Egypt placed itself firmly in the middle of the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday, as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Jerusalem and said before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Egyptian leadership is “serious” in its determination to “provide all possible forms of support” toward achieving the goal of a two-state solution.
Shoukry, on a visit kept from the public until the last minute, was the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Israel since Ahmed Aboul Genit – today the secretary general of the Arab League – did so in 2007. Diplomatic officials said that this indicates a growing willingness on Egypt’s part to make public its strong relationship with Israel.
The Egyptian foreign minister met for two hours with Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office in the afternoon. Two hours later – at 8:30 – the two had a private dinner at Netanyahu’s official residence.
That 120-minute gap left sufficient time for Shoukry to consult with Cairo, and perhaps Ramallah, and for Netanyahu to confer with his top aides, sources said.
Shoukry visited Ramallah two weeks ago, and this visit to Jerusalem was seen as a follow-up.
Israeli diplomatic officials characterized the atmosphere during the first meeting as “very good.”
Among the topics believed to have been discussed was a possible meeting in Egypt between Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But this meeting, one source said, likely hinged on whether anything concrete would come out of Shoukry’s current visit, as the Egyptians will be unlikely to invite Netanyahu without knowing in advance that some diplomatic movement could be announced at the end of a visit.
“My visit to Israel comes today at a crucial and challenging juncture for the Middle East,” Shoukry said, in a statement he read before his first meeting with Netanyahu.
“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has raged on for more than half a century claiming thousands of victims, and crushing the hopes and aspirations of millions of Palestinians to establish their independent state based on the 1967 border, with east Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the aspirations of Israelis to live in peace, security and stability.”
Speaking in English, Shoukry – who was met warmly by Netanyahu at the entrance to his office – said that the situation in the Middle East is becoming more “volatile and dangerous” as terrorism continues to spread, “representing an existential threat to the peoples of the region and the world at large. No person, group or people are exempt; none are immune from this threat.”
The Egyptian foreign minister said his visit was a continuation of Egypt’s long-standing sense of responsibility toward peace for itself, and for all the peoples of the region, “particularly the Palestinians and Israelis who have suffered for generations due to the conflict between them.”
Shoukry said his visit comes, as did his visit last month to Ramallah, within the context of Sisi’s call in May for a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Such a monumental achievement will have a far reaching and dramatic and positive impact on the overall situation in the Mideast region,” he said.
Shoukry said that the goal is to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations between the parties, one that will reach an agreement based on “justice, legitimate rights and a mutual willingness to coexist peacefully in two neighboring independent states in peace and security.”
Since the breakdown of Israeli- Palestinian negotiations in April 2014, he said, the situation has been constantly deteriorating on all levels: humanitarian, economic and security.
“The plight of the Palestinian people becomes more arduous every day, and the dream of peace and security moves further out of the Israeli people’s reach as long as the conflict continues.
It is no longer acceptable to claim that the status quo is the most we can achieve of the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples,” he stated, adding that the current situation in the region is neither “stable nor sustainable.”
Netanyahu greeted his guest by saying that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty signed 37 years ago, followed by the Jordanian-Israeli accord in 1994, have been the cornerstones of stability in the region and “are critical assets for our countries.”
He once again called on the Palestinians to enter direct negotiations, saying that they should follow the “courageous example of Egypt and Jordan.
This is the only way we can address all the outstanding problems between us, and turn the vision of peace based on two states for two peoples into a reality.”
According to Israeli diplomatic officials, Netanyahu raised with Shoukry the fate of the two Israelis missing in Gaza, as well as the bodies of the two soldiers from the 2014 Operation Protective Edge being held by Hamas, and requested Egypt’s help in gaining their return. The sources said that Shoukry responded positively to the request.
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