Carter, Mubarak meet to discuss stalled peace process

Former President Jimmy Carter met today in Cairo with President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, one day after Israeli riot police blocked access to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and fired tear grenades at children wielding rocks.

"[The meeting between Carter and Mubarak] focused on the efforts to push ahead with the peace process, the current stalemate in resumption in peace negotiations and the continuing siege of Israel in Gaza," Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad told Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition.

Hamas and Fatah were planned to arrive in Cairo Sunday to sign a reconciliation agreement, but were not able to agree a date to hold elections.

"[Carter and Aboul Gheit] agreed on the causes of halt in current peace efforts and on the importance of continued US efforts to have a balanced and objective view when resuming the negotiating process," according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Carter has been a vocal critic of Israel and suffering imposed on Palestinians, but has been actively seeking a long-term peace agreement. International activists have also been critical of the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, which prevents the movement of goods and people.

The siege of Gaza has remained in place for several years, with periodic exceptions, and has been strictly enforced since Israel attacked Gaza at the turn of 2009. Israel broke a ceasefire in November 2008, inviting retaliation from Hamas in the form of limited rocket fire, which Israel cited as a casus belli. Both parties came under scrutiny in the Goldstone Report, which is currently under review by the United Nations. The report– issued by South African jurist Richard Goldstone – reserved the harshest criticism for Israel, with accusations of "possible crimes against humanity" and the excessive use of force by the Israeli army leading to a high Palestinian death toll, particularly among civilians.

In his book, "We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work," released in January 2009, Carter calls on the US government to advance the peace process, but the Obama administration has thus far been unsuccessful in brokering a long-term deal or to use its leverage with Israel to discontinue expansion of settlements, which are illegal under international law. Al-Jazeera reported last week, however, that Israel had agreed to a temporary halt to settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The US Department of State declined to comment on Carter’s visit, citing a policy that it does not release statements on diplomatic visits by former heads of state. Carter’s public relations representative also declined to comment on discussions with Mubarak, after describing the meeting as a "courtesy visit."

After his brief trip to Egypt, Carter is traveling to Jordan, where he is expected to meet with top officials there as well.

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