Israeli officials are increasingly worried about the state of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's health, in light of the repeated postponements of Mubarak's planned meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was supposed to take place this week.
Last week, Haaretz reported that Mubarak has cancer. In March, the Egyptian president went to Germany for an operation that both his office and the hospital described as "complicated," though neither offered further details.
The two leaders were originally supposed to meet on Tuesday. Earlier this week, however, Netanyahu's office announced that Egypt had requested a one-day postponement due to "scheduling considerations." On Tuesday, Egypt requested another postponement, with the meeting now slated to take place Sunday.
Senior Israeli officials involved in arranging the meeting said the reason behind the multiple postponements is not clear. The Arab media have reported that Mubarak's deteriorating health is forcing him to go abroad for urgent treatment: The Lebanese paper As-Safir, for instance, said on Tuesday that Mubarak will be undergoing treatment in Germany Tuesday and Wednesday. But it is equally possible that the delays stem from policy considerations, the officials said.
"Apparently, Mubarak wants to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] before he meets with Netanyahu," surmised one official. Mubarak was originally slated to meet Abbas Thursday, but that meeting, too, was postponed on Tuesday.
Palestinian sources agreed that the delay likely stemmed from policy considerations, but offered a different take on what those considerations were. They noted that U.S. envoy George Mitchell is set to meet with Netanyahu on Friday and with Abbas on Saturday, and said the American would arrive with ideas on how to move from indirect talks to direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Mubarak, they said, wants to wait and see the outcome of these meetings, since if Abbas does not immediately agree to direct talks, the Egyptian leader is likely to be asked for help in securing his consent.
On Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt sees no point in direct negotiations unless significant progress is first made in the indirect talks. But Abbas, who had previously echoed this view, sounded slightly more flexible on Tuesday. At a press conference in Romania, he said the Palestinians would agree to direct talks if Netanyahu's government showed "positive signs" of readiness to progress.
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