Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said Israel is ready to engage with Arab states to advance a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu “welcomed” remarks by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who said in a live televised statement earlier in the day that he saw a “real opportunity” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement that would also lead to warmer ties between Egypt and the Jewish state.
“Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “I appreciate President el-Sissi’s work and am encouraged by the leadership he has shown on this important issue.”
In a rare direct appeal to Palestinians and Israelis, Sissi had urged the two peoples to draw hope from the “real and stable peace” between Israel and Egypt.
“There is an Arab initiative, there is currently a French initiative, and there are American efforts” to broker an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, he said.
His speech came hours after Paris announced that a Middle East peace conference initially slated to take place in the coming weeks would be postponed to ensure the US would be able to attend.
France has made clear that despite the postponement, it plans to push ahead with the initiative to revive the moribund peace process.
Expressing support for the French proposal, Sissi added that Egypt is prepared to “make every effort” to contribute to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.
The Egyptian leader urged Israeli parties and leaders to “please, reach an agreement so a solution can be found” and called for “a real reconciliation, and quickly” between Palestinian factions, offering Cairo’s full support.
“If we are able to — all of us together — with effort and a real will and devotion, find a solution for this issue, and find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, I am telling you a new page will be written,” he said.
Sissi said that Israelis and Palestinians need look no further than the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty to see the positive outcome of peacemaking. He said the level of animosity between Egypt and Israel that had existed prior to the conclusion of the landmark accord was no different from how the Palestinians and Israelis feel now.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel.
“Maybe some people can say this peace is not warm,” Sissi said. “I tell them a warmer peace will be achieved if we were able to resolve the issues of our Palestinian brothers.”
The French summit, which is set to include representatives from 20 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, was due to take place on May 30 but was postponed by France so that US Secretary of State John Kerry would be able to attend.
“Kerry cannot come on May 30 so it has been delayed. It will take place in the summer,” French President Francois Hollande told French radio Tuesday.
The State Department said Monday that Kerry would be unavailable on the day of the conference, which falls on Memorial Day, but that the United States and France are looking into a possible alternative date for the ministerial discussions.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that a new date at the beginning of June “will be set soon.”
While the Palestinian Authority welcomed the summit in a press release on its official website, Hamas has said the announcement of its postponement was further proof of the failure of the peace process, which the group officially rejects.
Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who has been in talks with Netanyahu to bring his Labor Party into the coalition, lauded Sissi’s speech, saying it showed peace is possible.
“I welcome the announcement,” he said, “This is a dramatic announcement that shows the possibility of a historic process. It is our duty to examine it seriously; otherwise we will find ourselves doing so after the next funeral. It is vital to listen to the Egyptian president and take a serious and responsible look at this opportunity.