debkafile's Middle East sources report that prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and president Hosni Mubarak agreed on a joint strategy when they talked at Sharm el-Sheikh Monday, May 3; it was to go for a partial solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on setting up a Palestinian state within temporary borders. Although this idea has been repeatedly rejected by the Obama administration and Palestinian leaders, Netanyahu and Mubarak found that it was the only realistic path toward progress.
According to our sources, the understandings reached between the Egyptian and Israeli leaders rest on a common appreciation that the Palestinian, Iranian and Hamas issues are intertwined and require an integrated policy approach. Every move for containing Iran's expansionist drive in the Middle East bears on coordinated Egyptian-Israel tactics for reining in Hamas' rule of the Gaza Strip; this in turn ties in with the diplomatic process about to begin on the Palestinian issue.
Egypt and Israel are optimistic about the Gaza Strip: They see the effects of their embargo of the Gaza Strip: Hamas control is slipping fast, the rift between the political and military leaderships widening and the first signs of Hamas willingness to consider burying the hatchet with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah and Palestinian Authority.
Indirect Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are due to begin Wednesday, May 5, with US envoy George Mitchell shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The order of business still has to be determined and agreed.
The word reaching Israel from Washington is that the Obama administration has directed Mitchell to devote the first stages of the talks to delineating the borders of the future Palestinian state. Mitchell is to ask Abbas to produce the maps he presented Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert during their talks in early 2009, which showed the Palestinians willing to leave Israel no more than 1.9 percent of the West Bank in a future settlement.
Our sources reveal that the Palestinian leader has told the American envoy he is now prepared to be more "generous" and let Israeli keep 2.3-2.4 percent of the territory.
Mitchell intends to collect the maps in Ramallah and present them to Netanyahu in Jerusalem, asking him to show the maps Olmert drew up to illustrate Israel's approach to the question of borders. The Israeli prime minister is expected to say he needs time to draw his own maps, and intends to shape them on the basis of prior discussions on matters of principle, such as security, water resources, control of Palestinian air space and the deployment of Israeli troops in the Jordan Rift Valley.
All these issues will affect the final borders between the two states.
During his visit to Sharm el-Sheikh, Netanyahu sought Mubarak's endorsement for this position. The Egyptian president offered him a gesture of his goodwill: He ordered Cairo's delegates to the UN conference on nuclear nonproliferation opening Monday night not to press too hard for Israel to join the Nonproliferation Treaty. A day earlier, Egyptian and Western sources reported that Egypt would use the conference platform to lean hard on Israel as part of its tactics to soften the Netanyahu government up for the talks with the Palestinians. But when he met the Israeli prime minister Monday, Mubarak promised a lighter touch.
The question now is: how did Netanyahu reward his host for this gesture when they met one-on-one without advisers on Monday.