Monday, June 29, 2015

Egypt-Israel talks signal warm-up

One week after Egypt said it would return its ambassador to Israel after a three-year hiatus, top diplomatic envoys from the two states met Sunday for talks in Cairo to discuss the deadlock on the Palestinian front and security issues facing the region. Relations between the two countries are warming up, for the first time in four years. The Times of Israel reports:

While specific details from the confab were under wraps, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the talks and that the two countries see “eye to eye” on a number of issues, the NRG news site reported. The session was believed to be the first between senior Israeli and Egyptian figures in Cairo since 2011. 

Israeli diplomats were said to be satisfied with Cairo’s plans to maintain its tough stance toward the Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, despite recent media reports signalling an easing of restrictions on the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold and Egyptian diplomats hashed over topics such as Iran’s nuclear program, growing Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Cairo’s foreign policy toward Hamas and a possible re-launch of peace talks with the Palestinians — in the first powwow of its kind between the two nations in four years.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Osama al-Majdoub made it abundantly clear to Gold that Cairo views the Palestinian deadlock as “the heart of the conflict in the region,” and stressed the importance of restarting high-level negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters .

“It is the Arabs’ central problem, and its solution is a basic condition to reaching stability in the region,” al-Majdoub said.

Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian issue remains “unchanged” and solutions to promote the peace process were “at the top of the agenda” during the consultations, he added.

Israeli officials noted that recent reports regarding the removal of Hamas from Egypt’s list of terror groups reflected a “tactic” rather than a change in overall strategy, and that Cairo’s outlook on regional developments is closer to Israel’s than expected.

“In Israel [we] speak Hebrew, in Egypt [you] speak Arabic, but when discussing regional challenges, both countries speak the same language,” Gold told his Egyptian hosts, according to NRG.

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)
Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rose to power. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “deeply welcomed” Egypt’s appointment of its new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat.

Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in the Jewish state in October 2012. He was recalled soon after, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but it has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm.

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