Netanyahu and Abbas.
(photo credit: LOIC VENANCE / AFP)
Jerusalem neither denied nor confirmed a report on Monday on the Saudi-based Al Arabiya network claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to attend a three-way summit in Cairo with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
According to the report, the idea was raised on Sunday in a meeting in Jerusalem between Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
The Prime Minister’s Office responded by saying that “whether this was discussed or not [with Shoukry], Israel always says that it is prepared for direct, bilateral negotiations without preconditions.”
Shoukry’s visit to Jerusalem came two weeks after he met in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Shoukry called Abbas on Monday to update him on the results of his discussions with Netanyahu.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair was also updated on the discussions during a meeting he held in Jerusalem with Netanyahu. Blair, who until last year was the Middle East Quartet envoy, was heavily involved in April in efforts to get Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to join the coalition, and in getting Sisi to take a public role in efforts to restart the peace process, in an attempt to give Herzog a reason to join the Netanyahu government.
Blair has shuttled between Israel and various Arab capitals in recent months looking for a formula that would re-start the diplomatic process.
“I think yesterday’s visit was extremely important and significant, and this can offer new opportunities for peace and stability in the region,” Blair said of Shoukry’s visit, before meeting Netanyahu.
Zionist Union leaders Herzog and Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, firmly denied a report on a Saudi news site Elaph on Monday that they met with Shoukry, and he pressed them to enter Netanyahu’s government.
Netanyahu still maintains in closed conversations that he has not given up efforts to persuade Herzog to join.
The Saudi report quoted knowledgeable sources saying that Shoukry told Herzog and Livni that they needed to be in the government to advance a two-state solution and to stop right-wingers from preventing Netanyahu from making diplomatic progress.
Spokesmen for both Herzog and Livni responded to the Saudi report by saying that not only had they not met with Shoukry, but they also did not speak to him by phone. A source close to Herzog said there were no longer efforts by Egypt to persuade Herzog in any way to join the government.
Herzog and his associates, however, have repeatedly denied reports about negotiations and talks with Netanyahu and his advisers and aides over the past year, which ended up being proven correct.
Netanyahu praised Shoukry at Monday’s Likud faction meeting, saying that the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel in nine years was a milestone. He said he and Shoukry spoke at length on a number of key issues for Israel and the region, including advancing peace and stability between Israel and the Palestinians, and among other countries in the region.
“His visit symbolizes the important tightening of relations between Israel and Egypt,” Netanyahu told the faction.
“This cooperation with Egypt is a security and international asset for the State of Israel.”
But Livni downplayed the importance of the visit. She told her Zionist Union faction that when she hosted then-Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in 2007, it was not even news because such meetings were a regular occurrence at the time.
“Every visit by a foreign minister is welcome, but real steps are needed for real negotiations with the Palestinians, or they will only result in pictures,” Livni said. “Advancing a peace process requires political courage, and Netanyahu has proven he doesn’t have that.”Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.
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