Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu heads to Egypt on Sunday to talk with President Hosni Mubarak about the possibility of direct negotiations with the Palestinians.

The two men will also discuss the issue of the Gaza crossings, in the wake of Israel’s recent decision to lift most restrictions on goods entering the Strip.

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Mubarak also plans to meet separately on Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US special envoy George Mitchell.

Abbas is expected to tell Mubarak that he wants the Arab League to make the decision on whether to head to direct talks with Israel.

Government sources told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night they remained hopeful that direct talks would resume in the near future, despite PA statements that it won’t enter direct talks unless Israel accepts the pre- 1967 lines as the future border of a Palestinian state and agrees to the presence of foreign troops in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“It is our understanding that we are moving toward direct talks,” a government source told the Post.

The Palestinians broke off direct talks in December 2008. Since taking office 16 months ago, Netanyahu has called for the PA to negotiate with Israel.

“The Palestinians have prevented direct talks from happening for the last year and a half,” said the source, who added that this refusal has not benefited anyone.

Abbas under pressure to reject US demands for talks

Abbas is under pressure from Fatah and the PLO to reject demands from the US administration to hold talks with Israel.

Hamas and several other radical Palestinian groups have also warned Abbas against succumbing to pressure from Washington.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell met with Abbas in Ramallah on Saturday and urged the PA to conduct direct negotiations with Israel.

Abbas, according to one of his aides, told the US emissary that he remained opposed to such negotiations until the two sides first agreed on the future borders of a Palestinian state and security-related matters.

Following the meeting in Ramallah, Mitchell sounded more optimistic than Abbas’s top advisers regarding direct negotiations.

“We recognize the difficulties and complexities involved in trying to realize the vision of comprehensive peace,” he said. “We are heartened by the discussions that we heard today and the past several days.”

Mitchell said he was planning to visit several other countries in the region for further discussions on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

PLO official says Mitchell brought nothing new

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who attended the talks in Ramallah, refused to respond to reporters after the meeting, in what was interpreted as a sign of dissatisfaction with the US position.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official and political adviser to Abbas, said Mitchell did not bring anything new.

“He didn’t bring us answers to questions we had presented to Israel through Washington regarding borders and security,” Abed Rabbo said. “We are still lacking clarity regarding a number of issues.”

He said that under the current circumstances, the PA believes there is no reason to accept Washington’s request to move to direct talks.

“We insist on clear answers regarding settlements and Israel’s measures in Jerusalem, including house demolitions and construction of new settler projects in the city.”

Muhammad Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, said his faction has rejected Mitchell’s demand for direct negotiations. He also said that moving from proximity talks to direct negotiations requires prior progress on borders and security.


“Our position has been supported by the Arab League,” Dahlan said. “In light of these developments and the absence of clear responses from Israel on these two issues, Fatah reiterates its opposition to moving to direct negotiations.”

In an interview published over the weekend in Jordan’s Alghad newspaper, Abbas said that Israel should agree to the presence of a “third party” in the Palestinian territories as a condition for direct talks.

Abbas also said that the PA has presented Israel with its position on various core issues, particularly borders and security.

“We said that the borders should be on the basis of 1967, with agreement on land swap between the two sides,” he said. “What is needed from Israel is to accept these ideas in principle.”

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