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Israel's Barak in Cairo to Discuss Peace Talks

Al Arabiya



Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak held talks in Cairo on Sunday on efforts to revive Middle East peace talks after Israel's prime minister outlined a vision that was criticized by Egypt and other Arab states.

Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed -- with tough conditions -- the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in a policy speech a week ago, a proposal Cairo said was flawed and fell short of the Palestinian state Arabs seek.

Netanyahu, speaking on June 14, said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and forego the right of return for refugees. He failed to promise a halt to Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Israel's call to recognize Israel as a Jewish state undermined efforts to achieve peace and said he had told Netanhayu, who visited Egypt last month, that peace talks should resume where they left off.

Barak, who heads the centre-left Labor party, hailed Netanyahu's speech as a "major step forward in the right direction."

Egypt has been mediating between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas as well as between Hamas and Israel on a possible deal to end the Gaza blockade and free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants including Hamas almost three years ago.

Barak’s trip was "to discuss efforts to revive the peace process in the Middle East, the situation in the Palestinian areas and efforts exerted by Egypt to begin serious talks between the Palestinian and Israeli sides", MENA reported.

An Israeli official confirmed Barak's visit aimed to look at ways to move ahead in peace talks, after Netayahu's speech and an address by U.S. President Barack Obama from Cairo on June 4 that covered Middle East peace and other topics.

Like Egypt, Palestinian officials have also voiced opposition to many aspects of Netanyahu's proposal.

Palestinian leaders have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state because they believe it weakens the position of the 20 percent of Israel's citizens who are Arabs.

They also say it undermines a key demand for a right for Palestinians to return to areas in Israel from which they fled or were forced out in a 1948 war ahead of Israel's creation.