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01 Jan 2002 00:00
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak returns to the Middle East’s centre stage this week when he puts forward a peace plan during summit talks in Camp David with US President George Bush.
The Mubarak plan includes a timetable which notably provides for a Palestinian state to be proclaimed in early 2003, according to a senior Arab official informed of plans for the Egyptian leader’s visit to the United States.
Mubarak was expected to leave for London late on Tuesday, before flying on to Washington on Wednesday, although the meeting with Bush at the Camp David retreat in Maryland is scheduled for June 7-8.
Under the plan, “a Palestinian state must be declared in early 2003, and will extend provisionally over the ... (Palestinian) autonomous zones of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, some 42 percent of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967”, the Arab official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The state would be announced after the Palestinian security services are restructured, political reforms adopted and presidential and parliamentary elections held, in late 2002, he said.
He said the Palestinian state would be then admitted formally as a United Nations member, and negotiations subsequently held with Israel, leading to a total Israeli withdrawal from the lands it occupied in 1967.
The suggested withdrawal would be phased over three or four years, and “guaranteed by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations,” the official said.
While Egyptian officials would not confirm or deny such a plan, a government newspaper published a similar scenario and Cairo has been playing up the visit which comes only three months after Mubarak’s last trip to the United States.
“The peace process, and more specifically the Palestinian-Israeli track, will be the only point on the agenda,” of the visit, Egyptian Ambassador to Washington Nabil Fahmi was quoted by the government newspaper Al Ahram as saying on Monday.
Analysts said the plan will allow Egypt to recapture its leading role in the region, after an eclipse due to the Saudi Arabian peace initiative endorsed by the Arab summit held last March in Beirut.
The Saudi initiative was a revised formula of the “land for peace” principle.
Israel rejected it because the proposal insisted on the right of the Palestinian refugees to return.
The Arab official said Mubarak’s initiative calls for a “just” settlement of the refugee problem, without mentioning explicitly the right of return.
Ahead of his talks with Bush, Mubarak had a series of meetings last week with Arab, US and European officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns, CIA chief George Tenet, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam.
Friday, the Egyptian president dispatched to Israel his top advisor, Osama al-Baz, and sent the head of his intelligence services, Omar Soleiman, to Ramallah, for talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
A newspaper editor close to Mubarak on Monday lamented the US administration’s lack of “clear” vision in the Middle East and said the Egyptian president’s upcoming trip to the United States will be difficult.
“We wish that the Bush administration shows more strength and more clarity in its efforts for a peace settlement,” wrote Al-Ahram editor Ibrahim Nafie in an editorial.
He urged Washington to put more pressure on the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“President Mubarak has hoped to see changes that would enable his upcoming visit to the United States to be an important step in laying down the basis of a political settlement,” he said.
“But nothing of the sort happened, the Israeli government did not give up its extremist positions and the US government did not make sufficient efforts to make him change his attitude,” he added.
“Mubarak, said Nafie, “is heading to Washington aware that the climate is not in favour of a real political settlement in the Middle east, it will not be easy”.
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