JERUSALEM (Jul. 18)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak emerged from their meeting Thursday with a round of optimistic comments about the future course of the regional peace process.
“I can tell you now that I am very relaxed,” Mubarak told reporters at a joint news conference with the Israeli leader.
“I understand his conceptions and I have great hopes that the peace process will continue.”
On his first official visit to Egypt since winning Israel’s national elections in May, Netanyahu said he had assured Mubarak that he planned to continue the peace process and honor the agreements Israel had already signed under the former Labor-led government.
“We believe that the peace process should be based on the idea of fulfilling existing commitments,” Netanyahu told reporters.
“We want to expand the circle of peace.”
During their meeting, Netanyahu told Mubarak that Foreign Minister David Levy would meet next week with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
He also said he intended to ease the closure of the territories, allowing an additional 10,000 Palestinian workers into Israel and increasing the number of trucks and ambulances allowed into Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
There has been some easing of the closure in recent weeks to allow some 25,000 Palestinians to enter Israel for work.
In his statement to reporters, Mubarak reiterated the Arab demand that negotiations remain based on the land-for-peace principle and that the final- status negotiations with the Palestinians continue.
“It would be a waste of time and effort to try to renegotiate agreements which have already been signed,” he said at the news conference.
“And whatever agreements are reached must be in accordance with U.N. resolutions [for the withdrawal from occupied Arab territories] and the political rights of Palestinians.”
The Egyptian president adopted a softer stance when he met separately with members of the Israeli press.
“I personally heard Netanyahu’s speeches in the Knesset and Congress and press conferences. I couldn’t understand how we could proceed forward, if what he was saying is definitely going to happen.
“But I thought, `Maybe he has another concept, which was not mentioned.’ I met him today, and I had a clear picture, that he is ready to negotiate, here and there, which may give some kind of relaxation” to the climate of future negotiations.
Before leaving Egypt, Netanyahu did not miss an opportunity for relaxation of another kind — requesting a quick helicopter ride over the pyramids in Giza.
A day earlier, Netanyahu held a surprise meeting in Tel Aviv with Jordanian Prime Minister Abdul Karim al-Kabariti. After that session, too, the two leaders said their talks had taken place in a positive atmosphere.
Netanyahu is scheduled to hold talks in Amman, Jordan, later this month with King Hussein.