Israel and Egypt in tug of war over state for Palestinians

    • Israel and Egypt in tug of war over state for Palestinians

      Julian Borger in Washington
      Wednesday June 5, 2002
      The Guardian

      Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is due to fly to Washington at the weekend in an attempt to head off the declaration of a US peace plan that would set a timetable for the creation of a viable Palestinian state, diplomats in Washington said yesterday.
      The announcement of Mr Sharon's sixth meeting with President George Bush came as the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, declared his intention to use his own visit to Washington and Camp David, starting today, to press the US to recognise a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.

      The two visits represent the latest rounds in a diplomatic tug-of-war to influence an administration that has yet to make up its mind about policy on the Middle East.

      The American secretary of state, Colin Powell, has floated the idea of an international peace conference to create a framework for a comprehensive settlement, but pro-Israeli elements in Congress and the administration are seeking to abandon or water down the proposal, fearing that it could isolate Mr Sharon's government. It is still unclear when or where such a conference would take place, or what it would discuss.

      President Bush's stand has wavered as the situation has worsened in the region, and most observers doubt that he is ready to produce a definitive policy statement.

      "It is my sense [that] the debate is still going on," Judith Kipper, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations said. "They're not ready to put something out there."

      A Washington-based diplomat familiar with US policy on the Middle East said: "I think Sharon invited himself, to make sure that any plan that comes out here is one he can deal with. There is a perception in the region that the last person to have spoken to Bush can be decisive."

      In an interview with the New York Times, Mr Mubarak presented himself once more as the leading Arab negotiator for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a position he has ceded in recent months to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah.

      He played down the importance of the Saudi proposals, a broad endorsement of the principle of exchanging land for peace, saying it was based on recycled ideas and failed to provide a detailed blueprint.

      The Mubarak plan would involve international recognition of a Palestinian state in principle before its precise boundaries were defined, and before a resolution had been reached on the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. However, he made clear that the starting point for negotiations on territory would be the pre-1967 front lines between the two sides.

      "I think to declare a state theoretically like this and then to sit and negotiate the borders, what about Jerusalem - I think it may work," the Egyptian president said.

      He rejected a proposal floated by the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, but criticised by Mr Sharon, for a Palestinian state to be established on the pockets of land currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority. That, Mr Mubarak said, would only perpetuate tensions and lead to more "terror and violence".

      Mr Mubarak's position has the broad support of the Arab states and Europe, as well as many US officials in the state department. The Israeli government can count on supporters in Congress, the Pentagon and the White House to argue its case, but the Israeli prime minister clearly believes that a face-to-face meeting is also necessary with a US president who sets great store by his personal relationships. Mr Sharon is due to leave Israel on Friday and consult his US supporters at the weekend before meeting Mr Bush on Monday.

      "There is a feeling in Israel that this administration is looking at how to proceed in the Middle East, how to move forward," an Israeli official said yesterday. "There is a feeling we have to put in our input." Mr Sharon is likely to push for incremental moves towards a peaceful settlement, the official said, adding: "If you go for all or nothing, you end up with nothing."

      · The Palestinian preventive security chief in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Dahlan, said he had resigned from his post after being offered the job of Yasser Arafat's national security adviser. Mr Dahlan, who heads one of nine Palestinian security agencies, said he was considering whether to take the new job.

      He spoke shortly after the CIA director, George Tenet, met Mr Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah to discuss streamlining the Palestinian Authority's security forces. Reuters

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