Netanyahu Mulls Sending Envoy to Egypt for Talks With Interim Leaders

PM's possible Egypt outreach seen as a response to a comment by the Egyptian army chief who advised Israel not to interfere in Cairo's decision to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering sending his special adviser Isaac Molho to Cairo for talks with Egypt's interim leaders, following a warning to Israel by the Egyptian army's chief of staff Saturday not to interfere in Cairo's decision to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

In remarks published on his Facebook page, Chief of Staff Sami Anan said the matter was an internal Egyptian issue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Emil Salman

Sources close to Netanyahu mentioned discussions about a possible trip by Molho to Cairo, though no decision has been made.

If Molho does make the trip, he would meet with Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi and senior Egyptian intelligence officials. It is unclear whether Molho would also meet with the head of the Armed Forces Council, Hussein Tantawi, or the interim prime minister, Essam Sharaf.

Foreign Ministry Director General Rafael Barak has been to Cairo since the Egyptian revolution at the end of January, as has Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry's head of political and security affairs. But Molho would be the first personal adviser Netanyahu sends to the Egyptian capital since the uprising.

Netanyahu has been expressing concerns over the past few weeks to European ambassadors and U.S. senators over Egyptian remarks about Israel, as well as Egypt's closer relations with Iran.

In Cairo, Molho would convey a number of messages on this, as well as on the Palestinian unity government, the situation in the Gaza Strip, Egypt's intention to open the Rafah crossing and the prime minister's expected remarks to Congress.

The Prime Minister's Bureau declined to comment on the Egyptian chief of staff's remarks. A senior defense official said the remarks were "unofficial" but were a worrisome development, especially considering the good relations in the past between Anan and the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi.

Al-Arabi said Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah crossing. "In a week or 10 days steps would be taken to ease the closure on Gaza and the suffering of the Palestinian people," he said.

The statement signals the end of Israel's policy of closure on Gaza, which had been implemented jointly with the deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

IDF officials said yesterday that even in the past, the Rafah crossing was not hermetically sealed, and that it was hard to imagine that Egypt would allow the free passage of goods and people.

Egyptian capabilities in combating weapons smuggling into Gaza has been impaired since the revolution in Egypt. Defense officials are now concerned that the Rafah crossing will be used to bring in not only weapons, but also money and construction materials, which had been restricted and which Hamas used to build fortifications.

But a defense official said the opening of the crossing would also serve Israel "in terms of its continued disengagement from the Gaza Strip and would decrease international pressure regarding the export of merchandise from Gaza through Israel."

Haaretz has learned that a Middle East policy speech that U.S. President Barack Obama had planned for Wednesday in Washington is likely to be postponed for a week at least.

According to Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, the White House wants to see how the situation develops in light of the expected signing of the reconciliation agreement this week in Cairo, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal will be on hand.

Senior Palestinian officials said over the weekend that Abbas does not plan to run for president in the elections scheduled for May 2012, a year after the expected signing of the agreement.

It is still unclear who the Fatah or Palestinian Liberation Organization's candidate for president will be if Abbas does not run. Two names mentioned recently are Nasser al-Kidweh - Yasser Arafat's nephew and the Palestinian Authority's former foreign minister - and Marwan Barghouti, who is in an Israeli prison.

For now, Abbas is leading the polls against a possible Hamas candidate. But things could change if a deal is made for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit or if Abbas steps down.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said yesterday that Hamas would field a candidate in the upcoming elections, and senior Hamas officials reportedly believe that this candidate will be the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

Meanwhile, the chairwoman of the Congressional subcommittee on appropriations, Republican Kay Granger, and her Democratic deputy on that panel, Nita Lowey, wrote Abbas last week that the establishment of a unity government with Hamas jeopardized American aid to the Palestinian Authority.

They said U.S. aid is predicated on the premise that the PA government show a firm commitment to pursuing efforts to establish a just, lasting and comprehensive peace with Israel. As you know, U.S. law also requires a commitment to countering terrorism, confiscating weapons and dismantling terrorist infrastructure," they wrote.

"In addition, it prohibits aid to Hamas ... and any power-sharing government that includes Hamas until Hamas publicly acknowledges the Jewish state's right to exist and commits to a two-state solution. Your current course of action undermines the purposes and threatens the provision of United States assistance and support."

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