Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh on Monday to discuss the resumption of proximity talks with the Palestinians, possibly as early as next week.
The visit was finalized in a phone conversation between the two leaders on Tuesday.
“On Monday I will go to Egypt to meet with President Mubarak, who is working for the renewal of talks,” Netanyahu told Likud activists in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.
“For an entire year we have called for a renewal of [direct] talks,” said Netanyahu. “We are not against peace, but rather in favor of peace.
“We ask for real peace in which we work on the basis of Israeli interests of mutuality, on a solution regarding return, on recognizing the State of Israel as Jewish and demanding to hold negotiations without preconditions,” he said.
Netanyahu would have preferred to hold direct talks, but has accepted the Palestinian position that only “proximity” talks are acceptable at this point.
In a Channel 2 interview Monday night
, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas indicated his willingness to resume the US-sponsored proximity talks.
He plans to head to an Arab League meeting of foreign ministers on
Saturday, where it is expected he will seek endorsement for the talks.PMO, Yishai deny rumored plan to shelve new housing
close to Abbas continued to claim on Tuesday that the Netanyahu
government has promised to freeze all controversial housing projects in
Jerusalem to pave the way for the resumption of the peace talks.
sources said that according to understandings reached between the US
administration and Israel, the government would shelve plans to build
1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo that had halted the launch of proximity
talks in early March, and would refrain from similar “provocations” in
the city in the future.
But the Prime Minister’s Office and Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Tuesday denied that any such plan existed.
said that construction as well as development and planning work would
continue for Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.
On Tuesday night, Netanyahu told Likud activists, “the whole world knows how we safeguard Jerusalem.”
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday that the PA won’t resume
peace talks with Israel unless Netanyahu cancels the new housing
project in Jerusalem’s Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.
The PA is also
demanding assurances that the Israeli government would refrain from
publishing new tenders for such projects or adding new homes to Jewish
neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, Erekat said.
His remarks came
during a meeting with David Hale, US deputy assistant secretary of
state for Near Eastern affairs, and US Consul-General Daniel Rubinstein.
arrived last week. He was joined over the weekend by US special envoy
George Mitchell, who left on Sunday but who is expected to return next
Erekat did not comment on unconfirmed reports that the peace talks could be resumed as early as next week.
Erekat said that peace and settlements were “two parallels that can’t meet.”
said that if the Netanyahu government wanted to give the US
administration a chance to make peace in the Middle East, it should
halt all settlement construction in the West Bank and all building in
east Jerusalem, including “natural growth” in these communities.
said Israel should also remove all settlement outposts that were
established after March 2001, allow closed PLO and PA institutions in
Jerusalem to reopen, release all Palestinian prisoners and lift the
closure and blockade imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip,
Nabil Shaath, a former PA minister and one of the
architects of the Oslo Accords, was quoted on Tuesday as saying that it
would be “impossible” for the Palestinians to make peace with Israel as
long as Netanyahu was in power.
Shaath, who is closely
affiliated with Abbas, expressed hope that US pressure on Netanyahu
would force him to resign, paving the road for a new coalition
government that would launch peace talks with the Palestinians.”
“We can’t negotiate with him [Netanyahu] while he’s continuing to build settlements on our lands,” the Palestinian daily Al-Quds
quoted Shaath as saying. “We also can’t negotiate while Israel is
deporting and detaining any Palestinian in the West Bank who doesn’t
have an Israeli permit.”
Shaath said that although the
Palestinians were facing “the most difficult government in the history
of Israel,” there should be no room for frustration.
that the Palestinians were encouraged by the growing disillusionment of
the US administration and the international community with Israel’s
actions and policies.
Shaath said that US Vice President Joe
Biden, who recently visited Ramallah, told Palestinian leaders that
“these Israelis don’t understand that their actions are endangering the
lives of nearly 200,000 US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.”