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Mubarak Initiates Efforts to Revive Mideast Peace Talks - 2002-07-15

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met Monday in the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria with Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer to discuss efforts to revive peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The two men disagree over what role Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should play in future peace efforts.

Mr. Mubarak has sharply criticized Israel's leadership for refusing to deal with Yasser Arafat as the legitimately elected leader of the Palestinians. Israel is trying to persuade Arab leaders that Mr. Arafat must go before peace talks can move forward.

After his talks with Israel's defense minister, President Mubarak told reporters there could be a way around the dispute over Mr. Arafat's role that would not affect the Palestinian leader but would advance the peace talks.

In Alexandria, Mr. Ben-Eliezer repeated Israel's position, labeling Yasser Arafat as the main problem. The defense minister is also head of the leftist Labor Party, traditionally the political movement more open to negotiations with the Palestinians based on the principle of land-for-peace. He says the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is political.

"We want to sit and to talk and if it will take one day or one week or one year, no matter," Mr. Ben-Eliezer said. "Out of that there is no casualties and no losses."

Mr. Ben-Eliezer has appealed directly to the Palestinians through comments published last month in the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds. His proposals for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank and for international supervision of the holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City hearken back to the policies of the last Labor government led by Ehud Barak.

Mr. Mubarak's invitation to Mr. Ben-Eliezer is part of an Egyptian initiative to reopen contacts with the Israeli left and maintain its influence in the peace process. A top aide to the Egyptian leader met with other Labor Party politicians last weekend.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish State in 1979 and has played a key role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.