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Egypt said conditioning a Netanyahu visit on gesture toward 2-state solution

Cairo reportedly prepared to host PM before elections, but plans snagging on demand he show goodwill toward Palestinians

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (right) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2018. (Avi Ohayon / PMO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (right) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 27, 2018. (Avi Ohayon / PMO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly wants to fit an official visit to Egypt in to his schedule ahead of the approaching March 23 elections.

According to a Wednesday report by the Walla news site, though the Egyptians like the idea as a way to boost ties with the US, they have conditioned the trip on Netanyahu making a gesture toward the two-state solution in the conflict with the Palestinians.

Citing two unnamed sources familiar with the developments, the report said that a trip has been in the works for months, ever since last September, when the Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were signed in Washington. A visit was scheduled to go ahead a month ago, but after the Knesset dissolved at the end of December, triggering fresh elections, the Egyptians put the idea on hold.

When contacts were resumed, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi made his demand that Netanyahu issue a declaration about Palestinian statehood before the visit or during the visit, or make some other practical gesture on the ground to aid the Palestinians.

However, Netanyahu has reportedly balked at taking any such action in the run-up to the elections, in which he will aim to win support from right-wing voters who are generally opposed to the idea of a Palestinian state.

The report said the issue was raised against during a visit to Israel last week by the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, who earlier in the month had met with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Kamel reiterated Sissi’s demands to Israeli officials, according to the report.

However, sources close to Netanyahu denied to Walla that Egypt has laid down any such conditions or that the subject was raised during meetings with Kamel.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Trump’s Middle East peace plan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on January 28, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

Egypt sees a visit by Netanyahu as a way to get off to a good start with the new administration in Washington while also repositioning itself as a key player in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report said.

The Trump administration peace plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was seen as diverging from the two-state solution in that it granted Israel the right to annex sections of the West Bank where it maintains settlements, along with the strategic Jordan Valley.

Though the plan was embraced by Israel, it was rejected by the Palestinians, who want the entire West Bank, including the Jordan Valley region and East Jerusalem, for a future state.

US President Joe Biden has said he will make human rights issues a central plank of his administration’s foreign policy, leading to concerns in Cairo that ties might not be as tight as they were during the Trump administration, the report said.

Netanyahu’s last public visit to Egypt was a decade ago when Hosni Mubarak was still in power. Since then, he has made several covert visits to the country, according to the report.

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