CAIRO: The meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Hosni Mubarak was ostensibly about the peace process – with comments released afterwards indicating as such – but it is believed that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was the main topic on the agenda.
Netanyahu was in Cairo Sunday to meet with Mubarak privately before officials from both countries gathered for a Ramadan iftar dinner, during which fasting Muslims break their daylight fast.
Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said that Mubarak had requested Netanyahu to stop “all settlement activity, including ‘natural growth’ settlements . and to resume talks with the Palestinian side immediately from where it left off. The Palestinian Authority has refused to conduct talks until Israel halts all settlement expansion.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders had “discussed the challenges facing the region and the need for all sides – Israel, the Palestinians, Arab states and the international community – to contribute their part to advancing the peace process.
However, many reports indicate that the main topic on the agenda was the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which Egypt has been negotiating between Israel and Hamas in the form of a prisoner exchange.
A statement from the Israeli embassy on the meeting said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked President Mubarak for Egypt’s assistance and efforts to advance the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.
Accompanying Netanyahu on his Cairo trip was the Israeli Interior Minister and chairman of the ultra-conservative Shas party, Eli Yeshai. He carried with him a letter to Mubarak from the party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in which he requested that the Egyptian leader do everything in his power to secure Shalit’s release as soon as possible.
“It is clear to me that due to your stature and experience, the organizations that have not abandoned the sword would not leave you empty-handed and you can help expedite his release, the letter said.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was in Egypt last week meeting with Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman but dismissed any notions that Shalit’s release was imminent, indicating that the two sides were still a long way away from a deal.
Attending the iftar dinner from the Egyptian side were Suleiman, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Presidential Chief of Staff Zakariya Azmi. Israeli Minister of Trade Binyamin Ben-Eliezer was also in attendance.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman appears to still be unwelcome in Egypt after disparaging remarks against Mubarak before assuming office.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossam Zaki had said as much, recently stating, “Lieberman will not come to Egypt. He will not cross into it.
Lieberman had stated that Mubarak could “go to hell for not visiting Israel except for the funeral of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yithak Rabin and also once called for the bombing of the Aswan Dam.
Since assuming his post he has sought a more conciliatory approach, speaking of his great respect for Egypt, but officials here have remained unmoved because they felt that he has not made an outright apology.