CAIRO: President Hosni Mubarak’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have again been pushed back to next week but speculation that this is due to Mubarak’s health has been officially denied.
Mubarak and Netanyahu were due to meet Tuesday. This was then pushed to Wednesday and finally to next Sunday. The constant cancellations led to speculation that Mubarak was suffering from ill health and that he would travel to Germany for treatment.
Senior state officials denied this, however. Cabinet spokesman Magdi Radi said in a news conference that, “the president is in good health.” A senior government official also denied reports about the trip to Germany, telling Reuters “What has been published about the president going to Germany is rumor.”
Other Egyptian officials stated that the reason for the delay of the two meetings was because Netanyahu and Abbas were scheduled to meet US envoy George Mitchell on Friday and Saturday respectively, and that it was decided that the meetings with Mubarak were to take place after that.
Mubarak is now due to meet both Netanyahu and Abbas on Sunday, but separately.
The report about his alleged trip to Germany emerged in the Lebanese daily As-Safir.
Mubarak had been treated at the University Clinic in Heidelberg, Germany last March, where his gall bladder and a growth on his small intestine were removed. Over the past week, Mubarak has made many public appearances at the graduation ceremonies of various military colleges.
Yet with the double cancellation of Netanyahu’s visit, speculation immediately turned to a possible downturn in the President’s health.
“The state is paying the price of a long tradition of ambiguity with the Egyptian people, treating them as observers and not participants … this will continue and people will continue to speculate,” Diaa Rashwan from Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt.
“It’s a tradition Egyptians still cannot get rid of, which is to doubt any official statement, not just regarding this subject but in general. And even though state announcements were relatively more transparent when Mubarak was in Germany, it is a longstanding tradition,” he added.
Netanyahu and Abbas are due to discuss the latest developments to the peace process with Mubarak, as negotiators push for direct talks to replace the current proximity talks where the Palestinians and Israelis do not meet.
However, last week the Arab League Secretary-General blasted continued Israeli settlement building on occupied lands and stated that the credibility of the international community was being lost during a press conference with Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair.
“The reports coming out of Washington show a new situation, giving a new umbrella of protection to a party and the other party is totally in the dark,” Amr Moussa said. “We have seen promises for the last 20 years; we need something concrete in order to be able to move.”
“We were the proponents of the peace process,” he added, “now we have a totally different situation which is allowing Israel to have an ambiguous nuclear program outside the scope of any supervision with the argument that Israel is a special case. Every country is a special case, the security of each country is a special case.”
For his part Blair said, “The boycott on settlement activities is one issue, but is not the only issue, to give credibility to these negotiations. So there are other factors that are being discussed between the parties in order to build a confidence that these negotiations will be real, credible and constructive.”