Egypt's president on Sunday criticized Israeli construction in east Jerusalem, telling his Israeli counterpart that settlement activity in the disputed sector of the holy city threatens to anger the entire Muslim world.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak emphasized to Israeli President Shimon Peres that the future of Jerusalem, which both Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital, is an issue for the entire Islamic world.
Mubarak also said that the time had passed for talk on temporary solutions and borders — which has been floated as a step to solving the crisis — and instead a final peace agreement should be concluded swiftly.
"I expressed my concern to President Peres that peace talks have not progressed since our last meeting in July and that Egypt is looking forward to an Israeli response, such as halting the building of settlements in east Jerusalem," he said.
Plans for new apartments
The tough words came in the wake of last week's Israeli announcement that it plans to build 900 new apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have refused to restart peace talks if there isn't a total halt in Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and now claimed by the Palestinians as parts of a future independent state. Israel has offered to scale back construction in the West Bank but says it reserves the right to build anywhere in Jerusalem.
Peres told reporters that Israel is not building any new West Bank settlements or seizing land to expand existing ones. He said that once negotiations begin, all the outstanding differences would be resolved.
"The minute we shall start to negotiate, there won't be more settlements, new settlements. There won't be confiscation of land," he said. "There will be no financial investment in new settlements. There will be a dismantling of the settlements that were established without authorization. (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu announced that he supports a two-state solution."
While Peres' appeared to be reiterating Netanyahu's standing offer to the Palestinians, aides said they hoped that his stature as a Nobel Peace laureate with a long working relationship with Mubarak would convince the Egyptian leader that Israel is serious about restarting negotiations.
Peres, whose office is largely ceremonial, often acts as an unofficial envoy for the government.
Egypt was the first Arab nation to conclude a peace deal Israel. While relations have never been warm, Egypt has been a key mediator in Israel's relations with the Palestinians.
Relations between the countries have deteriorated in recent months, however, as Egypt has protested Israel's refusal to freeze its settlement building.
Peres, was in Cairo on Sunday to help repair ties and clear the way for a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israel also on Saturday appointed a new ambassador to Egypt, longtime diplomat Itzhak Levanon, the country's former envoy to the United Nations in Geneva.