CAIRO: Marking a shift from the typical Israeli delegations to Egypt, the left-wing Meretz Party was in Cairo Sunday to meet with Egyptian intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and political aide to President Hosni Mubarak, Osama El-Baz, to discuss the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, negotiations with the Palestinians, and Egypt’s role in stabilizing tension in the region.
The Meretz delegation was headed by party Chief Yossi Beilin, a veteran Israeli dove.
No agreements were reported.
According to a press release obtained by The Daily Star Egypt, Suleiman told Meretz members that negotiations for Shalit’s release in exchange for prisoners were on-going, adding that he was awaiting an Israeli response on the issue.
Suleiman noted that Egyptian efforts focused on bolstering the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas, while weakening extreme elements through economic and political pressure. According to the Jerusalem Post, he also emphasized that the Egyptian security delegation would not presently return to the Gaza Strip.
Benny Sharoni, spokesperson from the political department of the Israeli embassy, told The Daily Star Egypt that Meretz “represents an agenda that calls for resuming the peace process. They are more supportive of continuing negotiations with Palestinians.
“They are trying to do something more positive in the region, he said, including negotiating for Shalit, and promoting negotiations with the Palestinians. Sharoni would not comment on whether this would include negotiations with Hamas.
Sharoni said that Meretz had not sought permission from the Knesset or presidency to meet with the Egyptian officials and did not need to do so.
Although Sharoni could not ascertain whether or not a delegation consisting of only Meretz Party members had come to Egypt for negotiations before, he did say that none had come during the past year.
Only five members of the party attended and Meretz represents a small minority of the Knesset.
“It’s like if the Wafd Party organized a meeting [with Israel], political analyst from the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Abdel Aleem Mohamed told The Daily Star Egypt. Mohamed suggested that the party had little influence and as such, their meeting in Cairo had “little significance.
The Meretz delegation was independent of an Israeli envoy meet which last week offered the Egyptians a list of prisoners Israel was willing to release in exchange for Shalit, and which Hamas subsequently rejected.
The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not be reached for comment.