Egypt's top diplomat and the head of its intelligence branch were in Ramallah on Thursday in an effort to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume direct negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to continue its direct peace negotiations with Israel, launched recently in Washington, until Israel agrees to halt settlement construction. Israel enforced a 10-month moratorium on West Bank construction, but that freeze ended in late September.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman were hoping to convince Abbas to resume negotiations in exchange for another partial Israeli settlement freeze, an Egyptian source told the Al-Hayyat daily. That offer would exclude large settlement blocs, according to the Egyptian source.
Aboul-Gheit told reporters in Ramallah that there was still not progress to report, adding that Egypt supported the Palestinian demand for an end to settlement construction.
The Egyptian offer was based in part on a recent U.S. initiative, the source said, which would see President Barack Obama applying pressure to Israel to end the occupation and reach a peace agreement within the next year.
Suleiman and Aboul-Gheit were also planning to pass on a message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to Abbas, warning that the stalled negotiations were negatively impacting the political climate in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera while olive-picking in the West Bank that a Palestinian state would be established by the summer of 2011, terming it the deadline for "the birth" of his nation and the end to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
Fayyad said he was willing to give Israel one more year to dismantle West Bank settlements.
The Palestinian leader accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of protecting the settlers and offering compensation to extremists.
If Israel were serious about peace, Fayyad added, it would "block settlers" and raze the "illegal" settlements both in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.
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