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Egypt FM's visit to Israel could revive long-dead peace talks

Ahmed Eleiba , Monday 11 Jul 2016
Netanyahu and Shoukry
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, left, in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 10, 2016. (AP)
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After being shelved for years, the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are expected to start again, this time with unprecedented Egyptian and Arab support, with developments in the region bringing the Arab initiative back into the light and indicating that Israel is bolstering relations in the Middle East and Africa.

After almost two weeks since his visit to Ramallah, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry headed to Israel where he met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to hold preliminary talks for a new peace process.  

Amid regional and international interest in the visit, which was not previously announced by either side, Israel clearly expressed its welcoming of Egypt’s first visit in nine years and the first since President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi came to power in 2014.  

“Our current foreign policy is successful, but to be more successful [Egypt] needs to move [quickly] with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and now it is time to move,” the head of the Israeli Studies Department at the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs at Ahram, Mohamed Ibrahim, said to Ahram Online.

There is a need for Egypt to move quickly towards the peace process now that Egypt’s relations with Israel are being revived and El-Sisi’s vision on the issue is being materialised, Ibrahim said, pointing out that Israel has become a main player in regional issues.

Israel is developing strong diplomatic ties once more in both the Middle East and Africa, with Tel Aviv re-establishing its ties with Turkey after six years of tense relations.

For the past three years Egypt's relations with Turkey have also been tense, with both diplomatic and economic relations widely affected.

While Turkey tries to find itself a new role in the Palestinian Israeli negotiations, Egypt, according to observers, needs to maintain its historical role as the main, if not only, mediator between Israel and Palestinian factions, including Hamas, which currently controls Gaza.

Israeli media announced that there are ongoing efforts for a meeting between El-Sisi and Netanyahu to take place. Sources in Cairo have not confirmed or denied that this was the prime reason for the current visit, though some are speculating that meeting might happen before the end of the year.

Sources also said that there are currently arrangements for a visit to Egypt by both the Palestinians and the Israelis to reopen the peace talks.  

Netanyahu reportedly welcomed Shoukry with a strong show of hospitality, reminiscent of what El-Sisi had earlier said about the possibility of a “warm peace” with Israel if it shows seriousness regarding the peace process.  

Analyst Jack Khoury commented on the visit in a phone interview with Ahram Online, saying that “Israel, from its side, is seeking to benefit as much as possible from the visit, and there have been attempts from the head of government’s office and its media office to highlight the visit through photos, especially photos that show friendliness between the two."

The Palestinians, on the other hand, according to Khoury, are concerned by the visit. There are speculations the Egyptians and Israelis will circumvent the French peace initiative and abort it.

‎“In fact, the French initiative has failed to materialise and this is something many on ‎the Palestinian side realise,” Mohamed Gomaa, researcher of Palestinian Affairs at the ‎Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, told Ahram Online.‎

France held an international conference in June, where neither Israelis nor ‎Palestinians were invited, that aimed to reinitiate peace talks and lay the groundwork ‎for a full-fledged peace conference to be held by the end of the year

Palestinians have welcomed the French initiative but Israeli officials have said that an ‎international conference would not work, and that only direct talks between the two ‎sides can bring peace.

“What Egypt is trying to clearly do right now is crystallise a new Arab initiative to ‎resume the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and this initiative ‎could be articulated in the coming Arab Summit in Mauritania,” Gomaa adds. ‎

Media reports have pointed out that Shukry, during his visit to Tel Aviv, renewed ‎Egypt’s El-Sisi’s offer to host direct talks between the Palestinian and Israeli ‎leaderships in Cairo.

Some reports went as far as talking about a tripartite summit, ‎which would also be attended by senior officials from both Jordan and Egypt. ‎Egyptian diplomatic sources told Ahram Online that even though Shoukry sounded ‎hopeful, “it is too early to tell whether this would happen.”

The Palestinian side is also disturbed by the timing of the visit as it coincides with the day that the Israeli government ratified the building of new settlements, and accordingly Netanyahu does not deserve such a “prize.”

There are those who talk of another dimension to the visit, Kourhy said.

“There is the Ethiopian dam and Israel’s relation to several African countries and Israel’s influence in Africa and how that can impact Egypt… there is also the issue of Turkey and the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation and its repercussions and that of energy, which is also important as the visit included the participation of Israeli energy minister Yuval Steinitz.”

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