The visit here of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry during these troubled times in the Middle East is encouraging, the third significant step taking by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toward thawing the cold peace.
The first was returning an Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv six months ago, and the second was his speech in May, in which he declared his desire to assist Israel and the PA in reaching a peace agreement.
Visits by Egyptian foreign ministers to Israel are few and far between. In the past, a succession of Israeli foreign ministers and indeed Israeli heads of state made the trip to Cairo for consultations with their Egyptian counterparts. But Shoukry’s visit also speaks to the improved security cooperation between the two countries, especially in the field of intelligence.
Sisi would like to extend that cooperation to sectors which sorely need it, such as economy, science, hi-tech and agriculture.
However he is proceeding cautiously in order not to stir the anger of the old elites of his country – essentially the Islamic establishment on one hand, and the nationalist circles still faithful to Nasserist pan-Arab ideology – who after 37 years of peace have not forgotten their hatred of the Jewish State.
In order to develop relations with Israel, the Egyptian president is taking a circuitous route by tackling the Palestinian issue.
After all, Sadat and Mubarak had already invested considerable efforts in the matter.
There is no doubt that by sending his foreign affairs minister, Sisi is flexing his muscle and showing that he is fully in charge after two years in power.
The visit is intended to show the world – and especially the Arab world – that Egypt is reclaiming its leading position in the Middle East. The country is now relatively stable: economic growth in 2015 was 4.2 percent, and similar numbers are expected for the current year.
This economic progress is not enough for a country of 91 million inhabitants, where too many live under the poverty line, and where the economy suffered for five catastrophic years followed the fall of Mubarak.
Sisi can also boast of his relative success in fighting Islamic terrorism in the north of the Sinai Peninsula.
More than 1,000 terrorists have been killed, but the battle is not yet over.
Shoukry has stated that it is both imperative and possible to achieve a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and that it would be a game changer for the region – something that world and local leaders are apt to say on various occasions.
Unfortunately, they are all well aware that such an agreement would not deflect Jihadi organizations from their goal, which is to impose a caliphate first on the Middle East and then on the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, the fact that a country of the stature of Egypt is ready to throw its weight behind finding a solution cannot be ignored by Israel and the Palestinians.
Can the abyss between their respective positions be bridged? That would require serious work.
Shoukry was at pains to underline that he was not bringing a specific proposal, and he mentioned the French initiative which Israel rejects.
His visit also testifies to the resurgence of the pragmatic alliance comprised of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Jordan to fight Islamic terrorism and Iranian subversive attempts.
Turkey is also changing tack, and is seeking to make peace with Israel and with Russia. Can Jerusalem help Ankara to restore good relations with Cairo? It is doubtful. Can Cairo’s efforts bring Israelis and Palestinians closer? Time will tell.
But Shoukry’s visit is a hopeful sign. If the cold peace thaws further, it will be a significant achievement.
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