Monday, January 4, 2010

Obama backs Egypt plan for Mideast peace

Barack Obama's administration supports Egypt's vision for a Middle East peace plan that would include a complete halt of construction in West Bank settlements as well as the release of senior Palestinian officials from Israeli prisons, the Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera reported on Sunday.

The U.S. administration is making efforts to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to the resumption of peace talks through a series of goodwill gestures on the part of Israel - including the release of prisoners and the transfer of territory under Israel's security control (Area B) to Palestinian security control (Area A).

These proposals, however, have still not been agreed to by Israel, while the PA remains adamant in its demand that no further Israeli construction take place in East Jerusalem.

Abbas arrived in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian officials, including President Hosni Mubarak. Should he accept Egypt's proposal, Israel and the U.S. would be invited to partake in a trilateral summit on the matter.

The Palestinian Authority on Friday said it has not received an official request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a proposed meeting with Abbas that would restart peace negotiations, Ma'an news agency reported.

"We didn't receive anything about such a thing," Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeina, told the Palestinian news agency on Friday evening. "So far what we heard was from the media."

Netanyahu briefed his inner cabinet on Friday on the conversation he had held last week with Mubarak regarding Israel's efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

However, senior Palestinian sources said last week that Abbas was likely to turn down the offer in line with his precondition that negotiations would resume only if Israel extended its settlement construction freeze to East Jerusalem.

The same sources said Abbas may also add to his preconditions that the talks between the two sides be resumed from the point at which they stopped during former prime minister Ehud Olmert's tenure.

As such, the sources said it is highly unlikely that Netanyahu will be willing to meet Abbas' conditions, and therefore expressed pessimism at the likelihood that the two sides would resume talks in the near future.

Following the meeting between Mubarak and Abbas, Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman will depart for Washington for talks on possibly renewing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian sources said that the basis of Egypt's proposals for resuming talks between the two sides is the demand for a freeze in construction in East Jerusalem as well. At the conclusion of talks with Egyptian officials in the American capital, Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell is due to arrive in the region.

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