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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.

Go deeper

Feb 1, 2021 - World

U.S. and Palestinians re-engage after 3-year freeze

Biden with Abbas in 2010. Photo: Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images

The Biden administration has now had more official contacts with Palestinian officials in its first two weeks than the Trump administration did in its final three years.

Why it matters: The State Department's deputy assistant secretary for Israel-Palestine, Hady Amr, spoke by phone with multiple Palestinian officials on Monday. Those were the first publicly announced interactions between the sides as the Biden administration moves to renew ties that had been effectively severed since Donald Trump announced in December 2017 that he was moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Updated 4 hours ago - Sports

The potential GOAT of chess faces intriguing challenger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The World Chess Championship between Norway's Magnus Carlsen and Russia's Ian Nepomniachtchi began on Friday, 1,094 days after Carlsen won his fourth consecutive title.

Why it matters: During the long, COVID-fueled layoff, chess entered a new era, and with the championship finally here, the age-old game is ready for its close-up.

Department of Interior proposes raising cost of drilling on public lands

A horizontal drilling rig and a pump jack sit on federal land in Lea County, New Mexico. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Oil and gas companies should pay more to drill on federal lands and waters, the Department of the Interior argued in a report released Friday, saying that the current rates were "outdated."

Driving the news: The Department of Interior report said that the federal government's oil and gas leasing and permitting program "fails to provide a fair return to taxpayers, even before factoring in the resulting climate-related costs that must be borne by taxpayers."