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Mubarak Increasingly Concerned About Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - 2002-01-30

Israeli Defense Minister Ben Eliezer meets Wednesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el Sheik. Little is being said about what the two men plan to discuss. However political analysts say President Mubarak is becoming increasingly concerned about the effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Egypt.

Egyptian officials say President Hosni Mubarak and Israel's Defense Minister Ben Eliezer will discuss ways to improve the deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian situation.

It is the second high level, face-to-face Egyptian-Israeli meeting in less than a week. Last Friday, top political advisers for President Mubarak and Prime Minister Sharon met in Cairo.

Cairo University political science professor Mohammed Kamal says President Mubarak is concerned about growing anger in Egypt over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Escalation of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is not just a Palestinian-Israeli issue. It becomes a domestic Egyptian issue and it effects the stability of the Mubarak regime," he said. "Especially now, you have lots of economic problems so people are feeling frustrated for domestic reasons and reasons concerning foreign policies, so the government feels that they need to do something about it."

Mr. Kamal says Israel's continued confinement of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to his compound in Ramallah will likely be high on President Mubarak's agenda. Especially, he says, because of the upcoming Arab League summit scheduled for March in Beirut. "If Arafat doesn't attend, then this is going to create all kinds of problems," said Mohammed Kamal. "So probably part of the dialogue between Egypt and Israel is on this point, to allow Arafat to attend the conference because if he doesn't attend it's going to be a slap in the face of Arabs, especially Egyptians."

An Israeli Embassy official in Cairo says another agenda item will be this month's seizure of weapons aboard a ship heading for the Palestinian territories. Israel has accused Yasser Arafat of involvement in that foiled shipment, something Mr. Arafat denies.