Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bilateral ties in the first official trip by an Israeli leader to Egypt in a decade.
Bennett, the head of the far-right Yamina party who took office in June, met the Egyptian president on Monday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula.
In the discussions, el-Sisi cited Egypt’s efforts to maintain calm in the occupied Palestinian territories and the importance of international support for rebuilding efforts there, according to an Egyptian presidency statement.
El-Sisi also “affirmed Egypt’s support for all efforts to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, according to the two-state solution”, the statement said.
Bennett said the talks covered diplomacy, security and the economy. “We created a foundation for a deep connection going forward,” he said before flying home.
Mohammad Daraghmeh, Ramallah-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera the two leaders most likely discussed a prisoner-exchange deal between the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as the 14-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.
“I believe that the Israeli vision towards the blockade on Gaza is shifting. [Foreign Minister Yahir] Lapid’s plan – in that he called for ‘economy in exchange for security’ – indicates there could be steps towards lifting the blockade on Gaza. It would be on the basis of ‘you don’t attack us, we don’t attack you’,” said Daraghmeh.
“Historically, Hamas would fire rockets when Israel imposes further punitive measures against the Gaza Strip. So, lifting the blockade could reign in more calm.”
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett said the meeting was a “public display that this relationship is alive and kicking”.
“There’s obviously a real effort here from the Egyptians to show that they trying to build on and cement this relationship in a more public way,” he said, speaking from West Jerusalem.
“That is because they want to demonstrate to the Americans their concerns potentially about the changes in foreign policy towards Egypt from the Biden administration. Egypt is the second biggest recipient of US military aid in the world. Being friendly with the biggest recipient of military aid [Israel] in this public way presumably makes sense on that front.”
The talks took place amid a tense situation in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israel, with Egypt’s help, has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since the Palestinian group Hamas began governing the territory in 2007. There have been four wars or assaults on Gaza by Israel, most recently in May.
In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Relations have been cool over the years, but Egypt has played a key role in mediating ceasefires between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza in various rounds of fighting.
Cairo’s mediation efforts in the 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip in May led to a ceasefire. The conflict killed more than 260 Palestinians as well as 13 people in Israel.
Increase in violence
An uptick in violence since late August has tested the fragile truce.
Cairo’s invitation to the Israeli prime minister was issued by Abbas Kamel, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, last month when he met with Bennett in occupied East Jerusalem.
Since el-Sisi was sworn in as president in early 2014 – months after he announced the overthrow of the country’s first elected President Mohamed Morsi – Israeli media has reported that Netanyahu secretly met with the Egyptian strongman several times.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in 2014 and there seems to be little prospect of reviving them. Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood.
“I don’t believe that there will be any real development during this meeting on Egypt’s efforts to move the peace process along between the Palestinian Authority and Israel,” said Daraghmeh.
“That is purely because Israel does not have a government that will accept the bare minimum of Palestinian demands.”
Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the last Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to Egypt in 2011 during the presidency of the late Hosni Mubarak.