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Israel Looks to Egypt to Help Revive Talks with Palestinians

The leaders of Israel and Egypt concluded a summit meeting this week amid charges of failure and with a plea for more time to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

“I think you would agree that this a positive beginning,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a joint news conference after meeting for three hours Tuesday at the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheik.

“But we need more work, and we are committed to work together with [Egypt] to achieve progress.”

Mubarak agreed, saying, “We need more deliberation.”

The summit was the latest effort to revive stalled peace talks between the two sides.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and security cooperation were suspended in mid-March, after Israel began constructing Jewish housing at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem, and after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed three Israelis at a Tel Aviv cafe.

The Palestinians have demanded a halt to settlement activity as a condition for renewing talks.

Israel has demanded the resumption of intelligence sharing as a precondition.

Prior to the summit, Netanyahu said in a television interview that he believed Egypt held the key to reviving the talks because it could encourage the Palestinians and build up their self-confidence.

Israel has recently accused Egypt of encouraging the Palestinians to harden their stance, and of fueling international criticism of Israel.

But despite the high hopes, Palestinian officials, as well as Israeli opposition members, labeled the summit a failure.

Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo said contrary forces were at work at the meeting: Mubarak’s desire to revive the process, and Netanyahu’s desire for a meeting with an Arab leader, to disprove reports of his diplomatic isolation.

Rabbo accused Israel of wasting the Egyptian initiative, as he charged Israel had done with recent European and American peace efforts.

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres said the summit should not be viewed as an attempt to reach a breakthrough, but as an effort to prevent the dissolution of the entire peace process.

Peres added that Netanyahu was constrained by his coalition partners from taking any significant steps to advance peace.

The left-wing Meretz Party introduced a no-confidence motion in the government because of Tuesday’s inconclusive summit.

But diplomatic sources in Jerusalem called the meeting a first step toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

They said that Mubarak’s top political aide, Osama Al-Baz, would travel to Israel in the coming days for further contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials in order to break the impasse.

The sources said that if progress is made, U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross would return to the region in another bid to get the peace talks moving forward.

In two trips to the region in April and May, Ross failed in his efforts to get the two sides back to the bargaining table.

At Tuesday’s news conference, both Mubarak and Netanyahu stressed the important role of the United States as a mediator.

Although Netanyahu has rejected calls to freeze the building at Har Homa, he has indicated willingness to step up housing construction for Arabs in eastern Jerusalem.

But Arafat dismissed the gesture.

In an interview this week with the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Arafat said that building for Arabs in Jerusalem is no substitute for a halt to all Israeli settlement activity.

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