Palestine under pressure for direct talks
Cairo, July 19, 2010
Pressure intensified on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to direct talks with Israel as Egypt held separate back-to-back meetings with the two sides in search of a compromise.
Abbas says he won't negotiate directly with Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu unless Israel agrees to recognise its 1967 frontier as a basis for the borders of a future Palestinian state and accepts the deployment of an international force to guard them. Netanyahu has refused to be pinned down on a framework for negotiations.
In an effort to sound out the prospects for a move to direct talks, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Abbas, Netanyahu and US Mideast envoy George Mitchell separately in Cairo, said a report in our sister news paper, the Gulf Daily News.
Cairo has friendly ties with both Israel and Abbas' Palestinian Authority, and, like Washington, is pushing to coax them back to the negotiating table.
None of the leaders - nor Mitchell - spoke after the meetings, but Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told reporters: "There must be a strong Israeli strategic move that would deepen Palestinian trust in Israel's intentions, so we can move from indirect to direct talks.
"Egypt thinks there is a need for direct talks, that they are the road to reach a settlement ... but the atmosphere must be ripe and enough progress made."
Cairo called for a more hands-on US role to lay the groundwork for direct talks and said this could include a general framework for the final settlement.
"We are still hopeful that we can bridge the gap between the needs of security for Israel and the borders for the Palestinians," Gheit said. "You have to create the basis to proceed from indirect to direct talks. That is still lacking. We need to help the Americans and both parties to come closer to each other."
He said Mubarak received a message from President Barack Obama and a telephone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging a swift move to direct peace talks.
Gheit hoped that by September there would be enough progress to allow the Palestinians and Israel sit at the same negotiating table, if not sooner. The four months set aside for Mitchell's shuttle diplomacy and Israel's partial curb on settlement construction will end by then.
Israeli defence officials have said they are considering expanding Palestinian security forces' role in West Bank towns and removing additional checkpoints that hinder the movement of people and goods. Asked whether these steps constitute trust-building, Gheit said they "address certain problems."
"But I think we have to focus on (freezing) settlement activity, a time-frame and the 1967 lines," he said, referring to the borders prior to the 1967 Mideast war.
Netanyahu was expected to meet EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.
Ashton visited the blockaded Gaza Strip and called on Israel to go beyond easing its embargo and throw open Gaza's borders. Ashton said she discussed the situation with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman before meeting Netanyahu. – TradeArabia News Service