CAIRO – Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have met for the first time in public in what Egypt said was part of an effort to revive the Middle East peace process.
Egyptian authorities said in a statement the two had met on Monday ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Sisi separately met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his residency, where they agreed to continue working toward a two-state solution.
The meeting came just days after Egypt helped broker an agreement with the Palestinian Hamas group to dissolve the administration that runs Gaza and hold talks with Abbas’ Fatah movement, its Palestinian rivals .
For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Israel in enforcing a land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip, a move to punish Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007.
Netanyahu has said in recent weeks that ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors have been improving and that cooperation exists “in various ways and (at) different levels”.
Egypt was the first of a handful of Arab countries to recognize Israel under the U.S.-sponsored peace accord in 1979. But Egyptian attitudes to its neighbor remain icy due to what many Arabs see as the continued Israeli occupation of land that is meant to form a Palestinian state.
In recent weeks, Egypt has hosted delegations from Fatah and Hamas to help reach an agreement between the two sides and talk about the Gaza border. But reunification a decade after their battle for control may hinge on whether complex power-sharing issues can be resolved.
Under pressure from the blockade, Hamas has sought to mend ties with Egypt, which controls their one border crossing. Egypt under Sisi has been wary of ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi ousted from power after mass protests.