Mubarak says peace talks hinge on Israeli settlement freeze

NEW YORK- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in comments published Wednesday that Israel must extend a settlement moratorium for negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to succeed.
Mubarak, who is in Washington to attend the launch of direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday, also called for international peacekeepers in a future Palestinian state.

"A complete halt to Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is critical if the negotiations are to succeed, starting with an extension of Israel’s moratorium on settlement-building, which expires this month," he wrote in the Wednesday edition of the New York Times.
The Palestinians say that a renewal of settlement activities after September 26, when a ten-month partial moratorium expires, would end the negotiations. The settlements house about 500,000 people on lands occupied by Israel in 1967.
Netanyahu faces pressure from his Likud party to continue settlement construction.
Mubarak said Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, is prepared to continue mediating between Abbas's Fatah party in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, which rejects talks with Israel.
"The Palestinians cannot make peace with a house divided. If Gaza is excluded from the framework of peace, it will remain a source of conflict, undermining any final settlement," he wrote.
Mubarak added that Arab states should make gestures to allay Israeli concerns.
"In the interim both sides must show that this dream (of a Palestinian state) is within reach. Arab nations should continue to demonstrate the seriousness of their peace initiative with steps that address the hopes and concerns of ordinary Israelis," he added.
Washington has demanded that Arab countries take steps to normalise relations with Israel to build confidence for the negotiations. Only two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan, have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Mubarak supported previous calls by Abbas to station international troops in a Palestinian state.
"I recognise that Israel has legitimate security needs, needs that can be reconciled with the Palestinians’ just demand for a complete withdrawal from occupied territory," Mubarak wrote.
"Egypt believes that the presence of an international force in the West Bank, to be stationed for a period to be agreed upon by the parties, could give both sides the confidence and security they seek."
Israel has indicated it would want its own troops stationed in strategic areas such as the borders of the future state.
Thursday's talks will be the first direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians since Abbas suspended talks in December 2008 after Israel launched an offensive in Gaza to end rocket fire.

Thursday, September 2nd 2010

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