Defense Minister Ehud Barak will leave for Sharm el-Sheik Wednesday morning, to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The visit is expected to be dedicated mainly to efforts to renew talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, negotiations for the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit and security cooperation between Israel and Egypt.
Barak and Mubarak, along with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will discuss ways to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table after the latest visit by special American envoy George Mitchell ended with little result. Other issues likely to be discussed are the construction of a permanent barrier to block tunnels between Gaza and Sinai in the Rafah area, and the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.
The U.S. administration has presented Abbas with a number of ideas for renewal of negotiations. One that was publicly announced by Palestinian sources was the launch of preliminary negotiations by low-ranking representatives in order to map out positions on core issues and the gaps between the parties.
A senior source in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Tuesday that the American pressure on Abbas to return to negotiations was continuing and that political developments with genuine progress toward renewing the negotiations could begin soon.
London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi Tuesday quoted Egyptian sources as saying that unless Abbas returns to negotiations Egypt will withdraw from mediating between the sides and from Palestinian affairs in general.
A source in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry told Haaretz Tuesday that although Mubarak has no intention of withdrawing from the Palestinian-Israeli talks the Egyptian president does insist that the United States provide the Palestinian leader with clear guarantees signifying a clear American position.
The source said that the guarantees must include a commitment that the territory of an independent Palestine would be defined by the 1967 borders, and that any changes to that will be subject to negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. Egypt also demands that the American statement refer to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which would be recognized as the Palestinian capital.
The guarantees statement has become a major point of contention between Egypt and the United States and the cause of a public argument between Egypt and Qatar.
Qatar says that an Egyptian delegation that visited Washington ten days ago did not demand any guarantees from the United States, in contradiction to the Arab Monitoring Committee decision in September.
After initial denials, Egypt issued a statement, saying it did indeed demand guarantees from the United States but appears to have failed to obtain American agreement.
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