Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised comments made by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in which the latter called on fellow Arab nations to follow Egypt’s lead in having positive relations with the neighbouring state.
“The Government of Israel welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call to expand the peace with Israel to include additional Arab countries,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read Sunday, as reported by local Israeli press.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press (AP) published Saturday, Al-Sisi had called for unity among states of the region in the fight against terrorism. Al-Sisi had suggested that countries faced the prospect of “sliding into failure” unless they collectively faced the threat by militant groups such as the so-called “Islamic State”.
Despite occasionally playing up aggressive rhetoric between each other, Egypt and Israel have enjoyed a cooperative relationship since the 1978 Camp David Peace Treaty that paved the way for the billions of dollars Egypt receives in ongoing aid from the United States.
“I don’t want to say we are late in doing what we should have done, but (defeating the threat will require) a lot of effort, and not only a lot of effort but as a matter of fact it entails a good amount of understanding and cooperation from every country… to restore the countries that are now sliding into this vicious cycle of failure,” Al-Sisi told AP.
Egypt, which has called for a political resolution in Syria and appears to support the maintenance of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, said: “We are very keen that Syria remains as a nation and as a state and does not divide into smaller states.” Al-Sisi suggested that the fall of Al-Assad’s regime would lead to its equipment and weapons being taken by “terrorists”, which would “pose a serious threat to the rest of the region, and this is what we fear”.
On Sunday, however, the Israeli military said it hit two Syrian army posts with artillery fire after stray rockets from the neighbouring country landed in on Israeli-held territory. Israeli military spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lemer told press that Israel holds the Syrian military “responsible and accountable for any aggression emanating from Syria”.
In the AP interview, the Egyptian president also put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forward as a key issue that needs resolving in order to bring wider stability to the region.
Al-Sisi said that a solution to the conflict could “change the face of the region and … bring about enormous improvement to the situation… I’m optimistic by nature and I say that there is a great opportunity.”
The response from Netanyahu’s office was to call on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to negotiations after US- backed talks collapsed last year. The negotiations, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, fell apart as Netanyahu and Abbas failed to agree on fundamental issues, with the Israeli Prime Minister refusing Israel’s pre-1967 borders as a basis for talks.
On Sunday, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, told the Times of Israel that returning parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians is not “even on the list of options we’re offering the Palestinians”.
Tensions have erupted in Jerusalem in recent days owing to clashes between Israeli security forces and protesters, as Muslim worshippers have expressed fears that Israeli authorities are trying to loosen Muslim control over the Al-Aqsa holy site.
Both Abbas and Netanyahu will address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York in the coming days; it is not understood that they will meet. Abbas has said that he was dropping a ‘bombshell’ in his speech, which sparked rumours that he will resign from his 10-year leadership or announce a revocation of Palestinian support for the Oslo Accords, on the basis of ongoing settlement expansion in Palestinian territories among other policies.
However, Middle-East regional instability and “Islamic State” are issues that are expected to be a key matter at the UNGA.
Egypt has been fighting a growing domestic insurgency, primarily from “State of Sinai”, a militant group based in North Sinai that is allied to “Islamic State” and has claimed many bombings and shootings against forces.