Egypt trying to arrange Netanyahu-Abbas summit — report

Initiative to host Israeli, Palestinian leaders in Cairo follows Egyptian president’s appeal last week for renewed talks

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi listens to US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo on May 18, 2016. (Amr Nabil/Pool/AFP)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi listens to US Secretary of State John Kerry during a meeting at the presidential palace in Cairo on May 18, 2016. (Amr Nabil/Pool/AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has reportedly been working behind the scenes to piece together a diplomatic initiative to jumpstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

According to a report Tuesday in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, Egyptian diplomats have contacted their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts in a “significant” effort to arrange a Cairo meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Cairo hopes to arrange a three-way summit “in the near future,” in which Sissi would play the role of intermediary, a Palestinian official confirmed to the newspaper, adding that “no one is closing the door” on the Egyptian initiative.

In light of Egypt’s border with Gaza and close security and diplomatic ties to both Israel and the PA, Cairo’s initiative may find a more receptive ear on both sides than a parallel proposal advanced by France in recent months.

Last Tuesday, Sissi said in a televised address that he saw a “real opportunity” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, even if some Israelis don’t think peace is necessary now given the upheaval in the region. Peace would also lead to “warmer” ties between Egypt and the Jewish state, he added, pledging that Egypt would “make every effort” to promote a solution.

A deal, he said, would “give safety and stability to both sides. If this is achieved, we will enter a new phase that perhaps no one can imagine now.”

In a statement, Netanyahu welcomed Sissi’s “willingness to invest every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians,” and said Israel was ready to join Egypt and other Arab states in “advancing the peace process and stability in the region.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also welcomed Sissi’s appeal for renewed negotiations, with Israeli media reports linking it to the coalition talks between Zionist Union and Likud, which ultimately collapsed last Wednesday amid mutual recriminations.

Channel 10 even reported that Netanyahu and Herzog were planning a joint trip to Cairo if the latter joined the coalition.

Last Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry briefly visited Cairo, where Sissi’s peace overture appeared a focus.

Kerry “expressed his appreciation for the president’s recent statement of strong support for advancing Arab-Israeli peace,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. The top American diplomat credited Egypt for its “role as a regional partner,” but Toner’s statement didn’t elaborate on any specific Mideast peace effort afoot.

France’s proposal, 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. The proposal calls for a June 3 international conference that would not include Israeli or Palestinian representatives, followed by an autumn conference with the two sides in attendance.

Netanyahu has criticized the initiative as providing an excuse for Palestinian leaders to avoid direct peace talks with Israel.

“Sissi’s initiative to host Netanyahu and [Abbas]” and coax them to come to terms “makes sense,” Yedioth quoted a senior Egyptian official as saying.

“It’s important to remember that Sissi never retracted his plan to revive the peace process and the Arab Peace Initiative — even after the latest developments in Israeli politics,” the official said.

The official’s last comment appeared to refer to the expected appointment of MK Avigdor Liberman, who has threatened to reconquer the Gaza Strip and to bomb the Aswan Dam in case of war with Egypt, to the post of defense minister.

AP contributed to this report.

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