Cairo talks aim to resuscitate peace process

The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, meets today in Cairo with three Arab leaders, all of whom are in political trouble and want to see renewed steps towards peace in the Middle East. The aim of the summit is "to save the peace process from collapse", the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Moussa, said yesterday. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, said it would "end the deadlock" and create "a coalition for peace".

As well as Mr Rabin, the meeting will be attended by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat. All three leaders have signed peace treaties or agreements with Israel which have failed to produce resultsin keeping with their expectations.

Mr Rabin hopes to end the decline in his political fortunes and the freezing of peace talks with the PLO which has left the initiative in the hands of suicide bombers who killed 21 Israelis at Beit Lid a week ago.

Syria is not attending the summit. Its Information Minister, Mohammed Salman, said: "Rabin's dwindling popularity inside Israel caused by his policies is making him anxious about his political future, especially with the approach of the elections. That is why he is unable to take any decision on peace."

The same scepticism is voiced by some Israeli commentators, who say the Cairo summit may provide only an illusion of movement. In particular, it will be difficult for Mr Rabin to bridge the growing divide with Egypt on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with the Palestinians on implementation of the 1993 peace agreement.

To unfreeze the peace talks Mr Rabin must persuade Mr Arafat to clamp down in Gaza on Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the fundamentalist movements which organise suicide bombings. Without this, Israeli public opinion will not accept the redeployment of troops out of West Bank towns, the long-delayed next stage of the peace process, on the grounds that they also would become staging-grounds for attacks.

Mr Arafat cannot act against Islamic militants when polls indicate that most Palestinians approve of the bombings. They also believe the peace agreement has done nothing to improve their lives or stop Israeli settlements expanding. The municipality of Jerusalem yesterday approved construction of another 6,500 houses in east Jerusalem, once largely Palestinian.

Agreement with President Mubarak will also be difficult because he is demanding that Israel sign the NPT, as Egypt did in 1981. Israel, which has nuclear weapons, is refusing to do so until there is a comprehensive peace, citing the potential threat fromIran, Syria and Iraq.

Despite pressure from the US and the Israelis, Egypt is threatening to withdraw from the treaty unless Israel signs. Shlomo Aronson, a political scientist at Hebrew University, says that at a moment when he is clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mr Mubarak wants "to show that Nasserite intelligentsia" that he can act independently.

Egypt and Jordan are also looking for more favourable treatment from the US. Since 1993, Egypt is no longer unique in having signed an agreement with Israel and is less of a US asset. King Hussein signed a pact with Israel in October but it has produced few benefits. The King wrote to President Bill Clinton asking for $25bn (£16bn) over 10 years but US aid this year is only $10m.

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