sources expect a separate t^ete-`a-t^ete at the summit between Mr. Mubarak and Syrian President Hafez Assad. Foreign ministry officials say that restoration of formal ties between Egypt and Syria will probably come later.

Concerning the Palestinian issue, the heads of state are expected to endorse an updated version of the 1982 Fez plan, which called for a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The new resolution is expected to back the PLO's decisions last November to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and endorse UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It will be aimed at strengthening PLO chief Yasser Arafat's hand with Washington and radical Palestinian factions.

Syria had stood implacably against Mr. Arafat and the PLO's recent peace moves. Assad apparently agreed to go along this time in return for a watered-down resolution on Lebanon to avert condemnation of Syria's role there.

For this gesture - as well as its acceptance of Egypt - Syria apparently expects new economic aid from the Saudis. The Jordanians, trapped by International Monetary Fund austerity measures that triggered riots last month, are also looking for Saudi cash, according to diplomatic sources.

Egyptian sources say that Cairo's return to Arab circles will not affect its foreign policy.

``Egypt will just be playing a bigger role in Arab affairs,'' said Bashir. ``It will be change in degree, not in kind.''

Although the heads of state will try to strike a friendly note, real solutions to major Arab problems will have to wait. The issue of elections for the West Bank and Gaza Strip will need the participation of the US. And the Lebanon crisis can only be resolved with the participation of the different political factions and with the agreement of Syria and Iraq, now in opposite corners of the ring.

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