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Mubarak to Ask Bush for Peace Plan

Middle East: Egyptian leader says the U.S. should detail a proposal for a final settlement.

June 07, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Thursday that he will ask President Bush in talks that begin today to detail a single plan and timetable for a final peace between Israel and the Palestinians that will end the half-century-old conflict in the next two to three years.

A U.S. plan is pivotal at this troubled juncture of the peace process because Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are so at odds that they are unable to agree on either the process for starting negotiations or the substance of talks, Mubarak said in an interview here with The Times.

"You can't leave Sharon and Arafat alone to solve the problem," said the Egyptian leader, who will meet with Bush at Camp David in Maryland.

The Bush administration has tried to broker peace negotiations by pulling the two sides toward common ground without proposing its own specific ideas on a political settlement. But Mubarak's message is that this approach will no longer work.

Israeli officials have stressed that ending suicide bombings by Palestinian militants and assuring Israel's overall security should be the first priorities of peace talks.

But Mubarak said establishing a timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state offers the only serious prospect for ending the violence that has raged since September 2000.

"Security alone will not put an end to the violence," he said. "Establishing a [Palestinian] state is a must to give hope to the people that they will have their land and their state. A Palestinian state is the best guarantee for the security of the state of Israel."

The Bush administration has been prodding Arafat to move more aggressively to stop suicide bombings. But Mubarak cautioned that Arafat alone cannot end the spate of bombings and other attacks that have killed more than 500 Israelis over the last 20 months, especially given recent efforts by the Israeli military to isolate the Palestinian leader.

"You cannot guarantee that Arafat can stop this violence," Mubarak said. "Believe me, he can't control anything. What kind of tools does he have? He has no tools. He can't move.

"We hope [the violence] will stop, but as long as there are no negotiations going on, people are desperate," he said. "You can expect anything at any time."

In terms of a timeline for a final settlement, Mubarak suggested that there is some Arab flexibility on an exact date--and sensitivity about the potential impact of American peace efforts on the 2004 U.S. presidential election.

He said a leading congressional figure told him recently that negotiating a settlement, which is certain to be controversial in some sectors of U.S. society, would be difficult during Bush's first term.

"Maybe 2004, maybe 2005. But three years from now, I think we should reach a solution," he said.

Mubarak's blunt message contrasts sharply with the Israeli position, which will be outlined again by Sharon on Monday here in talks with Bush. The Israelis are pushing for a limited U.S. effort in which peace negotiations focus on incremental steps, not one big plan.

The Bush administration faces the difficult task of bridging the two opposing positions as it struggles to organize an international conference on the Middle East this summer.

Mubarak indicated that he is pessimistic about the prospects of Sharon changing his position. "I don't know whether he will accept anything," he said.

The Egyptian leader expressed disappointment at reports that Israel is pressing the United States to drop plans to create a political working group--which would include Israelis, Palestinians and moderate Arab officials--to continue deliberations after the international conference.

One of the ideas being discussed in the Bush administration is to create a handful of such working groups on political, security, economic and other issues. But Mubarak, who met Thursday with Vice President Dick Cheney, said he was told that Israel opposed the political working group idea.

Mubarak also said that during his talks with Bush, he will warn that any military operation aimed at toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would only unleash a "hellish" situation throughout the Middle East, breeding more support for extremists and producing more terrorism and violence.

And the impact would be just as severe on American allies in the Arab world as on the U.S., he predicted. "We are all going to suffer" if the administration attacks Iraq, he said.

The argument that Bush has offered to potentially justify such action--that Iraq is a menace because of its weapons of mass destruction--will not sell well in the Mideast, Mubarak said, because Israel has weapons that are considered a threat to the Arab world.

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