Senior Egyptian Official: Cairo Isn't Promoting Its Own Israeli-Palestinian Peace Bid

An official tells Haaretz that Egypt supports the French peace initiative and there are no talks about an alternative effort.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Abdel Fattah al-Sissi makes a speech at Al-Asmarat district in Al Mokattam area, east of Cairo, May 30, 2016.
Egyptian Presidency via Reuters

A senior Egyptian official said on Friday that Cairo is not promoting its own bid to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The remarks were made against the backdrop of recent attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to get Arab states, primarily Egypt, to promote an alternative to the French peace initiative. 

The official told Haaretz that there are no talks or indications of an effort that would pose an alternative or possibly undermine the French initiative. Egypt is focusing on promoting the French bid, he said. 

Paris hosted foreign ministers from 29 countries on Friday for a summit dealing with the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks. During the meeting, the foreign ministers agreed to hold an international peace conference by the end of the year, during which the sides will be presented with incentives to advance the two-state solution. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially rejected the French initiative, and expressed preference for an Egyptian effort

Netanyahu held a consultation with Foreign Ministry officials, national security advisers and public diplomacy staff on Thursday, during which it was decided to press some of the participants in the Paris summit to make sure that no significant decisions would emerge from it. 

Another decision made at the consultation was that Israel would make it clear, both publicly and through diplomatic channels, that it prefers a regional initiative led by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi over the French initiative. A senior Israeli official said that Jerusalem believes the regional effort has a much greater chance of success than the French bid.

Within the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, there was a decided chill in reaction to the closing statement of the summit in Paris. Abbas' spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina said that the Palestinians don't have any illusions regarding the event, but added that the conference is the beginning of a change in international opinion.

According to Abu Rudeina, the world must be firm and not bow to Israeli policy. "This is an opportunity that can fade away but we must create an atmosphere and international Arab consensus to change the atmosphere and policy in the Middle East and to reach a comprehensive agreement." 

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a memberof the PLO Executive Committee, said that the closing statement from the Paris summit was too general and lacked concrete steps, clear goals and an operative work plan. 

PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat on Friday called the Paris summit "a window of opportunity" and said that the Palestinian leadership expects the international effort to result in a firm timetable and a framework for future negotiations.

"We have no illusions that such a conference would lead to a miracle and to an immediate settlement freeze, but we do expect the international community to take action and press Israel to accept the two-state solution as the only option before it's too late," he said.

Officials in Ramallah believe that Cairo might be prepared to lead an initiative alongside France and establish a joint team with Israel and the Palestinians in the future. But according to those sources, at this point in time these are just preliminary ideas that have yet to ripen into real plans.