(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – Egyptian officials hope the recent violence in the West Bank will add urgency to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process rather than derail it, and have called for rededicated efforts at peacemaking in meetings here.
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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama Wednesday, lending a strong Arab voice in support of the launch of direct Israeli- Palestinian negotiations Thursday, which many in the Middle East view with skepticism.
Obama also met on Wednesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan, the latter of whom met with Netanyahu as well.
Abbas condemned the Hamas attack, which earned him praise from Obama in a hastily scheduled public statement which the president made to criticize the attack, stress his commitment to Israel’s security, and urge negotiations go on.
“I have the utmost confidence in him and his belief in a two-state solution in which the people of Israel and the Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security,” Obama said, appearing beside Netanyahu following their two-hour meeting.
Later, after his nearly 90- minute meeting with Abbas, Obama told reporters “We are making progress” following a productive meeting. The two men were seen smiling and chatting as Obama escorted Abbas to his car.
He was due to meet with Abdullah and Mubarak after press time.
Ahead of that meeting, an Egyptian diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post
the Hamas shooting that killed four Israelis in the West Bank “highlights the urgency of getting this thing done.” He added, “the longer we wait, the longer the occupation continues, the more violence we’re going to have.”
The official said that the importance of moving quickly toward an agreement has been a key piece of the message the Egyptians have delivered.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak spelled out steps Cairo was ready to take to help realize a deal in a New York Times
op-ed titled “A Peace Plan Within Our Grasp” published Wednesday.
He said that his country would be willing to reprise its role as a venue for talks, and speculation has mounted that the next round of negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas will be held in Egypt in the next two weeks.
Mubarak also said Egypt could once again serve as a mediator to broker talks between Israel and Hamas in regards to the return of captured soldier Gilad Schalit, as well as to reconcile Hamas and Fatah into creating a unity government and forming a unified stance rather than fighting with each other.
In the Times
op-ed, Mubarak endorsed the concept of an international force in the West Bank to guarantee security – a top Israeli concern – and also urged other Arab countries to make gestures toward Israel.
“Arab nations should continue to demonstrate the seriousness of their peace initiative with steps that address the hopes and concerns of ordinary Israelis,” he stressed, while calling for a full stop to Israeli settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem.
The Obama administration has long sought such steps from Arab countries other than Egypt and Jordan, who alone have peace treaties and full diplomatic relations with Israel, to add momentum to the process but has been rebuffed. The administration also only succeeded in eliciting a temporary settlement freeze, which didn’t include East Jerusalem and is set to expire at the end of the month, from Israel.
But Mubarak highlighted a different factor as the primary roadblock to progress.
“The biggest obstacle that now stands in the way of success is psychological: the cumulative effect of years of violence and the expansion of Israeli settlements have led to a collapse of trust on both sides,” he wrote.“For the talks to succeed, we must rebuild trust and a sense of security.”
To help them do that, the parties are looking toward this week’s meetings – which are set to include an intimate dinner at the White House residence Wednesday night as well as a several-hour three-way session Thursday comprised of Netanyahu, Abbas and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.