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Why Egypt seeks prominent role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Egypt is seeking to burnish its role as an American ally as it hosts Israeli-Palestinian peace talks today – a calculation some says plays into Mubarak's succession strategy.

By Correspondent / September 14, 2010

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, right, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Sept.14, as Egypt hosts the second round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Amr Nabil/AP



Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today hosted Israeli and Palestinian leaders for the second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

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For Mr. Mubarak, the negotiations provide a new opportunity to persuade the US that his role in the process should merit freedom from US pressure on key domestic issues like upcoming elections and the prospect of succession by the president’s son Gamal.

“Peace talks in my opinion are just a card in the hands of the Egyptian regime in dealing with the US,” says Emad Gad, an analyst at the government-funded Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “I think the Egyptian regime is using the direct talks in order to get a green light from the Americans for Gamal Mubarak.”

US envoy George Mitchell said after the leaders met for nearly two hours at the Red Sea resort town that talks were moving in the right direction. But he did not say whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who delayed his return to Jerusalem for a second round of unscheduled talks, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had made headway on extending an Israeli settlement freeze due to expire Sept. 26.

Palestinian leaders have threatened to pull out of negotiations if settlement expansion in the occupied territories resumes. The leaders are scheduled to meet again in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Expecting that the talks will end if common ground isn't found soon on settlement expansion, most Middle East nations are sitting on the sidelines, not wanting to expend political capital on a potentially fruitless exercise.

Cash for consensus

Since Camp David, the US-Egypt relationship has been a give-and-take in which the US hands Egypt substantial aid (about $1.5 billion last year) and generally stays out of Egyptian politics, while Egypt maintains peace with Israel and is a staunch US ally in the region.

But Egypt's stable, authoritarian political model could be in for some upheaval as the aging Mubarak, rumored to be in ill health, is almost certainly in the twilight of his nearly 30-year reign. Many Egyptians suspect he is grooming his son to assume power in a system rigged in favor of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).