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Jerusalem is not a Palestinian "problem" but a pan-Arab one, and Israel will suffer if a "just solution" is not found there, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Sunday in Cairo, after meeting President Shimon Peres.
Mubarak, according to a translation of his remarks put out by Peres's office, said there was no choice but to deal seriously with this issue, an apparent reference to the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Committee's decision to approve the building of 900 housing units in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
"I expressed my concern to President Peres that peace talks have not progressed since our last meeting in July and that Egypt is looking forward to an Israeli response, such as halting the building of settlements in east Jerusalem," he said.
Peres, in reply, said that Jerusalem was under Israeli sovereignty, and any change to that status would necessitate Knesset approval.
At the same time, referring to the recent riots in Jerusalem sparked by rumors that Israel was making a move on the Temple Mount, Peres said, "I want to send a clear message to the Arab world: we have no intention of building on the Temple Mount. We respect the Muslims, and I am sorry for the frequent rumors and lies. We should not create fabricated crises."
Peres said that just as Israel respects the Muslims, he expected the Muslims to respect the Jews and "guard the synagogues and churches in their lands to the same degree that we demonstrate toward the Muslims in Israel."
The comments came at a press conference that followed a one-on-one meeting between the two men that lasted for 90 minutes, and which Peres's office characterized as "warm and positive."
They then had a working lunch, and were joined by Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Peres arrived in Cairo a day after Mubarak issued a withering attack of Israel in the Egyptian parliament, accusing Israel of having plans to "Judaize" Jerusalem, and saying its demand for recognition as a Jewish state and refusal to include Jerusalem in negotiations on a comprehensive agreement were "undermining" peace efforts." Regarding the settlement issue, Peres said at the press conference that this would be dealt with once negotiations resumed.
Peres termed the settlement construction a "marginal issue" that became a central issue for the wrong reasons, and that this could be solved through negotiations and agreement.
"The sooner we start to negotiate, the issue of settlements will disappear, because once we have agreed borders, there won't be any problems, and we have to reach that by agreement," he said.
"The minute we shall start to negotiate, there won't be new settlements, and there won't be confiscation of land."
In addition, he said, "There will be no financial investment in new settlements. There will be a dismantling of the settlements that were established without authorization."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said for months that Israel would not build any new settlements or expropriate any new land for settlement use.
Mubarak, who has been extremely critical of Israel's settlement policy, said any construction by Israel on land beyond the 1967 borders would put a damper on "final-status negotiations" and further augment the stagnation of the peace process.
Referring to various plans that have been floated in recent weeks about the establishment of Palestinian state within provisional borders, Mubarak said that the time had passed for talk on temporary solutions and borders - which have long been seen as a stepping stone to a solving the crisis - and instead a just and lasting peace should be concluded.
"We want an end to settlement in occupied lands, including east Jerusalem," he was quoted by Reuters as saying, later calling on Israel to exhibit awareness "of the regional situation â€¦ [and] the dangers of losing the opportunity for peace."
Peres - who was reported to be backing the provisional state idea - seemed to back away from it, proposing not "coming every morning with new suggestions. We agreed to [UN Security Council Resolution] 242, all of us, we agreed to the road map, all of us, let's start there.
"If everyone will come every morning with new suggestions, we shall have to start everything again. Why?"
AP contributed to this report.