Netanyahu reaches out Mission to Cairo: Israel's prime minister improves dialogue with Arabs.

July 21, 1996

THE POSSIBILITY of peace between Israel under a Likud Party government and its neighbors improved with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Cairo. This was orchestrated with other positive gestures toward Arab neighbors.

The closure of the border with the Palestinian Authority, imposed before the election by former Prime Minister Shimon Peres in response to terrorism, will be lifted to allow 10,000 more workers to enter Israel daily, as well as more truck and taxi and ambulance traffic. This is a measured step toward normalization. Whatever the final status of the Palestinian Authority, the Oslo accord presumes economic interdependence between it and Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu, while continuing to cold-shoulder Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, is dispatching Foreign Minister David Levy to see him. And while the Israeli posture is to reject any symbolism pointing to a Palestinian sovereignty, Mr. Arafat can receive a foreign minister as serving just that purpose.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt had awaited Mr. Netanyahu as a hostile host, with opposition and pro-regime newspapers heaping abuse on the Israeli leader. Then Mr. Mubarak lectured him on keeping agreements. Then they had a long talk. And when it was over, the Egyptian president pronounced himself optimistic that Mr. Netanyahu "wants to reach peace."

Their meeting was preceded by a visit to both from Jordan's prime minister, Abdul-Karim al-Kahariti. This suggests a brokering role by King Hussein of Jordan, whose own state counts on economic interdependence with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

President Hafez el-Assad of Syria is not persuaded. But both he and Mr. Netanyahu call for a resumption of their negotiations, which Mr. Peres had suspended. They may or may not ever agree on anything, but clearly neither will give away chunks of bargaining position beforehand.

The State Department's top Middle East negotiator, Dennis Ross, is leaving to reassess the situation. After Mr. Netanyahu's visit to President Clinton and bravura performance before a Republican Congress, the U.S. role is not to push forward for instant agreements but rather to hold things steady, ensuring that past agreements are kept and lines of communication remain open.

What is gratifying is that the Clinton administration received help in that enterprise from Mr. Mubarak, King Hussein and not least from Mr. Netanyahu.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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