President Mubarak discusses regional developments with King of Jordan

Palestinians protest Israeli decision to expel “illegal” residents from West Bank

Jordan: We would never allow Israel to expel Palestinians to our lands

Washington says Mideast status quo can’t last

Media war in U.S. over Netanyahu

Barak warns of deepening rifts with U.S.

Almost three weeks after his return home from a medical trip to Germany, which took three weeks in itself, President Hosni Mubarak received his first few Arab visitors -- still at his Sharm El-Sheikh residence where he is supposedly finishing off his firmly prescribed convalescence.

On Sunday and Monday, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were respectively received by the president in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Both appeared on national TV and, through photos made available by the presidency, were seen chatting with the president in the comfort of a living room at the president's residence.

Following the Mubarak-Saleh meeting, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdullah Al-Qerabi told reporters that the head of the Yemeni state was pleased to meet the president of Egypt who is recovering well. The two heads of state, Al-Qerabi added in Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday, had a tour d'horizon of some Arab and regional affairs.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Abbas told reports in Sharm El-Sheikh that he discussed with Mubarak the current hurdles obstructing the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, especially the unchecked Israeli construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.

On Wednesday afternoon Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Sharm El-Sheikh to meet with Mubarak.

Mubarak, according to officials, is still set to receive another long line of Arab leaders, including Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Qatari Emir Hamad bin Jassim whose ties with Cairo have been strained recently due to disagreements over the management of the Arab-Israeli struggle, the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip and Arab relations with Iran.

Mubarak has also received King Abdullah II of Jordan and discussed with him a host of regional and international issues of mutual interest.

Mubarak's televised meetings were among the otherwise few similar appearances since he underwent an officially announced operation to remove his gall bladder in Heidelberg University Hospital on 6 March.

The first two appearances were at his room in Heidelberg Hospital -- only one video and one video-audio. Then Egyptian TV broadcast a few minutes of his homecoming from Germany with his family members. Last Thursday, Mubarak was shown in a limited ministerial meeting, attended by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and then, on the same day, receiving Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi.

The appearances of the president, few as they have been, serve the purpose of dispelling speculation over the progress of his health which had caused panic that led to a sharp decline in the market exchange more than once during the past seven weeks.

No official announcement has been made as to when the president will resume his full routine or when he plans to return to the capital.

"Obviously not all questions have been answered. Still, there is a growing sense of reassurance that the president is well and that he is gradually picking up his regular routine. This is crucial," said Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

According to Abdel-Gawwad, who also sits on the influential Policies Committee of the ruling NDP, "The image that is being shown to us now is that for the near future and for medium-range plans the president is in shape and is and will be running things himself."

Abdel-Gawwad agreed that Mubarak will need to do more than just make appearances on TV or even a public appearance for the traditional May Day speech. "Streamlining government policies that seem to lack certainty and to suffer from confusion during the past weeks might be a top priority," he said.

During the first few weeks of the presidential medical treatment, which included a week where his powers were delegated to Prime Minister Nazif, national affairs were smoothly managed for the most part. However, the past couple of weeks were marked by some escalation of the otherwise regular problems, especially those related to prices of some commodities and the management of the call for political reforms.

"One cannot say that there were major policy breaks but what one could say is that the government's policies, even when right, were not properly promoted. This was the major problem," Abdel-Gawwad added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians rallied on Wednesday near an Israeli crossing point in northern Gaza Strip, protesting against the Israeli order that allowed army to evict people from the West Bank.

Representatives of rival Hamas and Fatah movements attended the rally near Erez terminal which connects the Gaza Strip and Israel and is only open to foreigners, patients and people with special arrangements.

The demonstrators tried to express unity by waving the flags of the Palestinians, rather than the flags of their own factions. One of the banners read "Hand by hand, we face the Israeli expulsion decision."

Thousands of Palestinians might be expelled from the West Bank under the Israeli order which took effect last week, including those who fled to the area when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, as well as those who are originally born outside the West Bank, including their children even if the latter are born inside the region.

Hisham Abdul Razek, a leader of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, said this demonstration aimed to bring Palestinians together to stand against the Israeli decision to expel "our fellow Palestinian citizens from the West Bank to Gaza."

Ayman Taha, a Hamas official, said that the Palestinians should face the Israeli decision with unity, adding "we all should come together to stand solid in front of the Israeli occupation and its aggression against us."

Jordan condemned Israel on Wednesday over a military order that could lead to the eviction of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, demanding it be revoked.

The Amman government "strongly condemned" the Israeli decision, describing the move as "illegal" and a "flagrant violation" of international law and conventions, as well as the Jewish state's obligations as an occupying power.

In a statement, the government urged the international community to act to "halt such unilateral measures," which would block peace efforts and raise tensions in the Middle East.

It added that Foreign Minister Nasser Jawdeh, who is in Washington with King Abdullah II, had already started to contact his counterparts about the matter during a nuclear meeting there this week.

Meanwhile, Israel Ambassador Dani Nevo was summoned to the foreign ministry and given a note of protest, the official Petra news agency reported.

"The note underlined Jordan's strong denunciation of the Israeli decision ... and the need to immediately stop its application, as well as the reaffirmation of the right of the Palestinian people to live in and move about freely on their national territory," Petra said.

Jordan said on Monday it had received assurances from Israel that the order would not lead to expulsions of Palestinians living in the West Bank.

The Israeli military insists the new orders merely formalize existing procedures and said there would be no new wave of deportations from the territory.

On Tuesday, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad called the orders "illegal," while the Arab League called on the Palestinians to refuse to heed them.

The United States said Thursday that the status quo cannot last in the Middle East, in response to Israel's renewed refusal to halt settlements as US envoy George Mitchell visited.

Former senator Mitchell decided late Wednesday to head back to the region after contacts with the Israelis and Palestinians indicated the trip could be "fruitful," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

As Mitchell arrived in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his refusal to freeze Jewish settlements in annexed east Jerusalem despite past appeals by the United States.

"We understand that the Israelis have a long-standing position," Crowley said.

"But as (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) has said repeatedly... the status quo is not sustainable," Crowley said. "Have they done everything that we'd like to see them do? No.

But this is why we're continuing this conversation," he said.

Crowley said that Mitchell would meet both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and press both sides for a resumption of direct negotiations.

"We recognize that there are things that happened on the ground that can impede the ability" to start direct negotiations, Crowley said.

"Our focus here is on what do we need to do to get the parties into that direct negotiation. That is our focus," he said.

Crowley said that Clinton spoke by telephone on Thursday with Abbas to lay the groundwork for Mitchell's visit.

Meanwhile, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, recently attacked U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy in an open letter. Lauder talks to Spiegel about Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and why President Obama is neglecting the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

SPIEGEL: In an open letter that was recently published in advertisements in The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, you accused U.S. President Barack Obama of having allowed a "dramatic deterioration" of relations with Israel. What do you mean?

Ronald Lauder: The Obama administration is blaming Israel for the stalling peace process, but it is in fact the Palestinians which are opposed to negotiations. Obama's criticism of Israel is disproportionate.

SPIEGEL: Isn't the Israeli government also to blame? After all, it announced the plan to expand a settlement in the eastern part of Jerusalem during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit.

Lauder: That was bad timing. But the Israeli government has made extraordinary concessions: It has accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, a moratorium on settlement building, and it has removed over a hundred roadblocks in the West Bank.

SPIEGEL: And yet, that lip service to a two-state solution was only paid following pressure by Obama. As a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aren't you biased?

Lauder: On this, I don't represent my friend, but Jews world-wide. I would have written the same letter if someone else were prime minister in Jerusalem. Over his attempts to engage the Muslim world, Obama has strongly neglected the relationship with Israel.

SPIEGEL: At least he has said that a solution to the Middle East conflict was in the "national security interest" of the U.S.

Lauder: His main concern should be Iran. The regime in Tehran is threatening Israel and the entire Western world with its plans to build a nuclear bomb. That is why Obama should end his feud with Israel.

On the other hand, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned last week that the growing differences between Israel and the United States over the Palestine issue were not in the best interest of the Jewish nation.

"We shouldn't delude ourselves," Barak said. "The growing alienation between us and the United States is not good for the state of Israel."

The Defense Minister made the remarks in an interview with Army Radio, as Israelis marked the Memorial Day on Monday by paying homage to the Israeli soldiers and civilians killed in hostile actions.

The Memorial Day commemorates over 22,000 Israeli soldiers killed in action and some 1,750 Israeli civilians killed in Palestinian militant attacks. The day also coincides with the celebration of Israel's 62nd independence day.

On the international demand for a separate independent state for the Palestinians, Barak said: "The world isn't willing to accept, and we won't change that in 2010, the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more."

"There is no other way, whether you like it or not, than to let them rule themselves," Barak told Israelis regarding a two state solution that would provide the Palestinians with an independent state alongside Israel.

Barak's remarks came at a time when the US-Israeli relations seem to be at their lowest level in recent years, mainly because of Israel's refusal to halt the building of new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it to the Jerusalem municipality. However, Israel's annexation of area is not recognized by the international community, which considers building settlements in the occupied land as illegal.

Last month, Israeli Interior Ministry's District Committee for Planning and Construction had approved the construction of 1600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem, ignoring Washington's objections to building Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Despite Ehud Barak's admission that establishing an independent Palestinian state was inevitable in bringing peace to the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Monday that he will not halt the building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

"This demand that they've now introduced, the Palestinians, to stop all construction, Jewish construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, is totally, totally a non-starter, because what it does is prevent peace," Netanyahu said in an interview with ABC news earlier on Monday.

Netanyahu's statements came just days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Israel to do more to pursue peace with the Palestinians and to strengthen institutions that will help weaken Palestine militant groups like Hamas.

In the recent past, Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the resumption of peace talks with Palestine and even hinted that his government was willing to allow the establishment of an independent but demilitarized Palestinian state. Netanyahu's government has also approved a proposal to halt new Jewish residential constructions in the occupied West Bank temporarily for a 10-month period.

The temporary suspension of construction activity was limited to the West Bank, and did not include East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make it their future capital. Israel claims the entire city of Jerusalem as its territory and has refused in the past to halt settlement activities in the city, rejecting calls from the international community to do so.

The Palestinians and Arabs involved in the Middle East peace process have rejected the Israeli peace initiative, insisting that they would rejoin negotiations only if Israel halted all settlement construction activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians and Arabs insist on a freeze in all settlement activities in the occupied territories as a precondition for resumption of direct peace talks.

The U.S. administration under President Barack Obama has been urging Israel to stop all kinds of settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, stressing that Israel is obliged to do so under the previously accepted 2003 peace plan.

The 2003 peace plan requires Israel to dismantle settlement outposts erected since 2001 and freeze all settlement activity, while Palestinians are required to halt all violence against Israel. The plan--mediated by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia--is expected to ultimately lead to an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem its capital.