For first time since 2007, Egyptian Foreign Minister visits Israel, highlighting warming ties between two governments
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two hours in Jerusalem, prior to a dinner at Netanyahu’s official residence. Netanyahu said: “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.”
He added: “Today I call again on the Palestinians to follow the courageous 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.”
Shoukry described his visit to Jerusalem as “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”. He said that the current state of affairs “is neither stable nor sustainable” and declared that “the vision of the two-state solution is not far-fetched”. Shoukry added that a peace settlement would be “a monumental achievement” with “far-reaching, dramatic and positive impact on the overall conditions in the Middle East region”.
In addition to peace prospects, it is thought that Netanyahu raised the issue of returning the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two Israeli citizens thought to be alive, currently in the hands of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, there is also speculation that Netanyahu may be planning a trip to Egypt’s capital Cairo.
In May, al-Sisi made a surprising public plea for Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks in the context of brokering a wider regional peace. Netanyahu Shoukry’s visit highlights the positive changes taking place in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship.
Netanyahu, who told Sunday’s cabinet meeting about the previously unannounced meeting, said it was “important” for a number of reasons, including in light of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent call to move forward on the peace process both with the Palestinians and with the Arab States.
The visit comes two weeks after Shoukry made his first trip to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian leadership as Egypt has positioned itself as a central player in jump-starting peace efforts. In May, President al-Sisi made a surprising public plea for Israel and the Palestinians to renew peace talks in the context of brokering a wider regional peace. Netanyahu immediately endorsed al-Sisi’s initiative.
Although Netanyahu’s three predecessors, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, visited Egypt a number of times, Netanyahu has not yet visited Egypt since becoming prime minister in 2009. This is one topic that is expected to be on the agenda of the talks.
‘’This is one of the best times we’ve ever had” in terms of cooperation between governments, Israel’s ambassador to Egypt Haim Koren said recently. “There’s good cooperation between the armies, we have understandings about the Sinai Peninsula, and basically, we see (eye-to-eye) on development of the region.”
Israel has emerged as a discreet ally to Sissi, along with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab countries. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in Washington on March 26, 1979, the first between an Arab state and Israel. It was signed by then Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin, US President Jimmy Carter and Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat.