Arafat and Mubarak Meet in Cairo.
By Dale Gavlak (VOA-Cairo)
Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat has met in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the Middle East visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell and to prepare for the Arab summit in Jordan at the end of March.
Arafat stopped in Cairo on the second leg of a diplomatic tour to meet with Arab leaders for talks about a united position on Israel for the coming Arab summit. He visited King Abdullah in Jordan recently and will travel on to Libya for talks with Colonel Muammar Qadhafi.
A top Palestinian negotiator and advisor, Saeb Erekat, said the two leaders discussed the Israeli government that is expected to be formed by Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, and also U.S. policy in the Middle East under President Bush.
Erekat reaffirmed that Arabs remain committed to peace as their strategic choice. But he expressed pessimism regarding American efforts to restart peace talks. He said Powell did not comment on how to end Israeli occupation of Arab land and that this signaled that Washington has not changed its stance. The Palestinians have accused the previous Clinton administration of failing to handle the Palestinian-Israeli crisis in a balanced manner.
Erekat added that it may also take the new Bush administration months to prepare its Middle East position. He said that this would leave a vacuum and encourage violence to escalate even further.
The Palestinian negotiator said that President Mubarak repeated his warning during his talks with Arafat that Middle East peace could not come at any price. Mubarak said that peace must be based on United Nations resolutions calling for Israel to withdraw from Arab lands it occupied in the 1967 war and a solution of the problem of Palestinian refugees.
Arab leaders say they fear Sharon's hawkish government could further ignite a spiral of violence in the region. They also see Sharon as willing to turn his back on the hallmark principle of land-for-peace embodied in Middle East peace process.
Egypt has urged Israel to end what it calls its "siege" of the West Bank and Gaza and to put an end to excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians. It called both moves critical to halting violence and resuming peace efforts halted since Sharon's election last month.