Sisi conditions Netanyahu visit to Egypt on support for two-state solution

Barak Ravid

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netan-yahu wants to visit Cairo, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has a condition: Netanyahu must make a positive statement on the Palestinian issue, such as re-committing to the two-state solution, Israeli sources tell me.

Why it matters: The Egyptians are concerned that they’re on track for a rocky start with the Biden administration. They want to reinvigorate their role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to send a positive sign to the White House and to increase their relevance as a partner for Biden.

Between the lines: “Sisi doesn’t care so much about the Palestinian issue but he knows Netanyahu is looking for a photo-op for his election campaign and is trying to get a diplomatic achievement for Egypt out of it,” a source familiar with the discussions told me.

The potential visit has been under discussion for several months as the Abraham Accords came together and the political transition began in the U.S.

Netanyahu last made an official visit to Egypt a decade ago, when Hosni Mubarak was still in power. Even then the visit was to Sharm al-Sheikh and not Cairo.

Since then, Netanyahu has visited Egypt secretly several times.

Behind the scenes: The visit almost took place about a month ago, but the Egyptians had second thoughts after early elections were called in Israel, two Israeli sources tell me.

The trip was postponed, and when talks resumed the Egyptians made the request for a goodwill gesture on the Palestinian issue in the context of the visit.

The Egyptians specifically raised the idea of Netanyahu making a statement of commitment to the two-state solution, the Israeli sources said.

Netanyahu had reservations about that proposal during an election campaign in which he’s trying to mobilize his right-wing base.

The state of play: The visit is now on hold, but the Israeli sources say efforts are being made to find a compromise.

The issue came up again when Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel visited Jerusalem last week for talks with senior Israeli officials, including Netanyahu.

Worth noting: Sources close to Netanyahu denied knowledge of any condition for the visit, and denied that the matter was raised during Kamel’s meeting with the prime minister.

What to watch: Biden criticized Egypt during the election campaign for its human rights violations, and the Egyptians fear their close ties with the Trump administration won’t carry forward to Biden.

Reemphasizing the Egyptian role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians could help Cairo build a positive agenda with the new administration — and those efforts are already underway.