Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali, in the first visit to Israel by an Egyptian Cabinet minister since the assassination of president Anwar Sadat, pledged today to negotiate "resolutely" for fulfillment of the Camp David peace accords and stability in the Middle East.
Arriving for three days of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and other top officials, Ali said his visit underlines the determination of the new Egyptian government to achieve a comprehensive peace.
"Our meeting is a profound answer to all those who try to spread doubts that the peace process depended solely on the person of our late president Sadat," Ali told reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport.
"It's our duty today to proceed resolutely more than ever before to show the whole world our determination to abide by and adhere to our commitments to enhancing peace, not only for the benefit of the people in this area, including the Palestinians, but also the people in the world at large," he added.
Ali's conciliatory remarks contrasted with an exchange of sharply worded statements over the weekend between Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesmen over Palestinian self-determination.
Shamir had urged the Palestinians to exercise their national aspirations in Jordan, saying that Jordan is already a Palestinian state and that it does not matter to Israel whether it is ruled by King Hussein or Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat. In reply, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Shamir's statement is a violation of the concept of the Camp David accords, an apparent reference to a peace treaty provision against hostile statements by signatories to the accords.
For their part, Israeli officials bristled at remarks attributed to Ali to the effect that Israel was partly responsible for Sadat's assassination, because of the failure to speed negotiations on autonomy for Palestinians of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shamir said Friday that Israel had exhausted its ability to compromise in the autonomy talks.
Ali's comments today were more like those made by Begin in an interview Friday with The Washington Post, in which the prime minister expressed optimism in the future of Egyptian-Israeli relations.
"I think until now, all the negotiations concerning the handing over of the Sinai Peninsula and normalization, as well as implementation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, are going in a very smooth, in a very honest way and in a very normal way as well," Ali said. "Now, it is our own responsibility -- Israel, Egypt and the United States -- to get stability to the area."
Ali added, in a Voice of Israel radio interview, "In this respect, we have to work hard to see what are the elements to be reached for stability, and we consider the Palestinian problem to be one of the main problems in the whole stability in the Middle East."
Ali sidestepped questions about a Palestinian state, saying, "We have to stick to the Camp David accords," and adding that the treaty calls for the participation of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians "and others" in defining the future of the political status of the occupied areas.
"So, let us first implement the Camp David accords," Ali said.
For Israel, Ali's visit is the first opportunity to examine in depth the policies of the government of President Hosni Mubarak, and some Israeli officials said the outcome of the three days of talks could determine the tone of the Israeli-Egyptian dialogue in the weeks ahead.
When asked about remarks attributed to him suggesting that Israel's intransigence contributed to Sadat's assassination, Ali said he had been "misinterpreted."
"I stated that maybe the delay in negotiations for full autonomy was one of the elements used to charge the fanatic young people for the assassination of president Sadat," Ali said.
Ali did not mention his reported backing of the eight-point Saudi peace plan, which calls for withdrawal of Israeli forces to the borders before the 1967 war, establishment of a Palestinian state and for Arab control of East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after 1967.