- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is trying to overcome resistance from the U.S. and Israeli governments to a meeting between President Bush and Israeli and Palestinian leaders when Mr. Bush stops in Egypt during a Middle East trip, Egyptian officials said.

The Bush administration and the Israeli government are skeptical about such a high-profile meeting, concerned that it would create pressure to reach an agreement that might not be in their best interests, Israeli and Egyptian government sources said.

Mr. Bush is traveling to Israel in mid-May for 60th anniversary celebrations of the Jewish state. He is not expected to hold meetings there with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Mubarak, who turns 80 next month and has been in power since 1981, is trying to arrange peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians when Mr. Bush visits Egypt, likely at the end of his weeklong tour of the region.

Hussam Zaki, spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, told the Egyptian weekly newspaper Al-Ahram last weekend that “the idea of holding a mini-summit between the leaders of Egypt, the [Palestinian Authority] and Jordan … on the margins of the World Economic Forum conference is being considered.”

Mr. Mubarak also wants Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert to attend, a source familiar with the Egyptian government told The Washington Times on the condition that he not be quoted or identified.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East is scheduled for May 18 to 20 in Sharm el Sheik, a resort city on the Red Sea.

Israeli and Egyptian government sources said that three-way peace talks in Sharm el Sheik are doubtful, given strong U.S. and Israeli reservations.

“Olmert would look at it as being trapped,” said Ned Walker, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1997 to 2000 and ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1997.

The Palestinians hope to raise a list of grievances that are supported by the U.S. government but pose problems for Mr. Olmert because of his domestic political weakness.

The Israelis have promised to reduce the number of settlements and roadblocks in the West Bank, but no progress on those goals has been reported in the Palestinian territory.

Mr. Abbas’ Fatah party controls the West Bank but was driven out of the Gaza Strip last summer by the militant Hamas group.

Mr. Walker said the Israelis would agree to address these issues “in quiet negotiations but not in a major public event where expectations are raised and they’re backed into a corner.”

The White House declined to comment on any plans.

Mr. Bush has lauded Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert as leaders who are committed to peace. Mr. Abbas is scheduled to visit Mr. Bush at the White House on April 24.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Olmert agreed at a summit in Annapolis in the fall to outline negotiations for a future Palestinian state, but Israeli President Shimon Peres told the Financial Times on Monday that he is “in doubt we can get a political agreement” this year.

Violence between Israelis and Palestinians has flared since the U.S.-hosted conference.


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