Netanyahu To Seek Mubarak's Help For Direct Talks With PA

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo this week to update him on the latest developments in the Middle East peace process.

Netanyahu said he would also seek Mubarak's help to facilitate direct peace talks with Palestinian leaders--the fifth such meeting in a year.

"On Tuesday, I will travel to Cairo for a meeting with Mubarak and discuss our intention to move to direct negotiations with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday.

Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in a series of U.S.-backed "proximity talks" for the past two months that saw Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell shuttling between the two sides.

But Israel now wants to move the indirect talks to face-to-face negotiations, with both Netanyahu and Obama saying after their meeting in Washington last week that they wanted to shift to direct negotiations.

President of Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Obama in Washington a month ago, said Sunday that it would be futile to have direct talks with Israel if the "proximity talks" did not move the two sides closer to agreement.

The PA has so far refused to hold direct talks with Israel unless progress was first achieved on two major core issues during the proximity talks--security and borders. But the U.S. is now pressing the PA for having direct negotiations without laying down preconditions.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Abbas would not negotiate directly with Netanyahu unless Israel froze the construction of settlements on the West Bank.

However, Netanyahu said direct talks should begin immediately "without preconditions," and was optimistic that their implementation would take more time.

Direct talks with the Palestinians broke down in December of 2008 when Israel launched a 22-day offensive on Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks.

Israel unilaterally declared a 10-month moratorium in November last on construction in the West Bank, excluding projects involving public buildings, including synagogues and kindergartens.

The limited freeze, due to expire September 26, also enabled the completion of 3,000 housing units in which construction was under way.

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