Egypt's Role In Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Talks

With the new year, we're told to expect a new push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Those talks stalled last year, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down this week with Egyptian and Jordanian officials to talk about the U.S. commitment to the process. Among the officials she met with was Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. Guest host Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Gheit.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

With the New Year, there's a new push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Those talks stalled last year. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat down this week with Egyptian and Jordanian officials to talk about the U.S. commitment to the process. Among the officials she met with was Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. And he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Foreign Minister, Egypt): Thank you very much for hosting me.

KELLY: Well, you are in Washington. You came here this week in the hope of finding a way to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. What is you sense, sir, of the U.S. commitment at this point? How hard do you think the U.S. is prepared to push?

Mr. GHEIT: I think the Americans are committed and they understand the dynamics around the region. The region is passing through most difficult times, fundamentalism is on the rise, and we see that a possible clash between such fundamentalist forces and the West, and they need to diffuse that possibility, hence they need to push forward finding or seeking a Palestinian settlement, a settlement that would ensure the establishment of a Palestinian state. And that state would live in peace and security with Israel, but there are certain prerequisites for such a state, mainly the size of the territory.

And the territory should be established on the basis of the '67 lines, with the same area that has been occupied, and the possibility of swaps between - swaps in territories between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

KELLY: The other long negotiating process your government has been involved in is that between Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and its rival, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Do you see any progress in those talks?

Mr. GHEIT: I do not think that we are making progress and I think we'll slow down a little bit till better prospects for success.

KELLY: Huh. And these two processes are linked, of course. Do you see real progress coming between the Palestinians and Israel if there isn't some sort of agreement in place between Fatah and Hamas?

Mr. GHEIT: I think we can proceed to - for the Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate together, and if we would manage to have an agreement on a settlement, then that would play as an added pressure on the rest of the Palestinian groups to come forward and to seek the reconciliation effort.

KELLY: Another issue I want to ask you about - Egypt has kept a blockade on its border with the Gaza Strip ever since Hamas took control there. As you know, that border�

Mr. GHEIT: Well, that is not very - that is not very accurate�

KELLY: Why?

Mr. GHEIT: �because we have the Rafah border crossing and that is in use for people for the crossing of Palestinians from Egypt to Gaza and the other way around, as well as�

KELLY: That is not always open though, sir.

Mr. GHEIT: It is open for extended periods of time. And many Palestinians are crossing - students, medical care and such of - such Palestinians. So it is not true at all for people to claim that Egyptians are blocking Gaza. That is one. But two, Israel is an occupation of Gaza and it is the occupying power and the occupying power according to international law has cases to ensure that the welfare of the people is ensured.

KELLY: Setting aside for a moment the question of Israel in this - is Egypt doing enough? Could Egypt - should Egypt be doing more to help the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

Mr. GHEIT: We are helping and we have been publishing lots of information on the number of thousands of tons of material that has been crossing from Egypt into Gaza, and the tens of thousands of tons of material, of provisions of medical needs. We are doing our part. No doubt we are doing our part, but we have to insist that the crossings on the Israeli side, between Israel and Gaza, are blocked because Israel is denying them their needs, because Israel is insisting that this very famous Israeli soldier has to be released from the hands of Hamas.

KELLY: This is Gilad Shalit.

Mr. GHEIT: Yes. So as we are trying to also find a settlement between the Israelis and Hamas, maybe that would compel the Israelis to open up the crossings on their side. The international community is also obliged to intervene with the Israelis, the way we keep pressing them, that you have to allow the international community to trade with the Palestinians through Israel, not relying only on Egypt.

KELLY: Ahmed Aboul Gheit. He's the foreign minister of Egypt. Thank you so much.

Mr. GHEIT: Thank you. Thank you very much.

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