Al-Sisi's Invite to Bennett an Indication Egypt Wants Warmer Ties With Israel, Ex-Diplomat Says
Israel's former ambassador to the North African nation believes Egypt has lost many deals as a result of its decision to keep its relations with the Jewish state cold. Now that two Gulf states have normalised their ties with Tel Aviv, Cairo might want to rethink its policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is set to meet the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in the upcoming days, although no official date has been announced yet.
It would be Bennett's second official trip since he took office in mid-June, and reports suggest the meeting will take place on the shores of the Red Sea, at the popular Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
23 December 2020, 10:42 GMT
Zvi Mazel, a former israeli diplomat who served as ambassador to Egypt, says the meeting, if it is to take place, will be significant, primarily because it was the first time al-Sisi has extended his formal invitation
to an Israeli PM.
The last time Israel's head of government paid an official visit to Egypt was back in 2011, when former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Sharm El Sheikh, where he met
Egypt's then-leader Hosni Mubarak.
Mazel says it is not really clear what prompted al-Sisi to invite Bennett right now but he suggests that it is connected to the developments of the past two years.
"First of all, it is connected to the rise of radical Islam that hasn't disappeared," says the former diplomat, referring to the situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban* has taken control, or in several Middle Eastern states, where Daesh* terrorists still maintain a significant presence.
"And, secondly, it is connected to the Abraham Accords," he added, alluding to the normalisation agreements signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in September 2020.
In August, it was reported that one year since the signing of the accords, trade
between Israel and the UAE had topped more than $500 million. The same report also suggested that within three years that number could exceed $3 billion.
In comparison, trade
between Israel and Egypt over the same period of time stood at less than $100 million.
"I suspect that al-Sisi might have realised that the peace his country has with Israel has been wasted for the past 40 years and that he has lost many opportunities. Of course, the two states cooperated on issues of economy and security, but ties have remained largely cold."
Over the years, there have been very few exchanges of delegations, cultural cooperation has been almost non-existent, and the tourism industry has never managed to lift itself.
Partially, it can be explained by Egyptian public opinion, which largely rejects Israel. Partially, it was due to the fact that there was no progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, something that caused frustration in Cairo.
Egyptian authorities have always reiterated that relations with Israel will only see a boost if the Palestinian issue is solved. But as time has gone by, and no progress has been achieved, some in Cairo have realised that it would be better to improve relations with Tel Aviv regardless of its decades-long conflict.
Revival of Talks Possible?
A source within Egyptian military establishment, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said that in the upcoming meeting al-Sisi might want to push Bennett to revive the talks with the Palestinians that have been stalled since 2014.
Egypt has already initiated a number of steps in that direction, with al-Sisi meeting Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, and the Jordanian leader, King Abdallah II.
But Mazel is certain that Bennett will not be ready to start negotiations with the Palestinians, not only because it runs counter to his hawkish views but also because he believes they've rejected all previous plans regarding the resolution of the conflict.
"Bennett is full of good will. He is willing to make concessions to the Palestinians and is eager to cooperate with Jordan and Egypt. But if al-Sisi calls him only to push for the revival of talks, it is a lost case. It won't happen, and the problem will not be solved."
*The Taliban and Daesh are terrorist organisations banned in Russia and many other countries.