This week and last week took Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to France, Germany and Oman. Last month, he went to the US, this round of intense shuttle diplomacy reflecting Egypt’s foreign policy aims to create rich and diverse relations with various states.
It also points to Egypt’s will to review its vision of various regional issues, especially at a time when the Middle East is facing various pressing challenges.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the oldest and still most pressing issues in the Middle East, and it was in the limelight again this week at an international conference on the issue held in Paris.
“Egypt has always been keen to support genuine international efforts that could lead to an end to the present state of stagnation in the peace process in a way that would take the two conflicting parties to the negotiation table once again,” Shoukri said in his speech before the conference in Paris.
Shoukri arrived in France on Sunday to attend the conference that aims to revive the peace negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel. He chaired the Egyptian delegation at the conference.
Egypt had played a very important role in drafting the final communiqué of the conference, former assistant to the foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“The conference wants to affirm the world’s adherence to international legal principles regarding the Palestinian cause, especially UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, in addition to respect for the two-state solution. It clearly rejects any unilateral action that alters the 1967 borders, including the status of East Jerusalem as an integral part of the Occupied Territories,” he said.
The final communiqué of the conference urges both the Palestinians and Israelis to re-declare their commitment to the two-state solution and their recognition of the 1967 borders.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the conference, describing it as a “farce”. The PA welcomed the conference as “one last chance to achieve peace.” However, it did not send representatives to the conference.
US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as representatives of dozens of other countries and organisations attended the conference, which was chaired by French President François Hollande in Paris.
The two-day conference was held a few weeks after the UN Security Council issued a resolution deeming the building of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 as having “no legal validity”.
The fact that the US did not veto the resolution was hailed by many parties as a shift in US policy towards Israel. Last month, the 15-member Council adopted the resolution by a vote of 14 members in favour with one abstention from the US.
The Paris conference was a chance for Shoukri to meet with top officials from Arab and international states on the sidelines of the discussions.
During his meeting with his Kuwaiti and Algerian counterparts, he discussed regional and international efforts to revive the peace process, the outcomes of the conference, and efforts to boost peace in the region.
Bilateral relations and regional problems, including the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen, were also discussed.
Shoukri met with Johannes Hahn, EU commissioner for European neighbourhood policy, on the sidelines of the conference. The two officials discussed the cooperation programme between Egypt and the EU and the projects the latter is planning to fund in Egypt.
Illegal migration, Egypt’s efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya, and its vision for reviving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process were also issues tackled during the meeting, according to spokesman for the Foreign Ministry Ahmed Abu Zeid.
Last week, Shoukri also paid a two-day visit to Germany during which he met with top German officials including his counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Leader of the Parliament Volker Kauder, and the German ministers of the interior, economy, and economic cooperation.
Ways of reinforcing bilateral relations between Egypt and Germany as well as current regional affairs, including the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, were discussed.
“The visit confirms the strong and strategic relations the two states have shared since the visit of president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Germany in June 2015, during which the leaders of Germany and Egypt agreed to cooperate on a wide range of issues in order to achieve a more stable Middle East, confront terrorism, and support Egypt on its quest for development and economic recovery,” Hegazi said.
The meetings with various German officials reflected German understanding of the challenges facing Egypt, he added.
Other issues that Shoukri discussed with German officials were countering terrorism and illegal migration, both of which have had negative impacts on the two states.
Germany suffered various terrorist acts last year, including in December when a lorry was ploughed into a busy Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 48 others. The driver fled the scene, but was later arrested.
This incident and others may necessitate further coordination between the two states and other European countries in order to combat terrorism.
Shoukri’s visit to Germany came a few days before his visit to Paris to attend the peace conference. “Coordination between Cairo and Berlin was required to give the necessary support to the conference and to bolster efforts to bring peace to the region via the two-state solution, condemning settlement building in the Occupied Territories, and increasing the efforts of the international community to restart direct Palestinian-Israeli peace talks,” Hegazi said.
Last week, Shoukri also visited Oman and met his Omani counterpart in a visit that aimed to further coordinate the stands of the two states and boost relations ahead of the Arab Summit due in March in the Jordanian capital Amman.
Last month, Shoukri visited the US and met his US counterpart in addition to various important figures in the outgoing Obama administration and in the new administration led by President-elect Donald Trump.
The visit aimed to boost cooperation between the two states during the incoming Trump administration, bolstering efforts to push for a solution to the crises in the region, especially those in Syria and Libya.