Egypt FM to Netanyahu: Situation on Ground in Constant Deterioration, Confidence-building Measures Needed

Prime minister tells Sameh Shoukry that he welcomes Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi's initiative to renew the peace process.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Jerusalem on July 10, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Jerusalem on July 10, 2016.Credit: Ronen Zvulun, Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday that confidence-building measures are needed on the Israeli-Palestinian front in light of the constant deterioration of the situation on the ground.

Shoukry said that the peace process could be advanced in accordance with the Arab Peace Initiative.

At the beginning of the meeting, Netanyahu said he welcomes Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi initiative to renew the peace process.

"I welcome President Sissi's recent offer of Egyptian leadership in efforts to advance peace with the Palestinians and broader peace in our region," he said.

"I call again on the Palestinians to follow the courageous example of Egypt and Jordan and join us for direct negotiations. This is the only way we can address all the outstanding issues between us and turn the vision of peace based on two states for two peoples into a reality," he said.

The prime minister's special envoy, attorney Isaac Molho, was the one to coordinate the Egyptian foreign minister's visit to Israel. In the past few weeks, Molho had traveled to Cairo once a week for talks on advancing Sissi's initiative. Molho was even in Cairo on Sunday morning, and returned to Israel a few minutes before Shoukry landed.

About 10 days ago, Shoukry visited Ramallah and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to Shoukry, his visit to Israel is meant to complete these talks and to bring to a situation in which the sides will take serious steps to implement their past agreements and understandings in order to realize 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. "Egypt is committed to supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace and is willing to provide all possible forms of assistance."

Shoukry noted that the peace process is at a critical junction. According to him, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has already lasted half a century, and the current situation may crush the hopes of the Palestinians for a state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, and the aspiration of millions of Israelis to live in peace and security. He added that the situation is even more dangerous in light of the terror raging in the region, which threatens everyone's stability and security.

"My visit comes in the context of President's Sissi's vision for establishing peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples – bringing this long conflict to an end," he said. "This will have a far-reaching and dramatic positive impact on the conditions in the entire Middle East. Egypt is ready to contribute to achieve this goal."

"Ever since the cessation of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2014 the situation on the ground has been in constant deterioration on the humanitarian, economic and security levels. The dream of peace and security moves further out of reach as long as the conflict continues. It is no longer acceptable to continue the status quo," he added.

At the end of the meeting, senior Israeli officials said that Netanyahu had raised the issue of the remains of two soldiers who were killed in Gaza in the 2014 war and of the Israeli citizens missing in the Strip, and had asked Egypt's help in returning them. The officials noted that the Egyptian foreign minister responded positively.

Netanyahu and Shoukry are set to meet again at 8:30 P.M. for an intimate dinner at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.

"There was a very good atmosphere at the meeting. The discussions encompassed many issues, and speaking broadly, regional issues and the advancement of peace and security with the Palestinian Authority and countries in the region were discussed," the officials said. "There's also a positive change on behalf of Egypt, which comes across in their willingness to publicly express the good relations with Israel."

Shoukry visited Israel on behalf of Sissi,Shoukry visited Israel on behalf of Sissi, who a few months ago called on Israel's political parties to unite in order to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Sissi's remarks on the peace process were part of a move led by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who serves as a personal adviser to Sissi. Blair tried to get both Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog behind a regional diplomatic initiative that would also entail the forming of a national unity government in Israel, which would include Herzog's Zionist Union.

The move failed to pan out after Netanyahu decided to turn down Zionist Union's demands concerning the peace process with the Palestinians during coalition negotiations. Instead, Netanyahu opted for the inclusion of Yisrael Beiteinu in the governing coalition and the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

Since the coalition was expanded, Netanyahu has several times said he was interested in advancing a regional diplomatic initiative. Netanyahu also brought this up in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome two weeks ago.

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