Mubarak urges Obama to back an overall Israel-Palestinian peace settlement – in stages

Addressing the media after his White House talks with US president Barack Obama Tuesday, Aug. 18, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak spoke at length about the need for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace – “not temporary solutions.” However, in their closed discussions, debkafile‘s Washington sources disclose, the Egyptian leader urged Obama to put the conflict on a back burner for now and focus on the far more urgent issue of Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapon.
The US president listened careful but held off his answer until the Middle East policy review he has ordered is concluded. Until then, all final decisions on policy are in abeyance. There were however indications that Mubarak, who praised Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, persuaded Obama not to insist on a total freeze on settlement construction on the West Bank.
Asked about the statement by the Israeli minister of housing early Tuesday that Jerusalem was holding back permits for new construction on the West Bank, Obama said he saw encouraging signs of a softening of Israel’s resistance to his call for a freeze. “There has been movement in the right direction,” he said. “All parties have to take steps to restart serious negotiations,” he said, “including Palestinian efforts to end the incitement of violence against Israel.”
Our sources noted that the US president did not mention Jerusalem in the context of a settlement freeze.
The program Mubarak put before him consisted of four main points, as reported here by debkafile:
1. A US Middle East peace plan will provide a general framework for the peace talks Israel will conduct with the Palestinians and Arab governments – but not go beyond former American statements.
2. A settlement must be sought in stages, with clear-cut steps for executing the peace plan. No time limit should be set for the end of negotiations.
Mubarak’s program runs contrary to the position taken hitherto by President Obama, who pushed for rapid peace to go forward simultaneously between Israel and the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.
3. Haste would be of no avail, in the Egyptian ruler’s view, because of the deep internal feud between the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions and split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
4. Mubarak advised Obama to trust in Netanyahu’s good intentions for seeking a Middle East peace. “I trust him,” said the Egyptian president, “after he pledged to me that his government would be a government of peace.”
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that it is extremely rare to hear any Arab ruler praise an Israeli leader – certainly in such warm terms.

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