Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will head to Egypt on Tuesday to discuss with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a possible move toward direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"On Tuesday, I will meet President Mubarak in Cairo. It will be our fifth meeting in the space of a year. I hope to work together with him to promote direct talks with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said in public remarks at a cabinet meeting.
At the start of the weekly meeting, Netanyahu briefed the ministers on his upcoming trip to Egypt, as well as his recent visit to Washington, where he met with U.S. President Barack Obama. Netanyahu told the ministers that his relationship with Washington was stable and strong.
Netanyahu added that the U.S. administration understands Israel's security needs and that he had asked Obama to help in efforts to secure the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during the meeting that Netanyahu's Washington visit and its aftermath were very significant in light of recent doubts regarding the U.S.'s support for Israel. "As members of the cabinet," Barak said, "it is important that we understand that only by progressing with momentum toward a diplomatic plan and direct peace talks, while maintaining Israel's security interests, can we avoid the diplomatic siege that threatens to isolate Israel."
Israel and the Palestinians are currently negotiating indirectly through Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. Netanyahu promised publicly in Washington to take "concrete steps" within weeks to persuade the Palestinians to upgrade the peace talks.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu was set to embark on a series of meetings with the forum of seven senior ministers in an effort to agree on a package of confidence-building measures aimed at convincing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to direct negotiations with Israel.
Among the measures being considered, in accordance with American and Palestinian requests, will be an end to IDF operations in a number of Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
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