Egypt gave its approval today to the latest Israeli plan for partial civilian rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and expressed hope for a positive response from Palestinians living there.
At a press conference ending two days of negotiations in the resumed Palestinian autonomy talks, Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali called yesterday's proposal by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon "very encouraging." In the communique issued at the end of today's talks, Egypt said it "welcomes" the proposed steps.
"We hope that after building upon these arrangements," Ali said, "the Palestinians will participate and will join in following steps" of the autonomy talks.
Cairo's surprisingly warm endorsement of the Sharon plan came as Egyptian, Israeli and U.S. negotiators announced agreement on new procedures and a schedule for future meetings that all parties seemed to regard as breathing new life into the long-stalled talks.
The communique said they had set as their immediate objective an agreement on "understandings and principles" that would allow implementation of "full autonomy" for the 1.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as provided for by the Camp David accords.
"Ways will be sought to encourage Palestinians in the areas to engage actively in this process," it said.
The negotiators agreed to form a team of technicians to work out the details of the Palestinian "self-governing authority" that is to take over from Israeli authorities.
Both from the communique and what delegation spokesmen said later it is clear the three countries are seeking ways to give momentum, or at least the appearance of it, to the autonomy negotiations, which are widely regarded in the Arab world and most of Western Europe as a failure.
Israeli Interior Minister Yosef Burg seemed upbeat about the talks, describing the meeting as "not easy but anyhow fruitful."
U.S. negotiator Alfred L. Atherton Jr. said he was "very satisfied" with the outcome of the meeting.