CAIRO, (AP) – Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday presented Egypt with ideas for restarting Mideast peace talks, impressing his hosts with proposals that go further than past Israeli positions, Egypt’s top diplomat said.
The sides also discussed the latest developments in efforts to broker a prisoner swap between Israel and the Hamas militant group. A top Hamas official in Damascus told The Associated Press that the group had rejected the latest proposal from Israel. He said Israel was refusing to release key prisoners and insisting on mass deportations of freed militants.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit refused to divulge specifics on Tuesday’s discussions, but said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears serious about trying to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.
“I can’t talk about details, but the prime minister was discussing positions that surpass in our estimate what we’ve heard from them in a long time,” Aboul Gheit told reporters. “I can’t say that he has come with changed positions, but he is moving forward.”
Netanyahu jetted in from neighboring Israel for nearly three hours of talks with President Hosni Mubarak and other Egyptian leaders. Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, frequently mediates between the Jewish state and the broader Arab world.
Netanyahu came at a difficult time as the U.S. tries to prod Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians have said they will not reopen negotiations until Israel freezes all settlement activity on lands they claim for a future independent state. Israel has offered a partial freeze that the Palestinians say is insufficient.
In the latest setback for peace efforts, Israel announced plans on Monday to build nearly 700 new homes in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city that the Palestinians want to make their capital.
The Palestinians have also insisted that Netanyahu resume talks from the point they broke off under his more dovish predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Netanyahu has said he is not bound by Olmert’s offers — which included proposals for shared control of the holy city of Jerusalem and a broad pullout from nearly all of the West Bank.
Aboul Gheit said Netanyahu gave his hosts the impression that he genuinely wants to get diplomacy moving again, and told The Associated Press that “everything is on the table.” He would not elaborate.
Also on the agenda were the ongoing negotiations over a proposed prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic militant group is seeking hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier it has held for more than three years. Egypt and Germany have been mediating those talks.
A delegation of Hamas leaders has left their Gaza Strip stronghold to discuss Israel’s latest proposal with Hamas’ exiled leadership in Syria. A top Hamas official in Damascus told The Associated Press that the group had rejected Israel’s latest offer, and asked the German mediator to go back to Israel for another offer.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement, said that Israel is refusing to release 10 senior militants sought by Hamas. He said Israel also wants 200 freed militants to be deported. Hamas wants this number greatly reduced.
Israeli officials had no comment.