CAIRO — Egypt’s former army chief and leading presidential candidate Abdel Fattah el-Sissi suggested on Tuesday he would not receive an Israeli prime minister absent concessions to Palestinians in peace talks.
The retired field marshal, who toppled elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, is expected to sweep the May 26-27 election. His only rival is leftist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi.
“Let them just make us happy by giving something for the Palestinians,” he said in a television interview, when asked if he would receive an Israeli prime minister or visit the neighboring country if elected.
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, in 1979, but ties remained formally cold over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
Sissi suggested Israel should agree first to a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital.
US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed last month, with both sides blaming each other for the failure.
The Egyptian military is engaged in a counter insurgency campaign against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula near Israel’s border who have killed hundreds of security personal, and also attacked Israel.
Israel has also voiced support for a crackdown by Egypt on smuggling tunnels linking Sinai with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas militant movement.
Hamas has been banned in Egypt and its militants are accused of involvement in attacks and prison breaks in the country during the 2011 uprising against veteran strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Scores of its alleged militants are standing trial, in absentia, with the now detained Morsi on related charges.
Sissi said the military’s campaign had destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels to Gaza and dried up Hamas’s profits from the contraband.
But he refused to say whether Hamas “opposed” Egypt.
“I want to tell Egyptians: don’t let the situation and feelings against Hamas affect your historic position on the Palestinian cause,” he said.
Egypt controls the only border crossing with Gaza that bypasses Israel, opening intermittently for “humanitarian” cases.
Israel blockaded the strip in 2006, after Hamas militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier.