Israeli PM heads to Egypt for talks on peace process

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his government's weekly cabinet meeting September 6, 2009
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will fly to Egypt Sunday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with President Hosni Mubarak.

Netanyahu insisted that progress was being made in the decades-old conflict, and that the Israelis were not the ones holding up a peace agreement. “There is still work to do. We have made progress on certain items. There are also certain items on which we have yet to make progress,” he said at the beginning of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting. “I hope that we will succeed in reducing the gaps. Maybe we will bridge them, so that we can move the process forward.” “From our point of view, there are no delays to this. It is not we who are placing obstacles against entering into a diplomatic process. From our point of view, this could be done tomorrow, even yesterday,” he added. The Israeli government is keeping specifics of the meeting close to its chest. Netanyahu is not taking journalists with him and the two Middle East leaders are not likely to take questions from reporters after the meeting, a senior Israeli official said.

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In addition to talking about resuming talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu and Mubarak are likely to touch on the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Egypt, the official said. The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks. At the same time, the U.S. special envoy for the region will meet top Israeli officials. President Barack Obama’s point man for the Middle East, George Mitchell, will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday afternoon before sitting down with Netanyahu when the prime minister returns from Egypt. Peres, 86, was briefly hospitalized on Saturday after fainting following a speech. Mitchell is likely to press Israel to stop expanding its West Bank settlements. The United States and Israel have been publicly at odds over Israeli plans to build more housing on land the Palestinians regard as theirs. Barak last week approved the construction of 455 new units in the West Bank, over the explicit objections of Washington Obama insists Israel freeze all settlement activity as a necessary step toward advancing negotiations with Palestinians. The Jewish settlements are spread throughout the West Bank. Israel maintains the settlements are needed to accommodate growth from residents of existing settlements. Watch a report on the pressure on Netanyahu

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will not meet Netanyahu before a complete settlement freeze is in place. Israel has indicated it will consider a settlement freeze but has revealed no details.