Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1296, (19 - 25 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Invitation to peace

Al-Sisi says peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis should be resumed as soon as possible with a view to a final status deal, Dina Ezzat reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he welcomed an appeal by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi on Tuesday. The Egyptian leader had called on Palestinians and Israelis to move on towards final status peace talks under the umbrella of a French initiative he qualified as a “great opportunity”.

“I welcome Egyptian President Al-Sisi’s remarks and his willingness to make every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians and the peoples of the region. Israel is ready to participate with Egypt and other Arab states in advancing both the diplomatic process and stability in the region. I appreciate President Al-Sisi’s work and also draw encouragement from his leadership on this important issue.”

Netanyahu’s statement was made after several Israeli channels had repeatedly broadcast extensive quotes from Al-Sisi’s statement. In an impromptu address which he asked the Israeli government to broadcast on TV for the Israeli people, the president said that Egypt is willing to exert all possible efforts to make a final peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians work. He argued that once a deal is cut both people will be able to overcome the layers of animosity that currently separate them “just as the Egyptians and Israelis did”. “If we are able to solve the issue of our Palestinian brothers it will achieve warmer peace... I ask the Israeli leadership to allow this speech to be broadcast in Israeli one or two times as this is a genuine opportunity...”

Al-Sisi suggested that the final settlement should be based on the 1967 borders — in line with the increasingly dominant jargon of Arab-Israeli diplomacy and also in line with the elementary text of the French initiative recently reviewed in Cairo and Paris. Al-Sisi said that a final deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis would allow for overall warmer peace between Israel and the Arab countries.

These remarks were made less than 24 hours after the 68th anniversary of Nakba and days before the 49th anniversary of the 1967 defeat, which enabled Israel to occupy most of the territories of historical Palestine including Jerusalem. Israel, under the current rule of Netanyahu, had declined to negotiate on the ground rights for Palestinians in Jerusalem and had also shrugged the historical right of return of Palestinians who have had to flee their land since the Nakba.

A French diplomat who had spoken to Al-Ahram Weekly earlier this spring said the French initiative was designed to grant eligible Palestinians the right of return — an inalienable right by international law — as well as financial compensation to be provided by the West and Arabs, and possible right for permanent residence in ten Western and Arab countries.

Meanwhile, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog also welcomed Al-Sisi’s speech. He said, “I applaud the Egyptian president’s announcement. It was a dramatic announcement that reflects a possibility for a historic process, where the moderate Arab world expects Israel to courageously, strongly and soberly and extend its hand.” Herzgo is currently in a political process designed to allow him to join the Netanyahu government. Plans for Palestinian-Israeli peace talks are to be examined in the next few days by both Al-Sisi and US Secretary of State John Kerry who visited Cairo on Wednesday, for the second time in less than four weeks.

Hours after Al-Sisi’s statement, French President Francois Hollande, who had visited Cairo last April, said that a plan for the French capital to hold a summit on the Arab Israeli struggle that was scheduled on 30 May will be pushed a little to accommodate the schedule of US Secretary of State Kerry. During a recent visit by French Foreign Minister Jean-March Ayrault to Cairo, he discussed the date of 30 May with top Egyptian officials.

Meanwhile, Al-Sisi also called on the Palestinian leadership to reach a reconciliation agreement. “I say to our Palestinian brothers, you must unite your different factions in order to achieve reconciliation and quickly. We as Egypt are prepared to take on this role. It is a real opportunity to find a long-awaited solution.” Avenues of Palestinian reconciliation were subject to the consultations of Al-Sisi with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during the visit of the latter last week to Cairo.

For his part, Abbas expressed support for Al-Sisi’s statement on Tuesday. An Egyptian diplomat who spoke briefly to Al-Ahram Weekly on Tuesday evening said Al-Sisi’s statement  indicates that his meeting with the French is to take place before the summer recess, “some time in the first two weeks of June”. It also indicates, he added, “possible” Egyptian-Israeli meetings, “maybe at the high level”, to discuss ways of giving a push to the preparations for the Peace Summit. He also suggested that the high level attendance in Paris might not be restricted to “the usual faces of every Arab-Israeli peace meeting”.

“You may see some newcomers from the Arab world,” he said. He declined to say if these newcomers might, as had been suggested earlier to the Weekly by Cairo-based European diplomats, be Saudi foreign minister Abdallah Al-Jubair and UAE foreign minister Abdallah ben Zayed. Still, the path behind a June high-level meeting is not very clear and its end objective is uncertain, according to the same Egyptian diplomat. “But this is an opportunity to grab because otherwise the world is really forgetting about the Palestinian problem in the midst of new problems that keep coming up every day from Syria to Iraq”.

The same diplomat declined to agree that Egypt is throwing its weight behind an initiative with practically no chances for success given the rigid positions of Netanyahu and the US disengagement, especially with the ending mandate of US President Barack Obama. “It is about rekindling world attention to the Palestinian problem,” he said. Netanyahu had earlier expressed outright indifference to the French initiative. French-Israeli relations had suffered a recent hiccup in the wake of the French vote for a UNESCO resolution that qualified Israel as “an occupying power” repeatedly in violation of international law. The resolution was presented for the vote on 14 April on the initiative of six Arab countries: Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan.

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