5 - 11 August 1999
Issue No. 441
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Profile Focus Interview Features Travel Living Sports Time Out Chronicles People Cartoons Letters
Dredging the channelsBy Nevine Khalil
Two days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in Egypt to assure officials he is committed to the redeployments outlined in last October's Wye agreement, President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met in Alexandria to discuss the likely timeframe of any Israeli withdrawals.
Amid growing Palestinian impatience and suspicion over Barak's approach to the peace process, Mubarak and Arafat compared notes on what strategy the Arab world should follow in the face of Israel's continued procrastination in implementing the Wye accord, frozen last December. Meeting on Saturday in Alexandria, the two leaders also discussed their separate talks with Barak before the weekend.
During his 27 July meeting with the Palestinian leader Barak persuaded Arafat to accept a two-week grace period in which to consider Israel's proposal that one of the West Bank pullbacks agreed in the accord be delayed and incorporated into final status negotiations. Israel is seeking to delay the pullback until a framework agreement for final status talks is concluded early next year. For their part the Palestinians believe that any renegotiation of the agreement is likely to have grave repercussions.
During last Thursday's meeting with Mubarak in Alexandria, their second in three weeks, the Israeli prime minister briefed Mubarak on his talks in Washington earlier this month and with Arafat earlier in the week, as well as discussing the timeframe for implementing the Wye accord. Following that meeting, Mubarak told a joint press conference that Barak had not indicated that he would seek to make any alterations to Wye, although a delay of one or two weeks was possible.
While revealing that Barak discussed the time frame for Wye in detail, Mubarak would not disclose the prime minister's plans, saying that it should be left to the Palestinians or Israelis to announce. The president did, however, note Palestinian uncertainty and lack of confidence in Barak's strategy, and added that implementation of the Wye accord has nothing to do with final status negotiations, which can begin any time after the agreement is implemented. The president also added that the Palestinians increasingly fear that any discussion of Wye or talk of alterations at this stage means the agreement will not be implemented.
Mubarak during talks with Arafat and during
the press conference with Barak
Urging both sides to be more flexible during negotiations, Mubarak said he hoped that Barak in particular would show more flexibility. Barak -- agreeing with Egypt's president that peace must progress on all tracks simultaneously -- told the gathered reporters that he was committed to pressing ahead on the Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian tracks, indicating that his government would be willing to open channels with representatives of Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad.
On the Palestinian track, Barak said he had no immediate solutions for a problem that has persisted for 100 years. And though he committed his government to implementing the Wye accord, he admitted the possibility of differences over proposals as to how the agreement should be implemented. However, he said that if Arafat did not agree to his suggested alterations in the implementation of the agreement, Israel would go ahead and implement the agreement as drawn, "despite the fact that it would be impractical."
Discussing the role of the US as regional peace-broker, Barak insisted that while Washington's role could not be ignored, the US was only in a position to provide a political umbrella for the peace process, and certainly could not negotiate by proxy for any of the parties to peace.