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Egypt FM's Visit Only a Limited Success Unless Israel Follows Through

Sameh Shoukry’s rare trip could be the start of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Arab states, but it could also prove to be a one-time event.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s visit to Israel on Sunday symbolizes one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s main achievements as prime minister in recent years. Netanyahu has managed to preserve Israel's peace agreement with Egypt despite the revolution there in 2011 and the subsequent ascension to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he has succeeded in forging dramatically closer bilateral ties since the 2013 military coup that brought Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to power.
Shoukry’s very public and well-publicized visit, nine years after his predecessor, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, was here for the last time, is a diplomatic achievement in and of itself. Over the last two years, the Egyptian and Israeli leaderships have been in regular contact. There have been frequent phone calls between Netanyahu and Sissi, trips between Jerusalem and Cairo by Israeli and Egyptian envoys, and more. But until today, all this was kept at a low profile at best, and in many cases completely secret.
To understand the background to Shoukry’s visit to Israel, it’s necessary to go back to May 17, when Sissi gave a speech at the inauguration of new power plant. He used that speech to urge every political party in Israel to unite around a plan to advance peace with the Palestinians, adding that the Arab states would help with this. The person who pushed the Egyptian president to make these statements was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is one of his closest advisers.
Sissi’s speech was meant to be the glue that would bind Netanyahu to Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog and enable the prime minister to establish a unity government with Herzog’s Zionist Union faction – one that would focus on the peace process with the Palestinians. In exchange, Egypt was supposed to get other Arab states to join the process. But the entire move went off the rails when Netanyahu decided to reject Zionist Union’s demands regarding the peace process and instead bring Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party into the government, while making Lieberman himself the defense minister.
Two days after Sissi’s speech and one day after he decided to give the Defense Ministry to Lieberman, Netanyahu called the Egyptian president. During that conversation, the prime minister said he was still committed to advancing the president’s initiative, and that Lieberman not only would not interfere, but would actually help. Netanyahu also promised that after Lieberman was sworn in, he would issue a positive statement about the Arab Peace Initiative, a 2002 proposal for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Sissi made it clear during the call that in order for him to continue advancing his own initiative, Netanyahu would have to take substantive steps toward the Palestinians on the ground. Freezing construction in the settlements would be one example of such a step; another is transferring more power to the Palestinian Authority in Area C, the part of the West Bank to which the Oslo Accords assigned full Israeli control.
Shoukry’s visit is essentially meant to collect on the promise made in that phone call.
An Israeli source familiar with the issue said that Egypt had received a “green light” for its initiative from the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But for the plan to move forward, they need to see what Netanyahu is bringing to the table on the Palestinian issue. The premier let the Egyptians understand that he would be willing to consider taking significant steps as part of a regional initiative that would open the way to direct talks with Arab states alongside talks with the Palestinians.
The Egyptians didn’t break the rules of the game after Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as defense minister; they are willing to continue promoting their initiative. One reason for this is that Egypt, which is a member of the UN Security Council, doesn’t want to find itself stuck between Israel and the Palestinians in another few months over an explosive draft resolution submitted to the council.
Thus Sissi is seeking an alternative. And he has nothing to lose. In the worst case, he will have tried and Netanyahu will have once again refused.
But what Netanyahu could have done on May 17 with Herzog and Zionist Union, it’s hard to envision him doing now with Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu – not to mention Naftali Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party. As long as Netanyahu doesn’t find a solution to this problem, the diplomatic achievement he racked up yesterday will be of limited value.
Shoukry’s visit could be the start of a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the Arab states. But it could also turn out to be a one-time event that doesn’t lead anywhere and will be quickly forgotten.

Barak Ravid

Haaretz Correspondent

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.730140Schermata 2016 07 11 alle 12.37.39

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Temple Mount temporarily closed to Jewish visitors after clashes with police

The Temple Mount was temporarily closed to Jewish visitors on Wednesday at the order of Jerusalem District Commander Yoram Halevy after Jews broke visitation rules at the holy site, police said. The Jewish visitors were expelled from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. Meanwhile, renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces near the Lion's Gate in the Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. A regular dynamic has developed involving clashes between Palestinians and Israel Police over the past several days near the Lion's Gate. Dozens of Palestinians are present at the site on a regular basis, urging devotion to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and condemning Israel. During Muslim prayer times, particularly the midday and nighttime prayers, hundreds and sometimes even thousands have been gathering there.

There have been outbreaks of violence during these periods, including stone-throwing or physical confrontations with the police. In most of these incidents, the police have been using stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowds. In a number of cases, journalists in the area have also suffered violence at the hands of the police. On Tuesday, Hassan Shaalan, a reporter for the Ynet news website, was struck by a policeman even after he identified himself as a member of the press. A group of Jerusalem-based journalists released a statement of condemnation over the incident and called on the police to permit reporters to do their jobs. The Jerusalem Police responded: "This involved an incident that took place in the course of violent disturbances of the peace that occurred in Jerusalem while the police were acting to remove the demonstrators from the street after some of them refused to vacate. The forces working on the scene are under constant threat to their lives. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.802141

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