Israel likely to accept Egyptian proposal for four-way summit with PA and Jordan
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Sharm al-Sheikh resort in Sinai today, and Egypt has already floated the possibility of holding a subsequent regional summit with the participation of the leaders of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
The Prime Minister's Office said that it views this idea favorably. "We have no fundamental problem with a summit, and if they raise the idea during the Olmert-Mubarak meeting, we will discuss it and consider it," a source in the Prime Minister's Office told Haaretz last night.
The Olmert-Mubarak metting is taking place at a time when ties between the two countries have grown warmer following the prime minister's meeting with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on December 16 in Jerusalem. Egypt sees itself an important partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and it considers the idea of a summit meeting a good opportunity for furthering the diplomatic process.
Mubarak hosted a summit at Sharm al-Sheikh two years ago that was attended by Abbas and then prime minister Ariel Sharon.
A spokesman for Mubarak, Suleiman Awad, said yesterday that a summit would to help break the impasse in the diplomatic process between Israel and the PA. Egyptian sources also told the Saudi Arabian daily Al-Watan yesterday that a four-party summit would offer new ideas for reviving negotiations on a permanent Israeli-Palestinian settlement and achieving a formula that would ensure the establishment of a Palestinian state.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to visit the region soon for talks with all parties on resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Today's meeting will be the second between Olmert and Mubarak since the prime minister was elected last year. Olmert intends to use it to raise three main issues: increased Egyptian supervision of the border between Sinai and the Gaza Strip; the establishment of a "regional support network" for Abbas and the diplomatic process; and the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange that Egypt has been mediating, in which abducted Israel Defense Soldier Gilad Shalit would be released.
The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram reported yesterday that Mubarak plans to raise the issue of Israel's planned transfer of $100 million to the PA, something that Olmert promised Abbas during their meeting. Mubarak will also ask Olmert to expand the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, currently confined to the Gaza Strip, to the West Bank as well. In addition, he will discuss the Shalit deal.
Palestinian sources have said in recent days that there has been significant progress in the Shalit negotiations, and that Israel and Hamas have reached an agreement on how many Palestinian prisoners will be released. However, the parties have not yet reached agreement on the identity of the prisoners to be released, and this is delaying a conclusion of the deal.
An Israeli government source said that no announcement is expected today regarding completion of the prisoner exchange deal. For the past several days, Israeli sources have insisted that, contrary to reports in the Arab press and statements by Hamas spokesmen, "there is no breakthrough and no progress" in formulating a deal.
"I do not believe that something significant in the matter of Gilad's release will emerge from this [Olmert-Mubarak] meeting ... because it is known that there has been no significant progress in the talks," Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, told Haaretz yesterday.
Another Israeli government source said yesterday that Israel will not ask for a reevaluation of an agreement reached with Egypt in late 2005, under which 750 Egyptian border guards were deployed along the Sinai-Gaza border. However, Olmert intends to ask the Egyptian president to order tighter security measures along this border, in order to prevent the smuggling of arms and explosives from Sinai into Gaza.
"We do not want Sinai to turn into a black triangle in the middle of the peace triangle," an Israeli source said. "Clearly, the movement of terrorist elements between Sinai and the Gaza Strip will also become an Egyptian problem."
Gideon Alon and Jack Khoury contributed to this report.