Egypt marked the first anniversary of the Camp David accords yesterday by charging that Israel's decision to allow private Israelis to purchase Arab land in the occupied West Bank represents a "serious obstacle" to Middle East peace.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ruling Sunday by the Israeli Cabinet violates "the text and spirit of the Camp David accords," the Cairo-based Middle East News Agency said.
The reaction from Cairo contrasted sharply with the apparent optimism prevailing at an official White House ceremony marking the first anniversary of the Camp David agreements. (Details on Page A14.)
The Israeli decision also drew harsh criticism from Jordan and from prominent Arab officials on the West Bank.
The Egyptian statement called the decision to rescind a 12-year ban on private purchases of Arab land an Israeli attempt "to impose a fait accompli" on the disputed West Bank by gradually dotting it with settlements.
Egypt said it "totally rejects" the Israeli ruling and warned that it could impede progress in the current negotiations on Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.
In Washington, visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman repeatedly dodged questions about the future of the West Bank in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters.
"I don't know what the final status of the West Bank is going to be, and I don't think we should discuss it now," he said.
"I think there are certain problems in the world that don't have definite solutions," he added, citing struggles against central governments in Kurdistan, Northern Ireland and Quebec.
Weizman stressed that relations between Israel and Egypt have come a long way since the Camp David accords and that Israeli resistance to giving up settlements in the occupied Sinai has been overcome.
The Camp David agreements last September led to the signing in March of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty providing for Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai desert, captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.Egyptian, Israeli and American negotiators then began haggling over the thornier issue of autonomy for 1.2 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The Egyptian spokesman said Israel's decision to life the land-purchase prohibition "cast doubt on Israel's intention to respect its commitment at Camp David to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people."
The statement added, "This decision adds a serious obstacle to the obstacles raised by Israel on the road of achieving comprehensive and just settlement."
The friction on the issue is expected to be felt at a new round of autonomy talks scheduled to begin next week in Alexandria, Egypt.
Akram Barakat, spokesman of the Jordanian Embassy in Washington, said the decision confirmed what he called Israel's policy of "creeping annexation" of the West Bank, which was captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
In an apparent reference to the United States, Barakat said the move "should make it clear to all parties trying to mediate a Middle East peace that Israel is not going to change its policy" of retaining control of the West Bank. He said the decision served to justify Jordan's refusal to enter the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations, despite pressure from the United States.
Barakat confirmed that Jordan demands the death penalty for Arabs who sell West Bank land to Israelis, an act he said amounted to "high treason."
He said he doubted many Arabs would actually sell their land, although "a few" might do so because of the "political impasse" over the area's future.
"We know they (the Israelis) are going to try to pay very high prices," Barakat said.
On the West Bank, several Arab mayors condemned the Israeli decision, according to news agencies.
Bassam Shakaa, the mayor of Nablus, said the ruling contravened international law and compared it to organized crime. Mohammed Milhem, the mayor of Khalkhul, charged that Israelis had simply given themselves permission to take more Palestinian land.
Similar denunciations came from the mayors of Bethlehem, Beit Sahur, Beit Jala and other towns.
In Aden, the capital of Marxist South Yemen, visiting Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin meanwhile attacked the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty on the anniversary of Camp David meetings as an obstacle to a comprehensive Middle East settlement, the official Aden News Agency reported.