Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi held secret talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog last year to promote a plan that would have recognised Israel as a Jewish state, according to a report by the the Haaretz newspaper.
Several Arab countries helped broker the April 2016 secret meeting in Cairo with the aim of forming a coalition government in Israel between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Herzog’s Zionist Union party.
The regional leaders felt Netanyahu’s right-wing government was not capable of implementing a peace initiative they held two months earlier and approached Herzog asking for his help in promoting the plan, according to the report.
The meeting in Cairo came off the heels of a secret four-way summit in the Jordanian port city of Aqaba in February 2016, also reported by Haaretz, where Sisi, Netanyahu, then-US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah II were prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
An Israeli source familiar with the Aqaba summit’s details told Haaretz: “Netanyahu wanted a regional initiative that he would lead, together with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt, and only at a later stage add the American administration.”
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu’s demands in Aqaba included a public summit that would also be attended by senior officials of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Sunni states.
He also requested to get US recognition for construction in the large settlement blocs, in return for freezing building in isolated settlements east of the separation barrier.
Another demand was a guarantee from the then administration of US President Barack Obama to block anti-Israel moves in United Nations institutions, and to veto resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UN Security Council.
“These talks [in Cairo], like the regional initiative, failed due to Netanyahu’s refusal to give the Palestinians what was required,” Haaretz’s Monday report said.
Netanyahu’s coalition talks with Herzog also broke down and he instead struck a deal with now Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, creating in May 2016 what was described as the most right-wing Israeli government ever.
There was no mention in Haaretz’s reports if Palestinian leaders attended any of the meetings or if they had agreed to any of the demands.