Israeli officials continued to express optimism on Sunday that direct talks with the Palestinians were imminent, even as Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that more needed to be done to bridge the gaps between the two sides.RELATED:
Aboul Gheit’s comments followed a meeting in Cairo between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Hosni Mubarak that were aimed at securing Arab League approval for moving from proximity to direct talks.
to meet Mubarak in Egypt
PA not ruling
out direct talks
“There must be
a strong Israeli strategic move that would deepen Palestinian trust in
Israel’s intentions, so we can move from indirect to direct talks,”
Aboul Gheit said. “Egypt thinks there is the need for direct talks, that
they are the road to reach a settlement... but to have these direct
talks, the atmosphere must be ripe and enough progress made.”
Egypt’s top diplomat also said there was still a need for more
discussion and diplomacy to narrow the divide and build trust.
“We are still hopeful that we can bridge that gap, the gap between the
needs of security for Israel and the borders for the Palestinians,”
Aboul Gheit said. “You have to create the basis to proceed from indirect
to direct talks. That is still lacking. We need to help the Americans
and both parties to come closer to each other.”
He said Mubarak had received a message on Sunday from US President
Barack Obama and a telephone call from Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton urging a swift move to direct peace talks.
Aboul Gheit said he hoped that by September, if not sooner, there would
be enough progress to allow the Palestinians and Israel to sit at the
same negotiating table. Both Netanyahu and Obama have said they want to
see the talks begin sooner.
The 10-month settlement housing-start freeze that Netanyahu announced
last year expires on September 26, and both Israel and the US have
expressed interest in having the direct talks begin before then, with
the hope that some kind of acceptable formula could be worked out on the
matter between the sides during the talks.
Israeli defense officials have said that Israel is considering expanding
the role of Palestinian Authority security forces in West Bank towns
and removing more IDF checkpoints that hinder the movement of people and
When asked about these steps and whether they constituted
trust-building, Aboul Gheit said they “address certain problems.”
“But I think we have to focus on [freezing] settlement activity, a time
frame and the 1967 lines,” he added.
Before going to Egypt, Netanyahu met with US envoy George Mitchell, and
upon his return he met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton,
and then with Quartet envoy Tony Blair. These meetings all took place
despite a brewing coalition crisis with Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman and Israel Beiteinu.
Mubarak met separately with Netanyahu, Mitchell – who also went to Cairo
on Sunday – and PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Though Abbas and Netanyahu
were in Cairo at the same time, there were no indications that they met.
Mitchell, also looking for Arab League support to move to direct talks,
held a meeting with the organization’s head, Amr Moussa. AFP quoted
Moussa as saying that written guarantees were needed from Israel to move
to direct talks.
“We cannot automatically move from one negotiation to another without
written guarantees,” he said.
Moussa, who met with Abbas on Saturday, added, “I felt the Palestinian
president was committed to the decisions of the ministerial council [of
Arab foreign ministers] that the automatic transition from indirect to
direct negotiations is not feasible.”
Abbas said in an interview published on Saturday that he would not
negotiate directly with Netanyahu unless Israel agreed to recognize the
June 4, 1967, lines as a basis for the borders of a future Palestinian
state and accepted the deployment of an international force in the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Abbas has apparently backed down from conditioning the talks on a
complete halt of all construction in the settlements, and all
construction by Jews in east Jerusalem.EU's Ashton visited Gaza
Meanwhile, Ashton visited Gaza and then Sderot on Sunday, stressing
throughout the day – including in a meeting later with Lieberman – the
need for greater movement of goods in and out of the Strip, while at the
same time recognizing Israel’s security needs.
“The answer here is opening the crossings,” AFP quoted Ashton as saying
at a press conference at a UN school in Gaza.
“People here recognize and understand the security needs of Israel,” she
went on. “But that should not prevent the ability to be able to see the
free flow of goods into and out of Gaza in order that houses can be
rebuilt, children can go to fully functioning schools and businesses can
Ashton did not meet any Hamas officials.
Later, at a press conference with Lieberman, Ashton said the EU would
consider playing a role in operating the crossings into Gaza, and that
various ideas were being discussed, but no concrete proposal had yet
come to the EU.
Following her visit to Gaza, her second this year, Ashton met Israeli
officials at the Erez crossing, who explained how Israel had eased its
restrictions on the area.
In Sderot, she said a solution was needed that would ensure Israeli
“It was very important for me to come here, because looking at the
examples of the [Kassam] missiles demonstrates how important it is that
we build together a solution that recognizes the importance of the
security of Israel, and prevents these missiles coming and creating
destruction,” she said.
Lieberman met with Ashton in Jerusalem on Sunday evening.
At a press conference following their meeting, Ashton expressed sympathy
for the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and called for his
“I can understand the great pain of Aviva and Noam Schalit after four
years since the kidnapping,” Ashton said.
She called upon the Hamas leadership to allow the Red Cross to visit
Schalit in his captivity.
Ashton is scheduled to meet the Schalit family on Monday before leaving.AP contributed to this report.