Israel seeks Egypt’s support against ‘extremists’!

Khaleej Times Online, May 11, 2009


SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought Egypt’s help Monday in building a coalition of Arab nations against Iran, framing the broader Middle East conflict as one in which moderates must band together to confront extremists.

The Israeli leader spoke at a news conference beside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after they met in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Mubarak avoided any mention of specific regional threats and said peace with the Palestinians would bring stability and reinforce cooperation in the region.

It was Netanyahu’s first trip to the Arab world since becoming prime minister on March 31. His election was ill-received in the Arab world because of his hard-line positions against yielding land captured in Middle East wars and his refusal to support Palestinian independence.

The Israeli leader, meanwhile, has sought to redirect the Middle East agenda by focusing on Iran as the key threat to regional stability. Israel and the U.S. accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies — and Arab nations are also wary of Iran’s growing regional clout and what they say is its interference in Arab affairs.

In Egypt, Netanyahu made an argument that the Jewish state and moderate Arab nations shared a common threat.

“The struggle in the Middle East is not a struggle between peoples or a struggle between religions,” he said. “It is a struggle between extremists and moderates, a struggle between those who seek life and those who spread violence and death.”

Behind the effort to build common ground is a shared concern by Israel and U.S. Arab allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia about the Obama administration’s overtures to start a dialogue with Iran after decades of shunning Tehran.

Without mentioning Iran by name, the Israeli leader said, “Today to our regret, we are witness to extremist forces who are threatening the stability of the Middle East.”

Before his trip, an official in Netanyahu’s office said one of his aims would be to forge cooperation with Arab nations against what he described as the common threats of Iran and its regional proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Appealing directly to Mubarak for support, the Israeli prime minister said, “We expect, Mr. president, … your help in the struggle against extremists and terrorists who threaten peace.”

Mubarak did not respond publicly to that theme at the news conference. Instead, he spoke of the need to forge ahead with Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts where they left off under a U.S.-backed plan aimed at establishing an independent Palestinian state.

He stressed the importance of resuming talks “on the basis of a clear political horizon that deals with the final solution issues and establishes an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel in security and peace.”

Netanyahu, however, made no endorsement of Palestinian statehood, though he said he hoped to renew peace talks in the coming weeks, and he asked for Egypt’s help there as well.

“We want to expand peace. We want to expand it first of all to our neighbors, the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “We want Israelis and Palestinians to live together with a horizon to peace, security and prosperity. … Therefore, we want at the earliest opportunity to renew the peace talks between ourselves and the Palestinians.”

Netanyahu, who has yet to unveil his government’s policy on peace efforts, has said his preference is for concentrating on Palestinian economic growth for now, while putting statehood talks aside for some point in the future.

While the U.S. too is concerned about Iran’s role in the region, it also is pressing hard for an Israeli commitment to establish a Palestinian state. Netanyahu is certain to hear that message during his pivotal May 18 meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington.

The U.N. Security Council on Monday also called for “urgent efforts” to create a separate Palestinian state and achieve an overall Mideast peace settlement. Speaker after speaker at an open ministerial meeting warned of more violence unless efforts are made to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reconcile the divided Palestinian factions, and renew talks between Israel and Syria.

Accompanying Netanyahu on Monday, Israeli Trade Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told reporters that his Egyptian counterpart, Rachid Mohammed, would travel to Israel in two weeks in a rare visit by an Egyptian Cabinet minister.

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