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Egypt asked for ‘goodwill’ gesture from Israel as condition for Netanyahu visit: Report

According to Israeli news outlet Walla, the Israeli prime minister was hoping to visit prior to legislative elections, but Cairo conditioned trip on support for two-state solution
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, right, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on 27 September 2018 (AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has reportedly asked Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express support for a two-state solution to the occupation as a precondition for visiting Cairo before the Israeli elections scheduled for March, news website Walla reported on Wednesday.

According to sources that spoke to the online Hebrew-language platform, Netanyahu wants to visit Egypt before the election, but Sisi has requested a gesture from him towards Palestinians in order to go ahead with the planned visit. 

'President Sisi does not care so much about the Palestinian issue, but he knows that Netanyahu is looking for a photo-op for the election campaign'

- Walla source

"President Sisi does not care so much about the Palestinian issue, but he knows that Netanyahu is looking for a photo-op for the election campaign and is trying to extract from it a political achievement for Egypt," the paper quoted an informed source as saying.

Sources close to Netanyahu, however, have rejected the claim that Sisi set conditions for the meeting. 

There have been several reports of a potential visit by Netanyahu to Cairo following Israel’s signing of controversial normalisation agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in 2020. The accords have been rejected by the Palestinians as an act of betrayal of their struggle against the Israeli occupation. 

Cairo is reportedly set to host a dialogue that will bring together different Palestinian factions to discuss issues preventing unity ahead of the Palestinian Authority's own legislative and presidential elections, scheduled for May and July respectively. If held, the Palestinian elections will be the first in 15 years.

Netanyahu’s last visit to Cairo was a decade ago, under the rule of late president Hosni Mubarak. Walla claims that Netanyahu has visited Egypt “secretly” several times since that official trip. 

'Gesture of goodwill' requested

Sources speaking to Walla on condition of anonymity said that a visit was planned for last month but that Egypt - which was the first Arab country to officially recognise Israel in 1979 - postponed it following the collapse of Netanyahu's unity government and the decision to hold early elections in Israel. 

“The visit was postponed, and when talks on the issue resumed, the Egyptians requested that Netanyahu make a gesture of goodwill on the Palestinian issue in the context of the visit,” the news website wrote.

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“One of the ideas the Egyptians came up with was for Netanyahu to make a statement before or during his visit to Egypt that he is committed to a two-state solution, or to make some move on the ground,” Israeli sources were cited as saying. 

The prime minister, however, reportedly objected to the request as he was wary of losing the support of his right-wing voters. 

The report added that Egypt’s intelligence chief Abbas Kamel visited Israel last week and repeated the same request.

“Israeli sources stated that Netanyahu still hopes to hold the visit and that efforts are being made to find a compromise formula that will allow this,” the report added.

The Walla report also said that the Sisi government is keen on sending positive signals to the administration of US President Joe Biden to “increase their relevance as partners in the eyes of the new president”.