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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 06:41 GMT
Egypt pushes for Mid-East summit
Thousands of supporters of the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza City
Spiralling violence and mounting anger
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By Jon Leyne
BBC correspondent in Washington

At a critical moment in the Middle East, one of the most influential Arab leaders is visiting the White House - President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who is to meet President George Bush on Tuesday.

Mr Mubarak is one of America's key allies in the region - Egypt will soon overtake Israel in the amount of US military aid it receives. He is also a close confidant of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The brother of Avi Hazan, killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, grieves during his funeral
The conflict has brought grief to civilians on both sides
In theory, he should be the ideal intermediary to bring down the violence.

Yet the situation between Israel and the Palestinians is so dark that no-one is expecting any breakthroughs.

The Egyptian leader brings his own peace proposal.

President Mubarak's suggestion is that he should host a summit between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Mr Mubarak first put the idea forward in a telephone call with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, around a week ago. Now he is trying it out in Washington.

"We are not going to solve all the problems in one minute," said Mr Mubarak. But he insisted the idea could "change the atmosphere... show the people that both are sitting together."

It is, literally, a media offensive. The Egyptian idea was first aired publicly on the US cable news channel CNN.

It is clearly a response to the Saudi peace proposals first suggested to the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

Peace plans

Under the Saudi ideas, Arab states would recognise the state of Israel if Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders. By all accounts, this is not a plan to bring about a ceasefire, but a look at the much longer term.

Both the Egyptian and Saudi ideas share the effect of casting Ariel Sharon as the obstacle to peace

By contrast, the Egyptian idea just involves a summit meeting, with no further suggestions about how to take the matter forward.

As President Mubarak must know, it is a proposal that is likely to be stillborn.

The whole thrust of Ariel Sharon's policy has been to isolate and pressurise Yasser Arafat.

The Israeli leader has refused to meet his Palestinian counterpart since taking office. At the moment, Mr Arafat is not even allowed to leave the West Bank town of Ramallah.

US dilemma

As for the Americans, it leaves them in a more difficult position.

On the one hand, the Bush administration is committed to the Israeli Government. On the other, the administration will be loath to antagonise Mr Mubarak.

The initial response of the American Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was to parry the idea as "interesting".

Both the Egyptian and Saudi ideas share the effect of casting Ariel Sharon as the obstacle to peace.

They also further increase the pressure on Washington to intervene in the ever-worsening conflict.

As the violence increases, almost by the day, it seems much of the energy is being exercised in passing round the blame.

Judith Kipper, Council on Foreign Relations
"There will be further escalation (of violence) without a third party"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Six die in Israeli tank attack
04 Mar 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Sniper stuns Israeli army
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Q&A: Middle East conflict
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