One day after Egypt's decision to extend recognition to the newly declared Palestinian state, Yasser Arafat arrived in Cairo to talk with Egyptian leaders on pushing the peace process forward. Egypt's decision to recognize the Palestinian state after failing to do so for five days was linked to Mr. Arafat's planned arrival, according to diplomatic sources. They said that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman was reluctant to come here unless Cairo extended recognition.
The decision also followed intense Arab pressure and Cairo's assessment that its relations with neither Washington nor Jerusalem would suffer seriously as a result.
Egyptian diplomats were reluctant to admit that there had been a policy change and continued to insist that Egypt's initial support for the decision taken by the Palestine National Council (PNC) in Algiers last week went further than recognition.
But diplomatic sources say that after Jordan recognized the Palestinian state, Arab pressures became too powerful for Egypt to resist.
``Cairo was initially misled by the Jordanians,'' said a well-informed diplomatic source. ``Initially the Jordanians did not want to recognize'' the Palestinian state.
When the Jordanians suddenly changed their stand, Egypt appeared isolated.
But Egypt would not have extended recognition had it not concluded that Washington and Jerusalem could ultimately accept the step.
``We needed to assess what the impact would be on the other two parties, Israel and the United States,'' said a Foreign Ministry official.
In a meeting several days ago between Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ned Walker, the Americans ``did not press'' the Egyptians on the recognition issue, said a Western diplomat.
In Jerusalem, Monitor correspondent George Moffett adds: Israeli officials have reacted sharply to Eygpt's decision to recognize the Palestinian state but appear in no mood to upset relations over the matter.
Eygpt's ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouny, was summoned to a meeting with Israeli officials late yesterday.
``Egypt has deviated from its Camp David commitments,'' Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said afterward of Egypt's action.
(Egypt maintains that Israel buried the Camp David Accords mainly by expanding the West Bank settlements in the period immediately following the peace treaty. But a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Cairo stressed that ``We are still keeping our commitment to peace, whose sources are the peace treaty and the Camp David Accords.'')
Israel's Foreign Ministry will oppose using Egypt's decision as a pretext to hold on to the Red Sea resort of Taba, awarded to Egypt in September by a Geneva arbitration panel, despite threats to do so by right-wing Israeli politicians, a ministry official said. The recall of Israel's ambassador to Egypt over the matter was ``not considered,'' the official added.
In Brussels, meanwhile, the foreign ministers of the European Common Market countries met yesterday to discuss the decisions of the PNC. With the possible exception of Greece, they were not expected to recognize the Palestinian state.
So far 38 mostly Arab and non-aligned countries have recognized the Palestinian state. China did so yesterday. Two, Eygpt and Turkey, also have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Sources in Jerusalem acknowledge that their biggest fear is that even though the PNC failed to recognize Israel - a step long demanded by the US as a precondition to dealing with the PLO - last week's meeting of the Palestine National Council could accelerate the process of integrating the PLO into the negotiating process.
``Over time this could create a certain dynamic of legitimacy,'' says one Israeli official.
Israel will not face a real crisis, they add, until and unless the US also edges towards the PLO, a move that would probably open the door to recognition of the new Palestinian state by most Western countries.