Sisi-Netanyahu meeting reflects deeper ties
CAIRO - The meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly demonstrates deepening ties between the two countries, analysts said.
“There is a noticeable change in relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv and this is seen clearly in growing coordination and consultations between them,” said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University. “These relations have moved from cooperation in the 30 years that followed the signing of the 1979 peace treaty to coalition now.”
Cairo has taken an increasingly important role in seeking to unite Palestinian factions in preparation for a broader Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Speaking in July 2017, Sisi outlined Cairo’s role as a central partner to both Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Washington.
“Settling this conflict will neither harm nor destabilise Israel,” Sisi said at a meeting of young people at Cairo University. “To the public opinion in Israel I say: We have a great opportunity to find a solution to the Palestinian issue.”
Sisi repeated the message at the UN General Assembly. “There is no time to waste on debate,” he said. “What is required is the political will to resume negotiations and achieve a settlement in accordance with these determinants [a two-state solution].”
Cairo says it can be central to the negotiations, something that would confirm its vital strategic position in the region.
As Egypt and Israel marked the 45th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, what was increasingly clear was that conflict belonged to history amid growing political, security and economic coordination between Cairo and Tel Aviv.
Egypt and Israel cooperate in fighting a branch of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel allowed Egypt to deploy additional troops and heavy artillery to the peninsula, even as the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries specifically precludes this. Egypt and Israel also coordinate security arrangements along their shared border, Israeli officials said.
On the same day that Sisi was meeting with Netanyahu in New York, Israel’s Delek Drilling, US company Noble Energy and Egyptian firm East Gas signed a deal worth $518 million to purchase a 39% stake in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Pipeline. The pipeline was built to export Egyptian gas to Israel but, under the new arrangement, natural gas is expected to flow from Israel to Egypt.
In February, Delek, Noble and Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings signed a $15 billion deal for the import of 64 billion cubic feet of Israeli gas over ten years. The gas would come from Israel’s offshore Tamar and Leviathan fields and pumped to Egypt where it will undergo the liquefying process before being sent to international markets, part of Egypt’s development plans to become an Eastern Mediterranean energy hub.
“Apart from revealing the extent of political agreement between Egypt and Israel, such economic cooperation also opens the door for totally new realities in the region,” said Bashir Abdel Fattah, a researcher at Egyptian think-tank Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
These growing economic interests are among reasons that Cairo is working to bring the Palestinians together, finish off ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula and secure its western border with Libya.
In July, Egypt was instrumental in helping Hamas and Israel reach an agreement for calm on Gaza’s border with Israel. Although the deal soon collapsed, Cairo has continued to mediate the issue.
The latest talks between Hamas and Cairo saw Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar confirm to Israeli media that he was open to peace.
“Now I see a true opportunity for change,” he told Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily. “A new war is in no one’s interest, certainly not our interest.”
This is an opportunity for Cairo to demonstrate its unique position in the region as vital to both Palestinians and Israelis.
“Egypt will succeed in bringing calm between Gaza and Israel and pushing inter-Palestinian reconciliation talks forward, given its strong relations with all parties,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “There is a real chance for peace at all levels now and the Palestinians and the Israelis need to move to exploit it.”