Mubarak Pledges Support for Mideast Peace
FOX-News / AP             April 12, 2004

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (^)  said Monday they would welcome an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a positive step toward a Middle East peace agreement and a future Palestinian state.

"I think any withdrawal from the occupied territory is very highly appreciated," Mubarak told reporters following a private meeting at Bush's ranch.

Bush, who meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (^)  later this week, said: "If he were to withdraw from the Gaza, it would be a positive development."

During their meeting, the two leaders discussed prospects for reviving Mideast peace efforts and Israel's plan to close 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza (^).  Mubarak pledged that his country would do "whatever it takes" to revive efforts to strike a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Bush offered an appeal for true peace in the entire Middle East, "not just a pause between wars."

"We also believe the future of the Middle East and the future of Iraq are closely linked," Bush said.  "The people of the greater Middle East have a right to be safe, secure, prosperous and free."

Mubarak arrived at Bush's ranch Monday to discuss how the Israeli plan will link to the U.S. "road map" for peace that is meant to produce an independent Palestinian state in 2005.

Like other Arab leaders, Mubarak is leery that the Israeli plan might be Sharon's way to hold on indefinitely to other occupied Arab land.  While the proposal calls for closing all 21 Gaza settlements, it would shut down only four of 140 Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

In a letter to Bush, Jordan's King Abdullah II expressed his strong support of America's two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the official Petra news agency said Sunday.

For Bush and Israel, a key issue is the kind of role Mubarak would play to keep a lid on the volatile Gaza area.   Gaza borders Egypt's Sinai Peninsula (^), and Egypt administered the strip before the 1967 war.

The United States wanted Mubarak's help in ensuring that Gaza does not fall into anarchy, which would make it a haven for terrorist elements.

Egypt can control the border so that weapons do not cross into Gaza and could mediate between various Palestinian factions.

Apparently, Mubarak is willing to guard Egypt's side of the border and to train and equip Palestinians to take charge of security on their side.  Egypt has ruled out policing Gaza itself.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, has no doubt that Bush is going to bless Sharon's plan. "Absolutely, that's the choreography," he said.

After first keeping its distance from Sharon's proposal, the administration has warmed gradually to the withdrawal idea, provided it is linked to a more sweeping agreement with the Palestinians.

Potentially eclipsing Israel in the Bush-Mubarak talks are the deaths of nearly 900 Iraqis in the past week in battles between insurgents and U.S.-led coalition forces.

Mubarak and Abdullah are arguably America's best Arab friends, and they're having a hard time justifying that friendship to their own citizens with the United States increasingly being portrayed as the aggressor in Iraq.

The siege of Fallujah (^)has been described in the Arab press as collective punishment on Iraqis there for the crimes of a few.  That has deep resonance in Egypt, where Israel often is accused of collectively punishing the Palestinians.

"Egypt's view is that the U.S. occupation is reinforcing anti-American feelings -- and the current violence only heightens that problem," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, research fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

More than 600 Iraqis -- mostly women, children and elderly people -- have been killed in a week of fighting in Fallujah alone, the director of the city hospital told The Associated Press.  A Marine commander says most of the dead were probably insurgents. 
<<Someone is lying - the Sadam Iraqi or the US Marine - you pick AP.>>

Mubarak was likely to seek details from Bush on his Greater Middle East Initiative (^)  that would ask European and other developed states to push for Arab democracy.  The Egyptian leader has resisted outside pressure on the issue.

Concern over exactly what the United States might pressure Arabs to do and disagreements over how to respond to that pressure contributed to the decision to cancel the Arab summit scheduled in Tunisia last month.

Mubarak, who is trying to revive the summit, may want to take to other Arab leaders  reassurances by Bush that they will be able to decide the pace and direction of reform themselves.

Mubarak and Jordan's Abdullah are in the moderate camp of leaders who acknowledge the Arab world needs reform, but they insist it is Arabs who should be in charge of that effort.