Prime Minister Shimon Peres reacted favorably tonight to a call by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for direct Middle East peace negotiations between Israel and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.
In interviews with The Associated Press and Israeli television, Peres said that the Mubarak proposal "deserves a careful and positive study" by Israel and that he sees it as a sign of "progress" toward a Middle East peace settlement.
Mubarak made his proposal in an interview with The New York Times that was published today. In it, he suggested that the Reagan administration host negotiations between Israel and an Arab delegation made up of representatives of Jordan and the Palestinians.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb welcomed Mubarak's proposal, saying: "We would support direct talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors in any way that seems appropriate at that time. We look forward to discussing these issues with President Mubarak during his visit here next month."
The Israelis clearly were encouraged by two elements in Mubarak's proposal that differed significantly from the recent agreement on peace negotiations that was reached between King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The first was that Mubarak called for direct talks between Israel and an Arab delegation, meeting one of Israel's main conditions for entering peace negotiations. This contrasted sharply with the Hussein-Arafat call for an international peace conference that would include the Soviet Union. Both Israel and the United States strongly oppose any Soviet participation in Middle East peace talks.
In addition, while Mubarak reportedly said that the Palestinian members of the proposed joint delegation should be "pro-PLO," he did not call for overt PLO participation in the negotiations as did the Hussein-Arafat accord. Israeli governments over the years have emphatically ruled out any talks with the PLO, a position that Peres reiterated tonight. "Any Palestinian connected with terror or the PLO, which has indulged in terror, cannot obviously be a member of such a delegation," he said.
But he said: "Egypt and the Egyptian president can play an important and constructive role in furthering the peace process in the Middle East. On the Israeli side, he will find a willing and constructive partner."
He added that "if in fact President Mubarak spoke in favor of direct negotiations, and did not talk about convening an international conference, I see this as an important contribution and as progress."
The Mubarak proposal came during what a senior aide to Peres characterized tonight as a period of "intensification of contacts" between Israel and Egypt. The Peres government has made an improvement in Egyptian-Israeli relations one of its key foreign policy goals and considers improved ties with the only Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel as critical to reviving the overall Middle East peace process.
The Peres aide confirmed that Mohammed Abdellah, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian parliament, met secretly with Peres last week in Bucharest during Peres' visit to the Romanian capital. The aide said Peres and Abdellah discussed Egyptian-Israeli relations in general.