Egypt’s new ambassador to Israel hailed bilateral relations Thursday, expressing hope that the two countries’ “constructive” relationship would bring peace to the region.
Hazem Khairat handed his diplomatic credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, officially becoming Cairo’s first senior emissary to the Israel since 2012. The Egyptian embassy is in Tel Aviv.
“He told me that he is very happy and very proud to be in Israel and that he hopes that his presence here will bring about a situation in which the friendship between the Jewish people and the Arab people in general, and between the countries of the region, will be such that we can live in peace,” Rivlin told reporters after Khairat left the President’s Residence.
Khairat, whose appointment was warmly received in Jerusalem when it was announced in June, watched the Egyptian flag being raised and the Egyptian national anthem played as he arrived and then handed his letter of credence to Rivlin. Before he exited the residence, he listened to the Israeli national anthem, impassively, standing next to Rivlin.
In unusual fashion, the conversation between the president and the new envoy, and a toast raised to hail bilateral ties, was conducted behind closed doors. The formal part of the ceremony itself was open.
“They wanted to close (that part of) the event,” Rivlin later explained, referring to the Egyptians.
“We must take responsibility for the benefit of those who live in this region, and to bring prosperity, justice, hope and equality,” Khairat told Rivlin, according to a statement from the president’s office.
Rivlin quoted an Arabic expression calling Egypt the “Mother of the World” and emphasized the important role the country plays in regional politics. “We live together in a difficult region. We have found a way to live together in peace and friendship. This is a message to the whole region, and the whole world,” the president said, according to the statement.
“I was in Egypt during times of war, and I was in Egypt during peace. The peace agreement between our countries is an international treaty and it is for both of us a top priority. We may not agree on everything, but we respect each other and because of this we will build a shared future,” Rivlin said.
Rivlin wished the new ambassador success and added, “I really hope that you and your family will feel at home here.”
Before leaving the President’s Residence, the incoming ambassador wrote the following statement in the guestbook: “I presented today my letter of credence to his honor President Rivlin. We spoke in a constructive atmosphere regarding the urgent matters and agreed to work together to reach a comprehensive and just peace in the region.”
“What can be better than what he wrote?” Rivlin exclaimed after a translation of the text was read to him.
On January 3, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Khairat’s arrival in Israel. “I welcome the re-stationing of an Egyptian ambassador to Israel, which will enable us to further strengthen relations with this important and central Arab country,” he said.
Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in Tel Aviv in October 2012. The entire ceremony at which he presented his credentials was conducted openly.
Salem was recalled soon after in the wake of an Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense.
Khairat’s last two postings were as Egypt’s permanent representative to the Arab League, and then as ambassador to Chile.
“It’s something that has been, that is deeply welcomed in Israel and I think it’s very good for cementing the peace that exists between Egypt and Israel,” he said at the time.
In September 2014, Israel’s new ambassador to Egypt, Haim Koren, presented his credentials to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at his palace in Cairo.
Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since Sissi took power.
The Israeli Embassy in Cairo was ransacked by an angry mob in September 2011. Some embassy staff returned to Cairo in 2012 and began working from an unofficial location.
In the unrest that followed the ouster of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo. However, it has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm. In September 2015, Israel reopened its embassy in Egypt after four years during which it was shut.
“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, we succeeded in driving away the threats, and we’re working together for the sake of stability and prosperity in the Middle East,” Foreign Ministry Director Dore Gold said at the time. “Egypt will always be the largest and most important state in our region; it is no wonder that the Arab world calls it ‘Umm al-Dunya’ — mother of the world.”