Egypt: Settlement freeze first step to normal Israel-Arab ties
Egyptian FM warns freeze alone won't bring full normalization; Netanyahu to meet Mubarak next week.
A construction freeze in West Bank settlements would make most Arab states more inclined to move toward normalization of ties with Israel, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Tuesday.
"Certain countries will be prepared to move closer to Israel if it takes significant steps for the good of the Palestinians, and will demonstrate seriousness and willingness for serious contacts," Aboul Gheit said following talks Spanish Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos.
However, Aboul Gheit cautioned, "A settlement freeze in the West Bank is not of equal value to normalization, and will not bring this about alone."
The minister's comments came after U.S. government officials said they had succeeded in extracting "pledges" from a number of Arab states to move toward normalization of relations with Israel. The officials, who refused to name the states in question, said that the promised gestures were offered in response to Israel's agreement to initiate a construction freeze.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, is planning to travel to Egypt for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah next week.
The prime minister's bureau confirmed the trip on Tuesday morning after it was reported by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network. The two leaders will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and West Bank settlement construction, Israel Radio reported.
Netanyahu's visit will follow trips to Egypt over the weekend by Hamas leaders, who met with Egyptian officials for talks over a deal for the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and Palestinian reconciliation efforts.
During a press conference in Cairo on Sunday, Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal said: "The way to a deal is still long, despite the involvement of the German mediator."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was also recently in Egypt, where he met with Mubarak.
Netanyahu previously met with Mubarak in Egypt in May. During the visit, he informed the Egyptian leader of his desire to renew peace talks with the Palestinians.