Emad Al-Azrak, Wael Naguib
July 19, 2010 - 12:00am

The Middle East region on Sunday witnessed unprecedented meetings focused on promoting the direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held separate talks with Israeli, Palestinian leaders and U.S. Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell.

Analysts believe that through these extensive meetings, the two sides will be set to start direct talks, maybe secretly, although the indirect negotiations have not been so fruitful.

"The two sides will agree on moving to the direct talks secretly to ensure its success like what happened with Oslo," Fakhry al-Tahtawy, a professor of political affairs at Cairo University, told Xinhua on Sunday.

"There are Egyptian-American efforts to push the peace process to move from the indirect talks to direct ones," he said, adding " there is a need for direct negotiations as the U.S. realizes that there are some differences which require the two rivals to sit face to face to resolve."

Emad Gad, an Israeli affairs expert with Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, also told Xinhua on Sunday that Palestinians and Israelis will start secret direct talks soon.

"As long as the direct talks were secret and away from the media, it will be more likely to succeed," Gad said.

On Sunday, President Mubarak held separate meetings with Mitchell, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which he stressed the need to achieve some progress in indirect talks in order to create favorable conditions for direct talks.

Meanwhile, the United States, as the major mediator, is trying to build some trust between the Palestinians and Israel with the help of Egypt, in order to encourage them to start direct talks.

President Mubarak on Sunday also received a message from U.S. President Barack Obama in which he reiterated his commitment to promote the peace process and establish an independent Palestinian state and urged Mubarak to continue efforts to achieve this goal.

The Arab League (AL) in May approved a U.S. offer to launch indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to revive the peace process which had stalled since Israel launched a three-week offensive in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

AL Secretary General Amr Moussa did not reject the direct talks, but he linked the moving to direct negotiations to the progress in issues of security and borders. The Arab position is that the two sides should not move to direct talks unless concrete progress is achieved in indirect talks, Moussa said.

"Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asked Netanyahu to take steps which would gain trust from the Palestinian side and encourage the Palestinians to sit face to face with Israel," al-Tahtawy said.

"The indirect talks should be shift to direct ones as the aim of the proximity talks is to build trust between the two sides," said al-Tahtawy.

However, al-Tahtawy said the way to direct talks is not that easy.

"The most recent obstacle is the Israeli plan to pass on Gaza responsibility," al-Tahtawy said.

On Friday, Israeli media reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman intended to present a plan to isolate the Gaza Strip and turn it into a completely independent entity.


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