Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Cairo Thursday ahead of a Friday meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a move which Israeli officials reportedly view as a response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s addition of the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party to his ruling coalition instead of the dovish Zionist Union.
Sissi has reportedly been working behind the scenes in recent weeks to piece together a diplomatic initiative to jumpstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. On May 17, the Egyptian leader delivered a televised speech that included a rare direct appeal to Palestinians and Israelis, urging the two sides to draw hope from the “real and stable peace” between Israel and Egypt, and promising Israelis that peace with the Palestinians would improve their ties with Egypt and other Arab nations.
According to Israeli media reports over the past two weeks, the push by Egypt was linked to negotiations earlier this month to create a unity government between the Likud party and the Zionist Union. The unity talks collapsed last week amid mutual recriminations, and Netanyahu opted to bring Yisrael Beytenu into the government instead.
A Thursday report on Israel’s Channel 2 cited sources in Jerusalem who said Abbas’s Friday meeting with Sissi is aimed at tilting the Egyptian peace initiative in the Palestinians’ favor. Sissi asked Abbas to bring a list of the Palestinian demands, and, the report claimed, said Egypt would back them.
The claims could not be confirmed late Thursday.
Egyptian officials have denied the existence of Sissi’s new peace push, while both Israeli and Palestinian diplomatic sources have confirmed it.
A Palestinian official told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper earlier this week that Cairo hopes to arrange a three-way summit “in the near future,” in which Sissi would play the role of intermediary between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. “No one is closing the door” on the Egyptian initiative, the Palestinian official added.
Earlier this week, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Cairo, Jamal al-Shoubaki, said the Egyptian bid did not conflict with recent French efforts to convene an international summit in Paris set for June 3 to help jumpstart peace talks.
Netanyahu has welcomed Sissi’s initial comments on peace, saying Israel expressed “willingness to invest every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.” Israel was ready to join Egypt and other Arab states in “advancing the peace process and stability in the region,” he added.
On Monday, a delegation of senior Israeli diplomats arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials. And on Tuesday, former UK prime minister Tony Blair said in London that Sunni Muslim countries are ready to normalize ties with Israel should Israel negotiate a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.
First proposed in 2002 and reaffirmed in recent years, that initiative calls for full normalization between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Golan Heights.
France’s plan, the subject of discussion Monday during a meeting in Jerusalem between French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Netanyahu, has been rejected out of hand by Israel. Netanyahu has criticized the initiative as providing an excuse for Palestinian leaders to avoid direct talks with Israel.