Israel, Egypt hold summit on renewed Mideast peace effort

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH: The leaders of Israel and Egypt met Monday to discuss the renewal of the Middle East peace process ahead of US-backed indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talks with regional broker President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh "focused on the renewal of the peace process," the premier’s office said.
The closed-door talks took place "in a positive and constructive atmosphere," the Israeli leader’s office said in a statement issued after the almost 90-minute encounter.

The leaders, who made no comments to reporters at the resort, "reviewed Egyptian and international efforts to prepare the ground for the indirect talks … aimed at a two-state solution," Egypt’s official news agency MENA said.

Their talks were focused on the launch expected within days of indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, a process suspended since Israeli offensive on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.

Netanyahu’s visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity two days after the Arab League voiced its support for the so-called "proximity talks."

The Israeli premier was accompanied in Sharm El-Sheikh by the chairman of the National Security Committee, Uzi Arad, and Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer.

Netanyahu’s office said they met with Egypt’s intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

The indirect talks — the result of several months of US diplomacy — were set to start in March but scuttled after Israel announced it would build 1,600 new homes in an east Jerusalem settlement.

The Arab League on Saturday gave its green light for the talks to go ahead after the Palestinians received US assurances that the construction would be shelved, an official of the pan-Arab organization said.

An Israeli official said ahead of the summit that Netanyahu, who insists on unconditional direct talks with the Palestinians, was to ask Mubarak to pressure Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to "go forward."

Mubarak, a strong backer of Abbas, has supported the Palestinian demand for a complete settlement freeze in occupied Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem before direct talks can resume.

Israel has offered a limited halt to settlement construction in the West Bank that did not include building in east Jerusalem, occupied and annexed in 1967.

The Palestinians want the West Bank and Gaza for a future state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Netanyahu-Mubarak meeting comes ahead of another visit by US envoy George Mitchell to the region.

He is expected to meet Abbas on Friday and the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization is expected to endorse the indirect negotiations proposal the following day.

The latest diplomatic developments raise hopes of a resumption of Middle East peace talks that were suspended in December 2008 when Israel launched an offensive on the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu was to raise with Mubarak issues he considers crucial to Israel’s security in the event of a peace deal, such as a demilitarized Palestinian state and control of borders and airspace.

The Arab League on Saturday stressed that the indirect talks would not immediately be followed by direct negotiations, holding fast to Abbas’ demand for a complete end to settlement building first.

It was Netanyahu’s first visit to Egypt since December.

The two countries maintain a cold diplomatic relationship although Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has often acted as broker in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

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