Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reportedly expressed willingness to visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo for talks hosted by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
The Prime Minister’s Office would neither confirm nor deny the report by Saudi-owned, pan-Arab news outlet Al-Arabiya.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that “whether the issue was discussed or not, Israel has always said it is prepared to conduct direct bilateral negotiations with no preconditions.”
The reported Egyptian proposition to host tripartite talks followed Sunday’s two high-profile meetings between Netanyahu and Shoukry in Jerusalem.
As part of Cairo’s initiative to kickstart moribund peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, Sissi reportedly offered to host direct talks the two sides.
The tripartite summit, which would also be attended by senior officials from Jordan and Egypt, would seek to engage in confidence-building measures in an effort to calm the 10-month surge in violence in the West Bank, Palestinian officials told both the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper and Israel’s Haaretz daily.
The reports come on the heels of Sunday’s rare visit to Israel by Shoukry, who met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem in an effort to further Sissi’s bid for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, among other issues.
Shoukry’s visit to Israel was the first by an Egyptian foreign minister since 2007. Recently, Israel has emerged as a discreet ally of Sissi, who has positioned himself as a central player in jump-starting the stalemated peace process.
The Shoukry visit came amid chatter over the renewal of an Arab peace initiative and as Israel’s military recently saluted “unprecedented” intelligence cooperation with Egypt to combat the Islamic State group.
Speaking to journalists alongside Netanyahu before their meeting on Sunday, Shoukry said this was a “crucial and challenging juncture for the Middle East.” Cairo, he added, is dedicated to “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, stressing 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 Abbas in the West Bank last month, urged leaders from both sides to resume negotiations.
According to Israel’s Channel 2 television, Shoukry’s surprise visit was also aimed at arranging a first meeting between Netanyahu and Sissi in Egypt in the coming months.
The TV report said Shoukry’s first visit to Israel 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 initiative in its current form, but said in late May that it “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.