Israel and Egypt are working “feverishly” to arrange a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt, a TV report said, as Sissi’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held talks with Netanyahu in Israel on Sunday night.
The goal of the visit would be to coordinate a regional peace effort, Channel 2 News said. Israel Radio reported earlier Sunday on efforts to arrange a Netanyahu-Sissi meeting, but there was no official confirmation.
The summit could be held in Cairo or Sharm -e-Sheikh, the TV report said.
Netanyahu has not met with Sissi since the Egyptian president took power in 2014. They speak frequently by phone, however.
Israel is hoping the trip can be arranged by the end of the year, the TV report added, both to offset any pressure surrounding the French effort to convene an international summit, and to reduce the likelihood of President Barack Obama attempting to initiate any new peace bid in the final weeks of his presidency.
The report said Sunday’s surprise visit to Israel by Shoukry was coordinated between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose Arab Peace Initiative is backed by Sissi and much of the Arab world and would form the basis of any regional peace effort. Netanyahu has rejected the Arab Peace Initiative in its current form but said in late May that it “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Shoukry, on his Israel visit, was also reportedly seeking Israeli assurances that the new reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey would not undermine cooperation between Israel and Egypt on natural gas exports, or on the joint effort to weaken Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules Gaza and is supported by Turkey.
Shoukry’s was the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel since 2007.
Speaking to journalists alongside Netanyahu before their meeting, Shoukry said it was a “crucial and challenging juncture for the Middle East.” He added that Cairo was dedicated to “establishing a just and comprehensive peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people.”
“The goal we aim to achieve through negotiations between the two parties is one that is based on justice, legitimate rights and mutual willingness to coexist peacefully in two neighboring independent states in peace and security,” he said.
“Egypt remains ready to assist in achieving this goal,” he said, adding that “such a momentous achievement will have a far-reaching, dramatic and positive impact on the overall conditions in the Middle East. The current state of affairs is, unfortunately, neither stable nor sustainable.”
Shoukry, who visited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank last month, on Sunday urged leaders from both sides to resume negotiations.
Netanyahu, for his part, welcomed Shoukry to Israel, saying the 1979 peace deal between Jerusalem and Cairo was “the cornerstone of regional stability.” He also hailed Sissi’s “recent offer of Egyptian leadership and efforts to advance peace with the Palestinians and a broader peace in our region,” and urged the Palestinians “to follow the courageous example of Egypt and Jordan and join us for direct negotiations.”