Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an unusual impromptu appeal on Tuesday to both Israelis and Palestinians to take historic steps for peace, just as his country had done in 1979.
“If by our combined efforts and real desire, we can all achieve a solution to this problem and find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis, history will write a new page that will be no less and might even be more of an achievement than the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel forty years ago,” Sisi said during a speech in the southern city of Assiut.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded immediately that he is open to working with Egypt and other Arab nations to advance a diplomatic process to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I welcome Egyptian President Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us, the Palestinians and the peoples of the region,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue,” Netanyahu added.
Sisi’s remarks come amid a push by France to jump-start the peace process, which has been frozen since April 2014.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has spoken with opposition leader Issac Herzog (Labor) about joining his Likud-led coalition.
Channel 10 speculated that if Labor entered the coalition, Netanyahu and Herzog might even travel to Cairo to meet with Sisi.
The Egyptian president urged all political factions both in Israel and the Palestinian territories to put aside their differences so they could strengthen the peace process.
“I ask Israeli factions and the Israeli leadership to please agree on finding a solution to the crisis, and this should be in return for nothing but good for the current, future generations and children,” Sisi said.
Should such a solution be found, he said, “I can guarantee, and we can all guarantee peace and security for both sides.”
Sisi added: “I say to our Palestinian brothers, you must unite the different factions – and I won’t add anything else to this point – in order to achieve reconciliation and quickly.”
Sisi called on the Israeli media to broadcast his speech. He said that he spoke in the hope of a two-state solution, rather than as a bid for Egypt to lead the process.
There are many peace processes that Israelis and Palestinians could chose to adhere to in order to end the conflict, Sisi said.
“There is currently an Arab initiative, a French initiative, there are American efforts and there is the Quartet that are all working toward a solution to this issue. In Egypt, we do not intend on playing a leading role or to be leaders of this issue, but we are prepared to exert all efforts that will contribute to finding a solution to this problem,” Sisi said.
He noted that he had spoken of the matter just a few days ago when he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo. Abbas has welcomed the French initiative and any internationalized process, but has refused to hold direct talks with Israel outside of such frameworks. He has insisted that before negotiations can resume, Israel must halt settlement activity, including Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
He has also insisted that Israel must agree to a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.
Netanyahu in turn has called for direct talks with out preconditions and has opposed the French initiative, which he warned proscribed a solution and gave the Palestinians an excuse to return to the negotiating table.
In Ramallah, Abbas called on Netanyahu to hold such talks under the auspices of the French initiative.
“Let’s leave everything in the past and let’s meet,” the Palestinian leader said as he met with a group of visiting Meretz politicians.
“When two sides are invited to a meeting, one cannot present preconditions,” the Palestinian leader said.
“It’s the international community that should determine what is right and what isn’t.”
When asked by The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew-language sister publication, Ma’ariv, why he refuses the Israeli demand to explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas refused to comment.
Abbas was also asked if he has lost faith in Netanyahu and his sincerity in negotiating peace.
“Ever since we started negotiating with the Israelis, we’ve been talking to every prime minister,” the Palestinian leader said. “I can’t say whether I believe him or not, or whether I’ve lost faith in him.”
Abbas criticized Netanyahu and his government for the continued expansion of Israeli settlements.
“The Israeli government is building settlements on Palestinian land,” the PA chief said. “We will not agree to a situation whereby a new settlement and a new checkpoint are cropping up all the time.”
“The entire world is against settlements,” he said. “This is the position taken by the Americans and the Europeans.
There have been 12 Security Council resolutions against settlements.
Abbas then made a direct appeal to Netanyahu.
“When the whip is over my head, you can’t tell me to stop,” Abbas said.
“You have to stop. You say that there is no partner for negotiations and that your hand is outstretched for talks. You want to pick someone else [with whom to negotiate]? The Israelis picked you and the Palestinians picked me. I’m a ‘diplomatic terrorist,’ as [former foreign minister Avigdor] Liberman put it. Besides that, there’s nothing you can say about me.”
“Put it all to the side and let’s negotiate,” Abbas said. “We aren’t far apart [physically] and we cooperate on a daily basis. Don’t push us to the wall.
We will all lose.”
With regard to the French initiative Abbas said: “The French plan is a good one since we want the international community to take responsibility for this endless conflict. We want the whole word by our side. We are one of the last remaining nations that suffer under military occupation.
How much longer will this go on? How much longer will the world permit one people to control another?” Abbas claimed that if Netanyahu refuses to go along with the French initiative, the Islamic State will gain a foothold in the region. A similar sentiment was echoed by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during his brief trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Sunday morning.
“If there won’t be peace here, the extremists will take over everywhere,” Abbas said. “We are against terrorism and violence and we don’t want them here or in Europe, but if we don’t hurry up [and make peace], all of the extremism in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq will also arrive in Israel.”
When asked about incitement in official Palestinian media and government- issued textbooks, Abbas said: “Yes, there is incitement in our textbooks and on television. Let’s solve the problem and revive the incitement commission that was agreed upon [between Israel and the Palestinian Authority 16 years ago].”
“The commission [which is chaired by the US] will determine what needs to be corrected,” Abbas said.
He spoke hours after France announced that it would delay the May 30 launch of its Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative until some time this summer to allow for the US to attend.
It had intended to hold a ministerial meeting at the end of the month with representatives from some 20 countries – not including the Israelis and Palestinians – to lay the groundwork for a larger international peace conference in the fall.
The US, which has led all past Israeli- Palestinian peace processes, has yet to formally state a position on the matter.
It had initially informed France that it could not attend for scheduling reasons.
During a brief visit to Israel on Sunday French Foreign Minister Jean Marc Ayrault said that his government would be happy to reschedule the event to accommodate US Secretary of State John Kerry.
On Tuesday French President Francois Hollande announced the delay on the radio in France, stating: “US Secretary of State John Kerry cannot come, so it [the May 30 ministerial meeting] has been delayed. It will take place in the summer.”
On Monday US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that the matter was still under discussion.
“We remain interested in – as the secretary said, in advancing a twostate solution and to listening to ideas on how to do that. We’ve made it clear that the May 30 date originally proposed by the French would not work for the secretary and for his schedule, but there has been no decision made yet about an alternative date that might work for his possible attendance.”
Reuters contributed to this report.