U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was holding talks Wednesday with Egyptian officials on the country’s political situation and to explore Egypt’s ideas for supporting a new Israeli-Palestinian peace bid.
Kerry arrived in Cairo a day after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi offered support for a French initiative to revive the peace process and said he was willing to serve as a mediator.
U.S. officials traveling with Kerry said he spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and wanted hear more from el-Sissi about his plans.
El-Sissi said Tuesday that Egypt’s relations with Israel, rooted in a landmark 1979 peace treaty, can only be “warmer” if the Jewish state reached a settlement with the Palestinians. He pledged that Egypt would “make every effort” toward a solution.
He also declared his support for a French proposal to hold a Mideast peace conference, an idea already rejected by Israel. The Egyptian leader cited that offer, along with U.S. efforts, a 2002 Arab peace plan and the international Mideast peace quartet as possible avenues to such a settlement.
Addressing Israelis and their government, el-Sissi said there was a “real opportunity” for peacemaking although some in Israel did not think peace is now necessary given the turmoil in the region. An Israeli-Palestinian deal, he said, would “give safety and stability to both sides. If this is achieved, we will enter a new phase that perhaps no one can imagine now.”
In a statement, Netanyahu welcomed el-Sissi’s “willingness to invest every effort to advance a future of peace and security between us and the Palestinians” and said Israel was ready to join Egypt and other Arab states in “advancing the peace process and stability in the region.”
But Netanyahu has rejected the French initiative, saying direct negotiations were the only way to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. He is on record as saying the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative has some positive aspects but could not be the basis for negotiations.
The Arab peace plan offers Israel full recognition by Arab states in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
In addition to discussing the peace process, Kerry planned to express concerns about human rights, including Egypt’s crackdowns on dissent, free speech and freedom of assembly, according to U.S. officials.