Egypt backs Arafat, criticizes Israel


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
CAIRO, Egypt - Egypt on Sunday threw its support behind Yasser Arafat as President Hosni Mubarak sought American clarification of the new U.S. Mideast peace plan that calls for Palestinian leader's ouster.
In remarks after Mubarak met a U.S Senate delegation and a senior Arafat envoy, Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher accused Israel of "obstructing peace and stability in the region."
"Egypt strongly supports the democratically elected Palestinian leadership and refuses any attempt to outflank it," Maher told reporters.
"We have told all that we support the will of the Palestinian people as it was expressed in the 1996 elections in which Arafat was freely and democratically elected," he said. "Next year's elections announced by Arafat will also prove so."
President Bush said this week that Palestinian Authority reform, including new leadership, was a necessary first step to Washington's support for a provisional Palestinian provisional state.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said if the Palestinians "don't bring in new leaders, then we shouldn't expect new approaches." He said Washington planned "to help other Palestinian leaders to rise up and to begin transformation within the Palestinian community."
And in a Friday interview with The Associated Press, Powell said Arab leaders "universally recognized" Bush's call for Arafat's ouster.
Maher's remarks would appear to challenge that assessment.
Moderate Arab states, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have said the Palestinians alone should choose their leader.
Mubarak also said this week that U.S. calls to overhaul the Palestinian leadership did not mean Arafat had to go.
Bush may have been looking to Mubarak, the leading Arab moderate with close ties to Arafat, to pressure the Palestinian leader to step down. Such a move may anger ordinary Arabs, however, who have rallied around Arafat as the symbol of Palestinian nationalism.
Mubarak's regime has also been criticized as undemocratic, so he may be wary of setting the precedent of ousting a fellow Arab leader accused of failing to meet U.S. standards for democracy.
Maher, the Egyptian foreign minister, said Mubarak discussed Bush's speech with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and a Senate Intelligence Committee delegation headed by its chairman, Florida Democrat Bob Graham.
Erekat said Egypt and the Palestinians agreed on a "new vision to salvage the peace process ... based on an Israeli withdrawal from the pre-June 2, 1967, borders within an agreed time table."
In an interview later, Graham said he and Mubarak discussed Bush's call to change the Palestinian leadership, but refused to comment on Mubarak's reaction.
Graham said the Senate delegation had asked to meet with Arafat and Israeli leaders later this week. There had been Arab concerns that U.S. officials would isolate Arafat after Bush's speech. Bush has refused to meet Arafat.
The Associated Press Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, meets with a senior Yasser Arafat aide, Saeb Erekat, in Cairo on Sunday.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top