Netanyahu and Mubarak at 2009 meeting
Netanyahu and Mubarak at 2009 meetingIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas are scheduled to visit Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Sunday in what may be a scenario to avoid a disaster for the American-sponsored indirect ”proximity talks.”

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ European department director Freddy Eitan describes the current scene as a “diplomatic ballet.”

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell returned to the region late last week to set the stage for a resumption of the discussions and was promptly rebuffed by Abbas, who kept his word that he would not agree to meet Israeli leaders without an extension of the building freeze against Jews in Judea and Samaria.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Mubarak was postponed twice last week, once reportedly due to the Egyptian president’s trip to Germany for a medical check.

No one is suggesting that there will be a three-way summit, but the convergence of both leaders in Cairo on the same day may not be a coincidence. Egypt has billed itself as the representative of the Arab world that can guide—if not actually order—Abbas what to do.

With virtually all political observers warning from the outset that Mitchell’s efforts were doomed to failure. Mubarak has the chance to steal the show. Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu can afford to backtrack without losing their respective political bases, but the threat of renewed violence may force their hands, according to Bar-Ilan University political science Professor Gerald Steinberg.

If the date passes without any diplomatic progress, the Arab street, which has been full of expectations, may erupt.

Discussions between Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House earlier this month threw the ball back into Abbas’ court, with Abbas in the unusual position of being under pressure from President Obama to accept direct talks with Israel.

Eitan suggests that the United States still has one card to deal to Abbas: money. He told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that offering additional aid to the Palestinian Authority “could well open the door to a continuation of the process even though the trust between Abbas and Netanyahu has not returned to what it once was.”