Mubarak’s visit in Washington

and Netanyahu’s « step » on settlements


(Press review – week from August 17 to 21, 2009)

This week President Obama met his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Hosni Mubarak. The meeting happens in a context of U.S. pressure for the resumption of the peace process, calling for Israel to freeze settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and for the Arabs to make efforts towards normalization with the Hebrew State.

Warming of relations between Egypt and the United States

It had been five years that the Egyptian President was not received at the White House. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the Bush administration had put pressure on Cairo in the framework of its program of democratization of the Middle East.

According to Soliman Awaad, a spokesman of President Mubarak quoted by AFP, the Egyptian Raïs have made an assessment of progress in human rights to its U.S. counterpart. Mr. Awad also stated that « a too quick change would end on the radicals taking the control, » and that « democracy is a process that goes on. »

As for Barack Obama, he decided to rely on Egypt to support his plans for peace in the region. The New York Times said that the U.S. President had chosen the Egyptian capital to address his speech to Arab-Muslim world. The Egyptian daily Al Ahram, close to the government, relates Obama’s words (reported on the American news channel CBS) recognizing the role of Hosni Mubarak in efforts for peace in the Middle East.

Le Figaro recognizes the renewal of relations between Egypt and the United States, but also underlines the fact that « Egypt is tired of walking sand slipping away under his feet. » The efforts undertaken by Egypt for several years to bring the two parties together failed. According to one diplomat, speaking to Le Figaro, peace will never come on the goodwill of the parties, and therefore requires the pressure of an outsider like the United States.

Prospect of a resumption of the peace process?

The New York Times noted that President Mubarak echoed the words of President Obama stating that things are moving in the right direction, ie towards the resumption of a peace process.

AFP reported the hopes of the Egyptian President for the resumption of the peace process. There is now a real partner for negotiations in view of the improved position of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) following the Congress of Fatah held two weeks ago in Bethlehem. AFPadds that Egypt got involved in the inter-Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

On Israel’s side, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have finally yielded to U.S. pressure on colonization reported AFP. He declared to be ready to halt construction in settlements, by not issuing new tenders before 2010, but nevertheless leaving the current contracts ongoing and making it clear that he could not act on the private sector. Barack Obama praised Israel for this « step in the right direction. »

The Moroccan daily Le Matin quoted the request made by the Deputy UN Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco who « urged the Israeli government to freeze settlement activities in Al-Quds East and the West Bank.  » The latter put in parallel the situation in Gaza, where seven months after the Israeli attack any reconstruction could not start due to the lack of raw materials.

In Israel, the reactions to the decision by the Prime Minister to delay the colonization quickly appeared. This decision threatens the young government coalition. A BBC News reports that the Prime Minister said to the recalcitrant members of his government that it was not a freeze, but a « waiting period”. Although official sources said they did not published tenders since November 2008, Yesh Din – an Israeli organization of volunteers for peace – declared that the construction has continued at the same pace, if not faster since.

Another reaction is the one of the Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon who participated in a meeting of extreme right activists and would have said not to worry about the United States will, adding further that the anti-settlements movements as Peace Now and the elite were viruses constantly trying to make peace, after which the army is obliged to repair the damage. Haaretz said that these remarks have been strongly criticized by Netanyahu. The daily offers also an analysis of the event. Ya’alon, former commander of the IDF, currently serves as Minister of Strategic Affairs and was seen as a minister close to Netanyahu. But for some time, Ya’alon opposes the Likud leader. The article notes that Netanyahu should have the courage to dismiss the Minister of his cabinet, not only to maintain his power but also to safeguard Israel’s relationship with Washington.

Shimon Peres has meanwhile expressed himself on Jerusalem TV (see website Haaretz) from Russia. He said he sees positively the future trilateral meetings between Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and Mahmoud Abbas. During the visit of President Hosni Mubarak in Washington, President Obama also revealed that the United States had a peace plan that could take place in September.

The health of the Egyptian Raïs

On the occasion of his visit to Washington, Le Figaro comes back also on the health of the Raïs which leaves doubts about his fitness to remain in power. Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has undergone numerous operations abroad on which the press did not get details. Moreover, the sudden death of her grand-son a few months ago seems to have hit the Egyptian President. The New York Times noted that the Head of State had therefore postponed his first visit to Washington scheduled earlier.

Some rumors reported by Le Figaro Raïs say that could leave its place to a successor before the end of his term, scheduled for 2011. In this case, his son Gamal Mubarak, 45 years and the chief information officer, Suleimane Omar, 75 seem to be the favorites.