Netanyahu in Egypt: Talks with Palestinians will resume soon
PM meets Egyptian President Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh in run up to meeting with Obama next week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday for the first time since taking office.
Following the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that Israel plans to renew the peace negotiations with the Palestinians very soon.
"We want, as soon as possible, to resume the peace talks with the Palestinians and I hope they will indeed resume in the coming weeks," Netanyahu stressed.
Netanyahu's meeting with Mubarak is seen as an obligatory diplomatic warm-up act for his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama to be held in a week.
During the press conference, the prime minister addressed the relations between Israel and Egypt, saying that the peace agreement between the two countries has held for over 30 years. "It withstood all the tests of time, and as far as we're concerned, and I know that for Egypt too, it is a strategic asset, a cornerstone of the stability and hope in the region."
Netanyahu added that Israel wants to expand this peace to include Israel's Palestinian neighbors, saying that Israel wants to see Israelis and Palestinians living together with an eye to "peace, security and prosperity."
The prime minister thanked his Egyptian colleague for the efforts Egypt has invested in the battle against extremism and terror, which "threaten the entire region."
He added that the Jewish people want to maintain harmonious relations with the Muslim world, the Palestinians and with the Arab world as a whole. "We all live in this region and we are all the sons of Abraham," he said.
Netanyahu also said that moderate forces need to confront extremism in the Middle East. "Lately, we are regrettably witnessing extremist forces that are threatening the stability of the Middle East," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu has yet to publicly endorse creating a Palestinian state and did not do so in his comments in Egypt.
On Sunday, a senior government official involved in preparations for the meeting said that Mubarak was expected to tell Netanyahu that Israel must restart talks with the Palestinians.
"The fact that the prime minister has decided to go to Egypt first is because of the importance he attaches to Egypt and Arab countries who have peace treaties with Israel," an Israeli official told Reuters shortly before Netanyahu left Israel.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman leaves Tuesday for a working visit in London, where he will meet with his British counterpart David Miliband.
Netanyahu left for Sharm el-Sheikh after participating in the reception for Pope Benedict XVI at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday morning. Netanyahu and Mubarak's meeting will be followed by a joint press statement.
Netanyahu was expected to return to Israel on Monday evening.
Accompanying Netanyahu was his external diplomatic advisor Yitzhak Molcho, National Security Council chief Uzi Arad, cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser, chief of policy planning Ron Dermer, chief of staff Natan Eshel, bureau chief Ari Harow and communications adviser Yossi Levy. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will also accompany the prime minister.
On the agenda at Sharm el-Sheikh will be the Palestinian issue, the Iranian nuclear program and the Hezbollah cell recently captured in Egypt. "The Egyptians will say they want to maintain the close relationship with Israel and they see Netanyahu as a partner, but they will want to hear that the peace process is continuing," said a source in Jerusalem, based on the preparatory talks.
Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting that the new ministerial committee for improving the Palestinian economy and easing restrictions in the West Bank would meet at least once every two weeks. He also said that freeing "bureaucratic blockages" to Palestinian economic progress "is not a substitute for the diplomatic process."
"I don't believe there is a government that will risk the security of Israeli citizens to ease the Palestinian economy, but I believe we have bureaucracy in our relations with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said. Israel is "obligated to change in the economic situation of the Palestinian residents in Judea and Samaria," he said, adding that Israel wanted to undertake joint economic projects with the Palestinians. "If there is willingness on the Palestinian side to go with us, we will go much faster than people think."