Israeli prime minister visits Egypt in first official trip since 2011

Naftali Bennett and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meet in Cairo (Egyptian Presidency)

Middle East Eye  /  September 13, 2021

Naftali Bennett hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday for talks on Israeli-Palestinian relations and bilateral issues, Egypt’s presidency said, in the first official trip by an Israeli head of government to Egypt for a decade.

Bennett, the head of the far-right Yamina party who took office in June, was invited to visit by Al-Sisi last month. The two leaders are holding talks in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

The discussions were expected to address “ways and efforts to revive the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians, Egypt’s presidency said in a statement, as well as bilateral and regional matters.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and analysts say there is little prospect of reviving them. Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, fiercely opposes Palestinian statehood.

One focus of Monday’s talks will be the situation in the Gaza Strip, where Egypt helped broker a ceasefire after 11 days of conflict in May between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that governs the besieged enclave, diplomatic and security sources said.

There have been several demonstrations in recent weeks to protest against Israel’s almost 15-year-long blockade of Gaza.

Egypt regularly receives leaders of Hamas as well as those of its political rival the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, while maintaining strong diplomatic, security and economic ties with Israel.

The Israeli prime minister’s visit comes 10 days after Abbas was in Cairo for talks with Al-Sisi.

Iran and Lebanon

Bennett and Al-Sisi were also expected to discuss regional issues including Iran’s influence in the Middle East and the crisis in Lebanon, diplomats said.

The trip appeared to give transport links between the two countries a boost.

The Taba crossing between Israel and Sinai, an entry point for Israeli tourists, would become fully operational from Monday as restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic were lifted, Israel’s transport ministry said.

From October, Egyptair would begin operating several flights a week between Cairo and Tel Aviv, sources at the Egyptian national carrier said.

Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Cairo’s brokering of the Gaza truce allowed it to reassert its diplomatic role in the region in the wake of deals by four Arab states to normalize ties with Israel last year.

The last official visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt was when Benjamin Netanyahu met former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011 in Sharm al-Sheikh, just before the uprising that toppled Mubarak.