Netanyahu-Sisi Meeting Highlights Warming Ties Between Israel and Arab World
JNS.org – At a time of warming relations between Israel and Arab states, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his first public meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
The meeting came amid speculation of a historic shift in the policy of certain Arab states toward Israel.
During the 90-minute meeting at the Palace Hotel, the Egyptian and Israeli leaders engaged in “a comprehensive discussion about the problems of the region,” according to a statement by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Sisi “expressed his desire to assist in efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the region,” the statement said.
The Egyptian president’s office released a similar pronouncement, saying that the two leaders discussed “ways to resume the peace process and establish a Palestinian state.”
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas — who is also in New York, at the UNGA — was notably absent from the meeting, but met with Sisi in Cairo in mid-July.
“The meeting (between Netanyahu and Sisi) represents a public step to further coordinate with Israel on a host of issues, from containing the Islamic State in the Sinai [and] reining in Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to trying to stem the tide of Iranian influence in the region,” professor Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told JNS.org.
“While the Egyptian press played up the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, it is most likely that the Israeli and Egyptian leaders discussed these other issues [more prominently],” he said.
Israel and Egypt are “really on the same page on a host of regional issues,” Teitelbaum noted, and “the public nature of the meeting demonstrate[s] el-Sisi’s confidence in his position at home.”
The last time that the two leaders met was in secret in April 2016 at Sisi’s presidential residence in Cairo. Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog accompanied Netanyahu at that meeting, where the men discussed a potential regional peace initiative, Haaretz reported at the time.
Additionally, a secret summit held in Aqaba, Jordan — initiated by then-US Secretary of State John Kerry — reportedly occurred in January 2016, and included Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Netanyahu. At the meeting, Netanyahu was said to have outlined a five-step plan aimed at promoting a regional peace initiative with Arab states, and reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
This week’s meeting between Netanyahu and Sisi came just days after Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa condemned the Arab world’s boycott of Israel. This was seen, by some, as an unprecedented declaration by an Arab leader.
Both the Bahraini and Egyptian events adhere to the narrative often touted by Netanyahu that a significant regional shift is occurring — and that Arab nations are becoming more pragmatic in their approach toward relations with the Jewish state.
Netanyahu — speaking at an event earlier this month — noted that the current shift is more profound than the one after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and the 1994 Israeli peace treaty with Jordan.
“What’s happening now with the Arab bloc states has never before happened in our history — even when we signed agreements,” Netanyahu said, as reported by Israel’s Channel 2. “What we have now is greater than anything else during any other period in Israel’s history.”
Sisi has been praised by many supporters of the Jewish state, who view him as an important ally in maintaining Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, fighting Islamic terrorism, and confronting Iran.
While in New York, Sisi also met with American Jewish leaders and discussed the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This followed similar meetings that Sisi held earlier this year with American Jewish leaders at the presidential palace in Cairo.