PM arrives in Cairo to discuss ME peace

Netanyahu meets Mubarak; Ayalon bound for US to prepare for Lieberman-Clinton strategic talks.

Netanyahu the holy 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu the holy 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Sunday evening, to discuss regional peace initiatives and kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. The prime minister was accompanied by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Army Radio reported. The meeting was closed to the press. The Obama administration has tried in recent months to construct a new American-sponsored peace process that will work through multilateral negotiations, rather than multiple, distinct diplomatic "tracks." Egypt, as a linchpin state in the Arab diplomatic arena, is seen as crucial to this effort. Israel is troubled by what it sees as the Arab rebuff of US President Barack Obama's efforts, specifically the outright refusal to begin the process of diplomatic normalization alongside Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. "There's been nothing coming from Arab states," a senior diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday. "Not just no normalization, but nothing at all. Israel has been making major political and strategic steps for some time, and there's been nothing in response." The talks in Egypt "are, ultimately, about restarting the Middle East peace process," said a Prime Minister's Office (PMO) official familiar with the trip's agenda. Netanyahu himself said on Sunday that differences remain with the US over the conditions necessary to resume peacemaking with the Palestinians. The prime minister said that one of the goals of the Egypt talks is to narrow the gaps between the two sides. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he will not relaunch negotiations while Israel continues allowing the construction of Jewish homes in the West Bank. According to the PMO official, Sunday's trip to Cairo will be followed by Monday meetings in Jerusalem with Obama envoy George Mitchell, where "the entire package" of the American diplomatic plan is expected to be the topic of discussion. "The meetings on Sunday and Monday will be important. They should help us understand how this process is going to move forward," said the official. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will spend much of this week in the United States in order to lay the groundwork for strategic discussions later this month between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Officials would not give details on the talks over the weekend. Ayalon is expected to meet with senior American officials, including senior Obama advisor on the Middle East Dennis Ross, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and members of Congress. He will also meet with senior Jewish leaders dealing with diplomatic issues, including the heads of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the American Jewish Committee. Ayalon will also make several media appearances presenting the views of the Israeli government to a broader American audience. "Our message has been a little bit blurred through interpretation and a focus on certain issues," said a Foreign Ministry official. "But there's a wide range of issues that are important to Israel. It's very important that someone like the deputy minister represent Israel's interests to the American people." staff contributed to this report