Naftali Bennett is first Israeli PM to visit Egypt in 10 years

Bennett and Egyptian President El Sisi discuss ways to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Egypt’s president on Monday assured Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of his country's support for "comprehensive" Middle East peace on the first official trip by an Israeli head of government to Egypt for a decade.

During talks at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi discussed bilateral relations and regional and international developments with Mr Bennett, including the "Palestinian issue".

"The President assured [Mr Bennett] of Egypt's support to all efforts designed to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace based on a two-state solution and on the basis of international legitimacy," an Egyptian presidential statement said.

The last meeting between an Egyptian and Israeli leader took place between Benjamin Netanyahu and Hosni Mubarak only a month before the latter stepped down as president of Egypt in February 2011.

Mr Bennett said the meeting was "very important and very good" and "created a foundation for deep ties in the future," an Israeli statement said.

"Israel is increasingly opening up to the countries of the region, and the basis of this longstanding recognition is the peace between Israel and Egypt. Therefore, on both sides we must invest in strengthening this link, and we have done so today," he said as he left Egypt.

Mr Bennett’s visit comes about four months after Cairo successfully mediated an end to an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Emboldened by that diplomatic success, Egypt has since been seeking to strengthen the ceasefire and arrange an exchange of prisoners between Hamas and Israel.

There has also been talk of Egypt attempting to persuade both sides to resume peace negotiations but no evidence of Cairo making any tangible progress on that track. Egypt is seeking to lead efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip after the fighting in May.

"The president has alluded to the importance of support by the international community of Egypt's efforts to rebuild Palestinian territories, maintaining the quiet between the Israeli and Palestinian sides," the Egyptian statement said.

Egypt borders the Gaza Strip and has in the past repeatedly brokered ceasefires between Israel and Hamas. It wields considerable influence in the Gaza Strip and among less radical factions within Hamas.

Last week, Mr El Sisi hosted a three-way summit with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss ways to revive the peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.

In a joint communique, the three leaders emphasised their commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Jordan followed suit in 1994. Last year, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco agreed to normalise relations with Israel.

Egypt's relationship with Israel has been described as a “cold peace” because of the lack of large-scale interaction between Israelis and Egyptians.

However, security co-ordination between the two neighbours has been close in recent years, with both countries exchanging information on militants and human traffickers in the Sinai Peninsula.

On Monday, Israeli Transport Minister Merav Michaeli announced the government was lifting a cap of 1,200 Israelis allowed daily to pass through its Taba border crossing into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, whose popular Red Sea resorts attract thousands of visitors from the neighbouring state every year.

“Our relations with our neighbours is critical,” Ms Michaeli said. “I will do everything to ensure that our partnership is evident at every level – from political [and] security to tourism.”

The policy change allows an unlimited number of Israelis to travel to Sinai.

Additional reporting by Rosie Scammell in Jerusalem

Updated: September 14th 2021, 6:37 AM
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