Peres to visit Egypt Thursday in bid to revive Arab peace talks
President to meet with Egyptian counterpart Mubarak; extension of Hamas truce also on agenda.
Shimon Peres will leave Thursday for an official visit to Egypt, the first such visit by an Israeli president in several years. Peres will be greeted with all the pomp and circumstance reserved for heads of state, including an Egyptian honor guard, as well as a dozen members of the Egyptian cabinet - an honor that has not been afforded to other Israeli officials who have visited the country in recent years.
Peres is expected to present his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, with his proposal for reforming how Israel and its Arabs neighbors negotiate peace agreements. Under the deal, which is currently being formulated by the offices of the president, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel would negotiate with representatives of all Arab countries, in accordance with the 2002 Saudi peace initiative.
Mubarak invited Peres by telephone and the two will meet in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, a Jerusalem official said. There was no immediate comment from Cairo.
The official said Peres wants to explore the possibility of extending a June truce with Hamas in Gaza. Hamas Islamists say the Egypt-mediated deal could expire in December.
Peres also plans to propose widening the circle of Israel's peace talks beyond the Palestinians and Syria to include other Arab countries that do not have ties with the Jewish state, in order to reach a comprehensive deal, the official said.
Israel's talks with the Palestinians appear likely to miss a U.S. objective of reaching at least a limited accord before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
Meanwhile, Egypt is expected to summon a Hezbollah senior official for talks in Cairo, the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar reported yesterday. The report states that Labor Minister Mohammed Fneish, also a member of Hezbollah, is to represent the organization.
The invitation would officially be addressed to Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who has refrained from public appearances since the Second Lebanon War, the paper stated.
Egyptian sources stated that Cairo wishes to conduct the talks for strategic purposes in order "to stand at an equal distance from all the power centers of Lebanon."
Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has met with President Hosni Mubarak during his current visit in Cairo. Samir Geagea, leader of the "Lebanese Forces," a Christian anti-Syrian faction that is part of the parliamentary majority, also visited Cairo several days ago.
A date for talks has not yet been set. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hussam Zaki states that the Lebanese officials' visit to Cairo is intended to "strengthen the Lebanese state and its official institutions." He added that Egypt would support ideas to achieve these targets.
Meanwhile, Peres received backing from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who said yesterday that he hoped Israel's next government would follow Peres' lead in calling for a revival of Arab-Israeli peace initiatives.
Peres, speaking at the United Nations last month, called on Saudi King Abdullah to "further" the 2002 Saudi land-for-peace plan, which was endorsed by the Arab League, and said Israel would attend any venue to end the decades-long conflict with its Arab neighbors.
The Saudi minister told a news conference in Riyadh that Peres' interest was "better late than never."
"We hope the new prime minister will use the same language," al-Faisal added.
Prime minister-designate Livni has vowed to pursue U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which were launched a year ago by outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Barak, Livni's main coalition partner, also said last week that Israeli leaders were seriously reconsidering the 2002 initiative, which calls for full Arab recognition of Israel if it gives up lands occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War and accepts a solution for Palestinian refugees.