No Progress on Direct Israel-Palestinian Talks After Netanyahu, Mubarak Meet

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met for more than three hours yesterday in Cairo, but officials said there was no breakthrough on moving the Palestinians toward direct talks with Israel.

Netanyahu's stated purpose for the visit was accelerating direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but little progress in that area was evident after the visit. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said afterward that the basis needed to proceed from indirect to direct talks is still lacking.

Before meeting with Netanyahu, Mubarak met separately with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell. While Mitchell expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of moving to direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, Abbas told Mubarak that he would have difficulty persuading the Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization leadership to support such a move.

Fatah institutions are expected to pass a resolution formally rejecting direct talks with Israel within a few days.

Members of Netanyahu's entourage nevertheless echoed Mitchell's tone of cautious optimism yesterday, stressing that progress had been made despite the lack of a breakthrough. During the meeting, most of which was held between the two leaders alone, the prime minister asked Mubarak to continue urging Abbas to move toward direct talks.

After yesterday's meeting the Prime Minister's Bureau issued a press release expressing Netanyahu's appreciation for Mubarak's efforts as well as the prime minister's interest in continued cooperation with the Egyptian president on the peace process.

The Palestinians' conditions for moving to direct talks include guarantees from the United States and the international community to ensure that the future Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 borders, and approximately the same size territory inside these borders. They also want U.S. guarantees on the deployment of an international force in the Palestinian state, replacing the Israeli forces deployed in the Jordan Valley.

According to one Israeli source, Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks with Israel.

After returning from Egypt yesterday Netanyahu met with the Quartet's special envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair and with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and asked them to pressure Abbas on direct talks.