Egypt and Israel Peace Talks
New Delhi: Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu and Egypt President Hosni Mubarak have met in Cairo to discuss US-backed efforts to relaunch peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Neither Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, nor Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, spoke to journalists after the meeting on Tuesday, though the Israeli PM's office said "talks were in-depth and friendly". However, Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said peace talks could not be relaunched until Israel halts its settlement activity. "We have seen that the Israeli prime minister wants to move ahead [with negotiations], and he insists on moving ahead, but we insist on an agreed platform," Abul Gheit said. "There are conditions ... we will not negotiate while settlement continues." Egypt also wants to see a defined time frame for the talks. "Any negotiation, for which a basis and a goal is agreed, must have a time-frame," Abul Gheit said.
The two leaders also discussed a prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza three and half years ago.
Abul Gheit said the deal was still "suspended" and that a Hamas delegation currently in Syria was to head back to Cairo for talks with officials on the issue.
Fahmi Huwaidi, an Egyptian political analyst, told Al Jazeera that a deal on a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas could be reached during the visit.
"Israel seeks by this visit to confirm the importance [it] gives to Egypt's role in this matter, particularly after Germany began to mediate.
"The Israeli prime minister seeks to gain concessions from Hamas in the prisoners exchange deal, after the pressure currently being put on the movement.
"This visit is also an attempt by an ally to save his ally, after the criticism against the Egyptian leadership concerning the building of a steel wall on the Egypt-Gaza border."
Egypt has been criticised for keeping closed its border with the Gaza Strip, the only Gazan border not affected by an Israeli blockade, and building a wall along the divide.
The US administration of Barack Obama, the US president, is said to be drafting letters of guarantee for Israel and the Palestinians to serve as a basis for the relaunch of peace talks, stalled for almost a year.
"We've been hearing increasing reports that the Americans may be about to unveil a new diplomatic initiative," Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Institute of Palestinian Studies, told Al Jazeera.
"The mere fact of Mubarak meeting Netanyahu in Egypt is in and of itself an instrument of pressure on Mahmoud Abbas [the Palestinian president] to accept whatever conditions the Americans may be putting forth.
"The message that is coming from the Egyptian leadership now is that what the Americans are going to propose is good enough for the most important Arab state and therefore it should be good enough for the Palestinian leadership," he said.
One Arab diplomat in Cairo was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the Middle East "will present two draft letters of guarantee, one for Israel and one to the Palestinian Authority during his next visit to the region".
Egypt had already asked for written US guarantees before peace negotiations could resume, in order to ensure that their aim is the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.
But peace efforts have already been overshadowed by Israel's announcement on Sunday that it had invited tenders for the construction of hundreds of new homes for Jewish settlers in occupied Arab East Jerusalem.
The announcement prompted criticism from the US and EU, alongside Egypt.
Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on new housing projects in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in November, but that suspension was not applied to East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967.
The Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt, signed on March 26, 1979, constituted an historic milestone in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. This was the first time that an Arab country had renounced the armed struggle against Israel, and had recognized, by dint of a binding agreement, the existence of Israel and its right to secure and recognized borders. The peace treaty was signed a few years after the bloody Yom Kippur War (also known as the October War) that was launched on October 6, 1973. Following the war, the countries engaged in the first tentative diplomatic moves that reached their apogee with President Sadat's announcement of his readiness to visit Israel, in order to begin talks with its leaders along with his eventual arrival in Israel on November 19, 1977. During the visit, President Sadat presented an address from the Knesset Podium, and following the visit, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity, overseen by the United States, including the Camp David Summit of September 1978. In the wake of the Peace Treaty of 1979, Israel and Egypt established full diplomatic relations. Israel's Embassy in Cairo - the first of its kind in any Arab country - was opened in February 1980, and Egypt's Embassy in Israel was opened in March 1980. Aside from the peace treaty, Israel and Egypt signed about 50 normalization agreements, covering a variety of issues, including economic and cultural matters, designed to enhance peace between the two countries.
In spite of the bleak forecasts, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has withstood numerous difficult challenges, including the assassination of President Sadat on October 6, 1981, Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, the presence of the IDF in Lebanon many years after the conclusion of the aforementioned operation, and the Palestinian intifada which began in December 1987. Following the signing of the peace treaty, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League.
In spite of the fact that the peace treaty was intended to serve as a framework for the resolution of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict (as Egypt claimed), the continuation of the conflict has cast a shadow over the relations between Israel and Egypt. Thus, the Egyptian Ambassador, Saad Murtada, was recalled to Cairo for consultations in the wake of Operation Peace for Galilee of 1982, and his successor was appointed after only eight months. This step was repeated in November 2000, following the eruption of the violence in September of that year, with the recall of Ambassador Mohammed Bassiouni for consultations. To date, no successor has been appointed. Moreover, following Operation Defensive Shield of March 2002, the Egyptian Government decided to suspend the inter-governmental ties with Israel, with the exception of diplomatic channels dealing with the Palestinian domain.
In spite of these difficulties and the opposition of many groups in Egypt to the peace with Israel (exemplified by the trade unions who prohibit any kind of normalization on the part of its members with Israel or with Israelis), the two countries conduct diplomatic relations, tourism ties and cooperation in trade and agriculture. In addition, the Israeli Academic Center is active in Cairo. At present, Israel seeks to enhance its relations with Egypt, and its efforts are focusing on the return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel and the consolidation of bilateral cooperation in various spheres, including the advancement of the peace process in the region.