Rivlin pushing for visit by speaker of Egypt's parliament

Visit would be first by elected Egyptian official since Sadat.

Rivlin 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
Rivlin 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin is working intensively to bring about a visit by the speaker of the Egyptian People's Assembly, Ahmed Fathi Sorour, sources close to Rivlin told The Jerusalem Post. "The day is coming when [former president Anwar] Sadat won't be the only Egyptian elected official to visit Israel," hinted Rivlin Sunday. "We don't need to dream about such a visit, but rather simply understand that it is dependent on the president of Egypt." Sorour is considered a key supporter of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has never followed in his predecessor's footsteps, and Sorour would be one of the highest-ranking Egyptians ever to visit Jerusalem. Mubarak's refusal to make a state visit to Israel has been a point of contention in the past. Last year, now-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened relations with Egypt when he announced that "if Mubarak wants to talk to us, he should come here; if he doesn't want to come here, he can go to hell." In the months following that comment - for which the Olmert administration scrambled to apologize before the response reached crisis proportions - Egyptian-Israeli relations have weathered Operation Cast Lead and witnessed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent trip to Cairo. Sources close to Rivlin emphasized, however, that the attempt to arrange a visit by Sorour was meant to stand on its own as a significant step rather than pave the way for a visit by the Egyptian president. In the coming days, Rivlin will meet with Egypt's ambassador to Israel, Muhammad Assem Ibrahim, with whom Rivlin has a long-standing relationship. "The Knesset has warm relations - even better than just formal - with the embassy," said Rivlin, adding that the embassy holds monthly meetings with MKs from a wide range of Knesset factions. Rivlin described those meetings - in which he has participated for years - as "an exchange of knowledge," and emphasized that in the course of the official meetings, he and Ibrahim had developed a close personal relationship. "Of course there are still differences of opinion," said Rivlin, a self-avowed Jabotinskyite, but added that "more and more MKs see that there are common interests between Israel and Egypt, such as the common struggle against Muslim fundamentalism and state-sponsored terror groups." Rivlin and Sorour initially met when Rivlin traveled to Cairo in 2005 to participate in the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly as part of the EU-sponsored Barcelona Process. At the time, the EU demanded that Egypt host all member states, including Israel. "I was received in Egypt with open arms," recalled Rivlin. Since then, he and Sorour have maintained an active correspondence. In advance of the Durban II conference in Geneva, Rivlin sent a general letter to his colleagues throughout the world, including to Sorour, asking them to join him in condemning Holocaust denial. The Knesset speaker said he had been surprised to receive a letter in return from Sorour, as he had not expected that the Egyptians would respond ahead of the politically charged event. "The letter was a bit ambivalent. On one hand he condemned Holocaust denial, but on the other hand said that 'millions of Palestinians' had been 'killed by hatred,'" said Rivlin. Unabashed, the Knesset speaker penned a response in which he "emphasized that there was no similarity between the cases," arguing that "in the case of the Palestinians, we are in a conflict with terror groups who are targeting civilians." Nonetheless, Rivlin views these missives as a positive sign. "Argument creates dialogue, and it means that you actually care about convincing the other side. If you don't care about them and don't want relations, then you can simply criticize and condemn. But this is argument, where we each present our points."