U.S. Jewish Leaders: Mubarak 'Surprisingly Positive' on Netanyahu

WASHINGTON - Leading figures from the U.S. Jewish community said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was "surprisingly positive" in speaking with them yesterday in Washington about the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mubarak, who had not visited the United States in around five years, met at the beginning of his visit with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, J Street, B'nai B'rith International, the American Jewish Congress, the Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and AIPAC.

The meeting - which was closed to media - was held at the initiative of the Egyptian organizers.

"Mubarak spoke in a surprisingly positive manner about Israel's leadership, including Netanyahu" as well as Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres, according to one of the people present. The Egyptian leader reportedly said the current Israeli leadership was committed to moving the peace process forward with the Palestinians.

"The Jewish community has ties with Congressmen and people in the administration, we are active on Israel-related issues in the United States and there is no reason for the Egyptians not to want to include us as partners in the promotion of key issues," said another participant, who also met with Mubarak during his previous visit to the country.

But Mubarak, who had tense relations with former U.S. president George W. Bush, put the onus on Israel to break a deadlock with Arab nations as he held talks with the U.S. administration, which is under pressure to launch a new peace drive.

In remarks published yesterday, Mubarak said he told President Barack Obama in June - when the U.S. leader chose Cairo as the backdrop for his landmark speech to the Islamic world - that Israel must freeze settlements.

"I explained to President Obama in Cairo that the Arab initiative offers the recognition of Israel and normalization of ties with it after, and not before, a just and lasting peace is achieved," Mubarak told state-controlled newspaper Al-Ahram.

The Jewish representatives reportedly told Mubarak that they supported his vision for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but added that Israel needed to hear directly from its Arab neighbors that they were interested in normalizing ties with it.

"If you're asking Israel to make hard decisions, the Israeli people have to begin to feel that there is a positive change happening with the broader Arab world beyond Egypt and Jordan," said Martin Raffel, senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. Raffel, who attended the meeting, was speaking with AFP.

The Jewish representatives also thanked Mubarak for his efforts to negotiate with Hamas for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.