Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sissi said at an address Monday before the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would eliminate one of the main “pretexts” for religious radicalism and terrorism.
Much of Sissi’s address, during the UN’s annual session this year also marking 70 years of activity, was devoted to the issue of rising extremism in the Middle East.
He criticized “those who claim to have a monopoly over interpreting Islam,” without referring to the radical Islamic State organization — which is very active in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, among other places — by name. Such radical interpreters of the religion “negate the truth of Islam’s tolerance, justice, and mercy,” Sissi said.
”There is no doubt that more than 1.5 billion Muslims refuse to subscribe to the views of this small minority that claims to speak on their behalf and seeks, through violence and extremism, to marginalize and silence all who oppose it,” he added.
Egypt has been battling an insurgency in the Sinai by extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The brutal organization and its affiliates have also taken over vast parts of Libya, with which Egypt shares a border and which was also named in Sissi’s address.
Further on in his speech, Sissi said, “It is incumbent on me, as the president of Egypt, which stands at the heart of this confrontation, to forewarn of the dangers of expansion of this threat to other crises and regions, at the forefront of which is Palestine.”
One solution offered by the Egyptian president was the establishment of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders, with a capital in East Jerusalem.
“Resolving this conflict and empowering the Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination and to an independent state within the border of 4th June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, will effectively eliminate one of the most important factors contributing to the region’s instability and one of the most dangerous pretexts used to justify extremism and terrorism,” Sissi said.
His comments about the Palestinians echoed remarks he made during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.
The Egyptian leader called on Abbas to resume negotiations with Israel. In what seemed a calculated effort to win Cairo a more prominent role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Sissi, a former Egyptian Army general, told Abbas that resolving the Palestinian issue was a matter “for Arab states.”
Sissi’s words during his meeting with Abbas on Sunday were immediately seized on by the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu urges PA President Mahmoud Abbas once again to return immediately to the negotiating table to advance the diplomatic process,” a statement issued by the office said shortly after Hebrew media carried news of the Sissi-Abbas meeting.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, who has been calling for a regional peace initiative, also welcomed Sissi’s remarks.
“Sissi’s remarks prove that today we have an opportunity to advance a regional initiative with moderate Arab states,” he said. “This sort of accord would allow us to forge an axis of moderate states against Iran and against growing terror in the Middle East, and will uphold Israel’s security interests and its existence as a Jewish state.”