Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Tuesday that Egypt has agreed to urge Palestinians to continue Middle East peace talks on the basis of a U.S. draft paper on Palestinian self-rule.
"I think that we have agreed that while the American draft is not a holy script, it should not be retracted," Peres told reporters after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to seek Egypt's help in salvaging the 20-month-old talks.
"We have to take it as an opening position, introduce the necessary changes and try to impress the Palestinians with the need to continue preparations for the next round right away," Peres said.
Mubarak told Israeli reporters after the meeting that he could not speak for the Palestinians but that Egypt believes the U.S. draft is a good basis for continuing the peace talks, Israelis who attended his briefing said.
The United States presented the paper at the latest round of talks in Washington, which ended last week, because Israelis and Palestinians were making no progress on their own and the whole process appeared in danger of collapsing.
But the Palestinians came close to rejecting the document out of hand, and the Israelis criticized the United States for amending it to take account of Palestinian objections.
The Palestinians object that the draft does not define clearly the territory where their self-rule government would have authority. They want this to include East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, all captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital.
The chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, told reporters in Amman on Tuesday that the PLO rejected the document because it failed to respect the original terms for peace talks set at Madrid in 1991.
Asked what message Mubarak has agreed to take to the Palestinians, Peres replied: "That the draft can serve as a good opening and that they must understand the nature of the American involvement.
"The American involvement does not mean an American imposition on the Palestinians or Israel; neither are the Americans trying to substitute for one of the parties. But the American bridge-building is necessary as we go along the road to peace," he said.
Peres said he believes peace with the Palestinians is nearer than many thought.
"Palestinians do not have an alternative to peace and in Israel there is no better government for peace than the present one," he said.
"So even if you encounter difficulties, you must come to terms with realities. It may take a week, it may take two weeks but none of us has elsewhere to go."