Amid speculation over a developing Egyptian bid to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said late Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to host Israeli and Palestinian leaders for direct talks.
In a briefing with newspaper editors in Cairo, Sissi said Israel is increasingly convinced of the need for achieving peace with the Palestinians, according to media reports in Israel and Egypt.
No peace process could be successful, he told the journalists, without reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
He also said Israeli-Palestinian peace, which could enable further burgeoning of Israeli-Arab alliances generally, is the key to regional stability, a sentiment that echoed comments heard in recent months from Jordan’s King Abdullah and other Sunni Arab leaders.
Sissi’s comments follow meetings earlier Sunday between an Israeli delegation in Cairo and Egyptian officials on the Egyptian president’s proposal to revive the peace process.
Israeli officials were scheduled to meet their Egyptian counterparts on Palestinian peace talks, as well as other matters related to the two countries, the Germany news agency DPA reported.
The talks were said to last several hours, according to the report by the Germany agency.
Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly informed Egypt he is no longer opposed to participating in a regional or international peace summit in Cairo.
According to a report on Israel Radio on Friday, the Palestinian leader told an Egyptian delegation in Ramallah that he was willing to attend such a conference, but stressed that the Egyptian peace push would not replace the French initiative to revive talks, which the Palestinians have favored but Israel has strongly opposes.
The PA president also reportedly asked that France, Russia and Switzerland attend the summit.
Abbas urged Egypt to press Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction and release Palestinian prisoners ahead of a meeting between the two leaders in Egypt, the report said, but Cairo’s position on the proposed preconditions was not immediately clear.
In July, Palestinian leaders presented several preconditions for participating in a trilateral Israeli-Egyptian-Palestinian peace summit in Cairo, including a freeze on Israeli settlement construction, a Palestinian official told The Times of Israel. Abbas also demanded that Israel acquiesce to negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines and pledge ahead of time to implement any agreements reached in the talks.
Netanyahu in July reportedly told Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry — on a rare visit to Jerusalem — he would be willing to meet with Abbas in Cairo for talks hosted by Sissi. The Prime Minister’s Office did not deny the report by the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab news outlet Al-Arabiya. It said in a statement that “whether the issue was discussed or not, Israel has always said it is prepared to conduct direct bilateral negotiations with no preconditions.”
Sissi reportedly offered to host direct talks between the sides as part of Cairo’s initiative to kick-start the moribund peace process.
Shoukry’s visit to Israel was the first by an Egyptian foreign minister since 2007. The visit came amid speculation over the renewal of an Arab peace initiative and as Israel’s military recently saluted “unprecedented” intelligence cooperation with Egypt to combat the Islamic State group.
According to Israel’s Channel 2 television, Shoukry’s surprise visit was also aimed at arranging a first meeting between Netanyahu and Sissi in Egypt in the coming months.
The TV report said Shoukry’s first visit to Israel was coordinated between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose Arab Peace Initiative is backed by Sissi and much of the Arab world as the basis of any regional peace effort. Netanyahu has rejected the initiative in its current form, but said in late May that it “contains positive elements that could help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.