Feb 3, 2021 - World

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

Illustration of the country of Egypt behind a security rope

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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.

Driving the news: 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.
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