Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with President Bush at the White House in 2002 (White House photo)
JERUSALEM – Following a meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to support publicly the Israeli leader’s plan to evacuate unilaterally most of Judea and Samaria.
A senior Egyptian official told WorldNetDaily Mubarak told Olmert during their private talks he views the Israeli unilateral retreat as a possible threat to the security of Egypt and regional ally Jordan. The official said Mubarak pushed Olmert to conduct negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mubarak and Olmert met in the Sinai resort town of Sharm El-Shiekh. The talks were widely seen as the latest round of diplomatic presentations by Olmert regarding his evacuation plan, which seeks to vacate most of Judea and Samaria – mountainous territory within rocket firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the country’s international airport.
Judea and Samaria also is commonly referred to as the West Bank.
At a joint press conference following the two leader’s discussions, Mubarak stressed the U.S.-backed Road Map, which advocates Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Mubarak also made general statements about Iran’s nuclear program, calling for diplomacy on the issue.
Neither leader mentioned the Israeli government’s proposed Judea and Samaria evacuation until a reporter asked Olmert whether Mubarak expressed support for the plan during their meeting.
Olmert evaded the question. He stated the Egyptian leader expressed a preference for “all sides to meet in negotiations.”
Mubarak was quick to follow up on Olmert’s comments, telling reporters, “if we do not succeed in reaching negotiations then we will talk and find solutions.”
Olmert then chimed in that he is not “setting a time frame for (negotiations with) the Palestinians. Everyone knows what to do in order to reach a settlement with the Palestinians. Everyone knows what will happen if we fail to reach a settlement.”
The senior Egyptian official told WND Mubarak “vehemently” opposes any Israeli unilateral withdrawal.
“Egypt is continually threatened by the anarchy in the Gaza Strip,” the official said. “Elements in Gaza have aided and abetted plotters of terror attacks against our land and sovereignty. A unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank could bring similar anarchy on a larger scale there and spill over into (neighboring) Jordan.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, claiming an on-the-record interview concerning Olmert’s evacuation plan could “complicate Egyptian diplomatic relationships.”
Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last August, rockets have been fired regularly into nearby Jewish communities, Hamas has been elected to power and both Israeli and Palestinian officials have stated al-Qaida has infiltrated the territory. Some Israeli defense officials have been calling for Israel to reoccupy parts of Gaza.
Egyptian and Israeli security officials accuse Gaza-based militants and terror groups of smuggling large quantities of weapons from the Sinai desert into the Gaza Strip.
Egypt recently announced the terrorists who carried out April’s deadly triple-bomb blasts in the Sinai resort town of Dahab trained for the operation in the Gaza Strip with local Palestinians. They said Gaza-based terrorists helped finance the attack.
Also, as WND reported, Egyptian officials earlier had said they suspected a plotter of the Dahab blasts recently infiltrated the Gaza Strip and was extended refuge there by local terror groups, including members of Hamas.
The Egyptian accusations were the latest in a string of reports many analysts here contend shows a deterioration in the relationship between Egypt and the powerbrokers in the Gaza Strip.
“Gaza is a clear threat now to Egypt,” stated the Egyptian official. “What reason is there to believe things will result otherwise from any West Bank withdrawal?”
Egypt is said to be very closely monitoring the Hamas relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to create an Islamic theocracy in place of the current Mubarak regime, considered a regional ally to the U.S.
Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, which won an unprecedented 20 percent of the Parliament in the latest Egyptian elections.
Palestinian security sources close to Hamas told WND Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akif has been serving as a replacement Hamas spiritual leader since Israel assassinated former spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin in March 2004.
Multiple Brotherhood leaders in Egypt have stated many times their group is strengthened by Israel’s Gaza withdrawal and Hamas’ ascension to power. They have said they wish to stage a similar takeover of Egypt.
The Egyptian official speaking to WND also said the Jordanian government has asked Mubarak to express Jordan’s reservations about Olmert’s planned Judea and Samaria withdrawal.
Jordan’s King Abdullah last month reportedly made a similar request in a letter sent to President Bush urging the American leader to press Olmert toward Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Bush and Olmert met three weeks ago Washington.
Abdullah reportedly told Bush he fears an Israeli withdrawal could threaten his country.
Jordanian officials announced last month security officers caught a large arms cache smuggled into the country by Hamas members. Jordanian television broadcast confessions by three Hamas militants who said they smuggled the arms for possible attacks against Jordanian officials and interests.
Hamas, which stands to gain from a Judea and Samaria withdrawal, has a history of anti-Jordan activity. Officials there say they caught several other arms caches in the past belonging to the terror group. Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, a Jordanian citizen, was expelled in 1999 along with other leaders after a crackdown on the group following accusations of illegal activities.
Mideast countries are not alone in expressing reservations about Olmert’s Judea and Samaria evacuation.
Following his White House meeting with Olmert, Bush’s comments regarding Olmert’s proposed withdrawal stopped short of an endorsement. While giving Olmert credit for proposing “bold ideas” that “could be an important step” toward peace, Bush stressed the Road Map and urged talks with Abbas. He stated a negotiated agreement “best serves Israelis and Palestinians and the cause of peace.”
A member of the Israeli delegation at the White House meeting described the U.S. attitude toward the Judea and Samaria withdrawal as “lukewarm,” explaining the White House raised a number of concerns, including the possibility a terror entity will be created in the areas evacuated, reservations expressed by Jordan and the effects of the plan on U.S. regional interests.