Mubarak: Israel must ‘review its policies’ for peace talks

PM asks Egypt to persuade Palestinians to change direction; Lieberman to EU’s Ashton: Gaza blockade can end if arms smuggling stops.

netanyahu mubarak 311 (photo credit: GPO)
netanyahu mubarak 311
(photo credit: GPO)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asked Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reexamine his policy toward the Palestinians, while Netanyahu asked Mubarak to get the Palestinians to alter their direction, when the two met in Sharm e-Sheikh on Thursday.
Following the meeting, Mubarak’s spokesman put out a statement saying the Egyptian president “reiterated that Israel should review its positions and policies, and take tangible confidence building measures toward the Palestinian Authority for peace talks to resume.”
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A statement released by Netanyahu’s office, which described the meeting as “lengthy, friendly and comprehensive,” quoted the prime minister as saying an agreement with the Palestinians was possible if they were willing to “end the conflict.”
Netanyahu asked Mubarak to persuade the Palestinians to move immediately to “direct, intensive and serious negotiations” – in which all core issues would be raised, according to the statement.
The prime minister also updated Mubarak on the progress of the fence Israel was building along the 240-km. Egyptian border to reduce the number of illegal immigrants from Africa infiltrating Israel via Sinai.
Although the focus of the talks was the diplomatic process, Egypt is increasingly preoccupied with the situation in Sudan, with Southern Sudan set to begin voting on Sunday on whether to secede and form an independent country.
Cairo is increasingly worried that an all-out war in its southern neighbor would lead to an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Egypt, something that would severely tax the country’s economy.
Mubarak and Netanyahu first met privately, and then were joined by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and the prime minister’s military attaché, Maj.-Gen. Yohanan Locker. Attending from the Egyptian side were Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit, Mubarak’s chief of staff Zakaria Azmi, presidential adviser Soliman Awad and South Sinai Gov. Muhammad Shousha.
In a related diplomatic development, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met separately with the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and reiterated the EU’s position that Israel and the Palestinians must “find a satisfactory way to engage without delay in substantive negotiations on all finalstatus issues.”
“There is no alternative to a negotiated solution. Urgent progress is needed toward a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-byside in peace and security as part of a just and comprehensive peace,” Ashton said in a statement.
Ashton also visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The meetings with PA officials came a day after she spoke by phone with Netanyahu and met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni.
During the meeting with Lieberman, the foreign minister called on the EU to put together a force to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. He said that once smuggling stopped, Israel could lift the closure of Gaza.
Ashton made no mention of this in her statement, saying that during her discussions in the region, she said the crossings into Gaza must be opened to allow the flow of humanitarian aid, imports, exports and people.
“We need to enable children to go to school and ordinary people to reconstruct their homes and get on with their lives,” she said. “Recent Israeli decisions are steps in the right direction, but I have encouraged further efforts and complementary measures to achieve a fundamental change of policy that allows for the reconstruction and economic recovery of Gaza while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns.”
Ashton called on the Middle East Quartet to meet as soon as possible to help find a solution to the impasse in negotiations, positing the upcoming Munich Security Conference in early February as a good opportunity for such a meeting.
She commended the work of the PA in building the institutions of a future state, and confirmed that the EU would “frontload” a financial package worth 100 million euros to the PA and UNRWA.
With Israel, she said, “our partnership is strong and solid. I discussed the state-of-play of our relations with Foreign Minister Lieberman. The upcoming Association Council with Israel will be a good opportunity to make further progress.”