Upon returning from his Africa tour, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to discuss the Egyptian initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Shoukry’s visit is the first of a top Egyptian official in Israel in years. Shoukry, who is arriving at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is expected to raise the matter of the French initiative, which Netanyahu has opposed, in addition to the initiative laid out by al-Sisi, which Netanyahu found more agreeable. A second visit by Netanyahu to Egypt may also be in the works.
“I welcome president al-Sisi’s recent offer of Egyptian leadership in efforts to advance peace with the Palestinians and a broader peace in our region, ” Netanyahu said at the beginning of their meeting.
“Today I call again on the Palestinians to follow the example of Egypt and Jordan and join us for direct negotiations. This is the only way we can address all the outstanding problems between us and turn the vision of peace, based on two states for two peoples, into a reality, ” the prime minister added.
“Today is a continuation of Egypt’s longstanding sense of responsibility towards peace for itself and all the people of the region, particularly the Palestinians and the Israeli people, who have suffered for many decadse due to the perpetuation of the conflict between them, ” Shoukry told reporters before begining discussions with Netanyahu.
President al-Sisi, the Egyptian foreign minister said, is seeking to bring the long conflict to an end.
“Such a monumental achievement would have far-reaching, dramatic and positive impact on the overall conditions in the Middle East region, ” he said. “Egypt remains ready to contribute towards achieving this goal. We greatly value the trust of both sides and the international community in our commitment to peace, stability and justice.”
The prime minister and Egyptian foreign minister also also expected to discuss the returning of debris from EgyptAir Flight 804, which crashed into the Mediterranean last May, to Egypt after it washed on the coast of Netanya, as well as any security issues the two countries share.
Spokesperson of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shoukry and Netanyahu “will be to discussing the understandings that have already been reached, they will solidify trust between Israel and the Palestinians and renew negotiations, in an effort to arrive at a comprehensive and just solution to the conflict.”
Abu Zeid added that as part this joint effort, Egypt is looking to help “establish a sovereign Palestinian state within the ’67 borders, whose capital is East Jerusalem.”
Two weeks ago, Shoukry met with Palestinian President Mahomoud Abbas in Ramallah. During their conversation, Shoukry reportedly transferred another “important, ” though secret, message from al-Sisi to Abbas regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Following al-Sisi’s call for peace last May, Netanyahu expressed a willingness to engage in peace talks with the Palestinians, Egypt and other Arab countries wishing to take part in the initiative. This attempt, however, quickly stumbled upon a serious hurdle after Egypt expressed extreme displeasure at the appointment of the hawkish Avigdor Leiberman (Yisrael Beytenu) as defense minister. In an apparent attempt to appease the Egyptians, Lieberman stated during his inauguration ceremony that “Egyptian President al-Sisi’s speech has created a real opportunity, and we must attempt to follow through on it.”
Palestinian officials estimated that al-Sisi’s influence on the Palestinian leadership coupled with his support for the initiative increase its chances of being adopted. Since Israel and Egypt share important security concerns, Israel will also find it difficult to reject the Egyptian initiative, especially after Netanyahu’s recent statement that he is willing to meet and negotiate directly with Abbas.