Egypt-Israel talks signal warm-up

One week after Egypt said it
would return its ambassador to Israel after a three-year hiatus, top
diplomatic envoys from the two states met Sunday for talks in Cairo to
discuss the deadlock on the Palestinian front and security issues facing
the region. Relations between the two countries are warming up, for the first time in four years. The Times of Israel reports:

While
specific details from the confab were under wraps, the Israeli Foreign
Ministry said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the talks and that
the two countries see “eye to eye” on a number of issues, the NRG news
site reported. The session was believed to be the first between senior
Israeli and Egyptian figures in Cairo since 2011. 

Israeli diplomats were said to be satisfied
with Cairo’s plans to maintain its tough stance toward the Hamas group,
which rules the Gaza Strip, despite recent media reports signalling an
easing of restrictions on the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold and
Egyptian diplomats hashed over topics such as Iran’s nuclear program,
growing Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Cairo’s foreign
policy toward Hamas and a possible re-launch of peace talks with the
Palestinians — in the first powwow of its kind between the two nations
in four years.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Osama
al-Majdoub made it abundantly clear to Gold that Cairo views the
Palestinian deadlock as “the heart of the conflict in the region,” and
stressed the importance of restarting high-level negotiations between
Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, according to
Reuters .

“It is the Arabs’ central problem, and its solution is a basic condition to reaching stability in the region,” al-Majdoub said.

Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian
issue remains “unchanged” and solutions to promote the peace process
were “at the top of the agenda” during the consultations, he added.

Israeli officials noted that recent reports
regarding the removal of Hamas from Egypt’s list of terror groups
reflected a “tactic” rather than a change in overall strategy, and that
Cairo’s outlook on regional developments is closer to Israel’s than
expected.

“In Israel [we] speak Hebrew, in Egypt [you]
speak Arabic, but when discussing regional challenges, both countries
speak the same language,” Gold told his Egyptian hosts, according to
NRG.

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo
have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rose to
power. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “deeply welcomed”
Egypt’s appointment of its new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat.

Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in the Jewish state in October 2012. He was recalled soon after, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel
reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but it has
begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the
relative calm.

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