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Egypt’s Sisi meets Israeli PM at UN for first public talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in New York on September 18, 2017/AFP

CAIRO, Egypt, Sep 19 – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu publicly for the first time in New York to discuss Middle East peace after US President Donald Trump said he would push for resuming stalled negotiations.

Monday’s meeting, which follows mediation in Cairo between Palestinian arch-rivals Fatah and Hamas, reflects Egypt’s will to return to the forefront of the Middle East diplomatic scene.

The two met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been at a standstill since 2014, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement Tuesday.

Sisi emphasised the importance of “resuming negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides to reach a comprehensive solution,” the presidency said.

The two leaders discussed “ways to resume the peace process and establish a Palestinian state,” it said.

Trump also met Netanyahu on Monday, and repeated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal was “possible”, saying his administration would do its utmost to push it.

Sisi has been involved in secret talks with the Israeli premier in the past.

The Egyptian president joined Netanyahu for talks with then US secretary of state John Kerry hosted by King Abdullah II in the Jordanian city of Aqaba in February 2016, a former US official confirmed to AFP earlier this year.

Monday’s meeting followed a rare phone conversation earlier in the day between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas chief Ismail Haniya following Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks.

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Abbas’s internationally recognised Palestinian Authority is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but it has had no control in Gaza for a decade after the Islamist movement Hamas seized the territory in a near civil war in 2007.

After Haniya met Egyptian officials in Cairo last week, Hamas announced it agreed to demands by Fatah to dissolve what is seen as a rival administration in Gaza, while saying it was ready for elections and negotiations to form a unity government.

Egyptian mediation

The developments signalled a shift in Egypt’s approach to the Islamist Palestinian group following years of tensions with Cairo accusing Hamas of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood group.

The Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organisation after Sisi, the former army chief, led the military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

Egypt’s mediation also comes as relations improve between Sisi and the United States after Trump’s arrival at the White House in January.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama had temporarily frozen military aid to Egypt following a deadly crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

Trump’s aides led by his Middle East envoy and son-in-law Jared Kushner and senior international negotiations aide Jason Greenblatt have been shuttling between leaders from the two sides in recent months.

Palestinian leaders had been put off by Trump’s administration after the president suggested he was not committed to a two-state deal.

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“It would be utterly ridiculous if Mr Trump doesn’t eventually say that,” Nabil Shaath, a senior Abbas adviser, told journalists in Ramallah on Monday when asked about the two-state solution.

Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi welcomed Netanyahu’s meeting with Sisi.

“We hope that the next meetings will take on a routine character,” Hanegbi, a close friend of Netanyahu, said on Israeli military radio.

Trump visited Israel and the occupied West Bank in May.

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