Egypt wants to host direct Israel-PA talks

Following Egyptian Foreign Minister's visit to Israel, officials say Egypt wants to host direct talks between Israel and the PA in Cairo.

Ben Ariel ,

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry
Haim Zach/GPO

Egypt wants to host direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in Cairo with the participation of senior Egyptian and Jordanian officials, officials told Haaretz late Sunday, following the visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Israel.

The goal of the talks will be to develop a package of confidence-building measures that would lead to calm in Judea and Samaria and improve the atmosphere between the parties, Western diplomats and senior Palestinians close to the matter told the newspaper.

Shoukry's visit was the first visit of an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel in nine years. The last visit, in July 2007, was by then-Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, who came to Jerusalem with his Jordanian counterpart to discuss the Arab peace initiative with then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni and then­­-prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Shoukry landed Sunday afternoon in Israel and headed for a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem. The two met in a larger forum for about 90 minutes and later met again in a more limited group for dinner at the prime minister’s official residence.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu’s special emissary Attorney Yitzhak Molho coordinated the Egyptian foreign minister’s visit. Over the past few months Molho went to Cairo almost every week to discuss the visit with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the newsppaper said.

Two weeks ago Shoukry visited Ramallah and met with PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and with the secretary general of Fatah, Saeb Erekat. According to Western diplomats and senior Palestinians quoted by Haaretz, that meeting was the first time the idea came up of establishing a working group consisting of Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan, that would formulate confidence-building measures.

The idea, which was brought up by the Palestinians, was accepted by the Egyptians, who said they would bring it up to Netanyahu.

For Israel, such a working group could lead to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Shoukry hinted at an Egyptian proposal in statements to the media before the meeting with Netanyahu, noting that his visit was intended to complete talks he had in Ramallah and to bring the parties to a point where they would take serious steps to implement previous agreements and understandings and to apply the two-state solution.

“Achieving the vision of the two-state solution requires steps for building confidence, as well as a genuine will that does not waver away under any circumstances,” Shoukry told Netanyahu at the beginning of the meeting, adding that Egypt was committed to supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The officials quoted by Haaretz said the atmosphere at the meeting was very good and that discussions encompassed many issues.

“There’s also a positive change on the part of Egypt, which comes across in their willingness to publicly express the good relations with Israel,” they added.

Shoukry's visit also followed Sisi's recent call on Israelis and Palestinians to seize what he said was a "real opportunity" and hailed his own country's peace deal with Israel.

The comments were welcomed by Netanyahu, who stressed that "Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region."

Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman welcomed Sisi’s call as well, saying he welcomed the Egyptian president’s efforts to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian state.

The visit also comes amid international efforts, spearheaded by France, to bring the sides back to the negotiation table.

Israel has rejected the initiative and insists that the only way to achieve peace is through direct talks with the PA.