Mubarak marches

Posted: Jun 05, 2002 12:00 AM
Enter Egypt, in a pretty big way.

President Hosni Mubarak reminds us how critically he is situated. He does this by telling us that he knew al-Qaida was plotting against us, intending a dramatic strike of some sort. He knew it -- and he told U.S. officials about it. He didn't say who, exactly, nor record what specific precautions were then taken, though he did say that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had been fortified. We are invited to assume that Egypt's intelligence system has improved since the day, two years ago, when it could not establish, even after the plane went down, that one of its pilots had decided to profess his suicidal faith by crashing the liner and its 217 passengers into the sea.

Then he said that in his meeting with President Bush on Wednesday he is going to propose joint action on the Israel/Palestine front: specifically, the promulgation of a Palestinian state.

His reasoning is more interesting than the specifications for such a state, which he leaves open to negotiation. What deserves attention is his warning that to leave it as it is, in the hands of the two contestants, is a venture in self-entrapment. The two parties are stuck, says Mubarak, and need intercession by a "heavyweight," the United States being the single heavyweight in town.

Mubarak would have President Bush go forward on his earlier call for a Palestinian state. Let such a state be declared and proceed then to a conference to argue over its borders. Mubarak assures us, reasonably, that this time around Arafat will be less obstinate than he was at the conference with Barak in 2001. Mubarak wants us to believe that he assesses with some authority the temperature of the Palestinian Authority.

And he wants us to believe that he has influence across the border. When the suicide terrorist struck immediately after the withdrawal of most of the Israeli military in May, and it was established that the bomber was from Gaza, Mubarak went right to his fax machine and sent a dispatch to General Sharon, warning against massive retaliation against Gaza. And lo, the tanks did not move, the rockets did not fall. The injunction by Mubarak to prudence might indeed have been critical.

What is coming out of the whole scene is a quite general conviction that the old saw simply doesn't apply in the area. We were told, always, that diplomatic reconciliations don't work except as they are engaged in directly by the contending parties. Israel will work out its own arrangements with the Palestinian leader.

That hasn't happened, and everyone is awaiting now a solution devised by more merely than the contending parties. It would be nice if a deus ex machina came along, but pending that, we have most prominently in sight the Saudi Arabian proposal, and now the Egyptian proposal. Both of them leading, it is expected, to something from the United States that takes into consideration not only the Palestinian population inside the West Bank borders, but also the Republican population in Congress and the White House.

In his broadcast, Mubarak acknowledged problems of his own. He has ideal-hungry youth who are unemployed and in search of other satisfactions and means by which to express their Islamic militancy. Mubarak says he can see his way to making a trip to Tel Aviv, in the august tradition of Anwar Sadat. But he is not going to go there merely to be "insulted." He wants to have some assurance that the area is caught up in the diplomatic entrepreneurial act. And this requires: (1) the recognition of a Palestinian state (ITAL) whatever its boundaries, and (2) earnest money by Israel in the proceedings.

What exactly Israel is to concede, Mubarak prudently did not specify. What hovers in the picture is the size and vector of the Jewish settlements, the location of the capital of the new Palestinian state, and the rights, if any, of the Palestinian dispossessed.

Mubarak wants very much to be noticed when he arrives and begins to trade with President Bush. It's our job to channel his energy and head it in the right direction, which should include the nature of young Egyptian idealism.