Egypt hosted an Israeli Prime Minister for the first time in a decade with the visit of Naftali Bennett to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday, according to the Egyptian presidency's website which also posted a picture of the two leaders seated side by side. One of the topics up for discussion was the revival of the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
Egypt often acts as a mediator in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Most recently, Cairo brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, who runs the Gaza Strip.
The cease-fire came into effect on May 21, ending an 11-day conflict between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in which 13 people were killed in Israel and 255 people died in the Gaza Strip, according to official figures given by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership under U.S. mediation have been on hold since 2014. The Palestinians accused former U.S. President Donald Trump of unilaterally taking sides with Israel.
Currently, according to Israeli media reports, the Egyptian government is preparing for new indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a prisoner exchange.
Israel has been trying for years to secure the release of two Israeli civilians and for the handover of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the Gaza war in 2014. Hamas had in the past demanded the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in return.
Egyptian presidency spokesperson Bassam Radi said the leaders will "discuss a number of bilateral issues between the two sides in various fields, ways and efforts to revive the peace process, as well as the latest developments on the regional and international arenas."
There had already been speculation in December about a possible visit by Bennett's predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu to el-Sissi.
The two first met in 2017 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, and in 2018 there were also reports of a secret visit by Netanyahu to the Egyptian capital.
The last time an Israeli head of government made an official trip to Egypt, Netanyahu had visited the now-deceased President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
With the mediation, el-Sissi may also hope to put himself in a good light with Washington.
A decision is expected there soon on the release of $300 million in military aid to Egypt.
The U.S. government can withhold this part of a total of $1.3 billion in annual military aid because of the human rights situation in Egypt.
The government in Cairo had recently promised improvements there. However, human rights organizations have described the conditions in the country as devastating for years.
Since 2007, Israel has kept the Gaza Strip under a blockade, forcing Gaza to rely on neighboring Egypt for food and medicine. Aspects of the blockade have recently eased, however.
Egypt is the only nation aside from Israel to control a border crossing with the narrow coastal strip on the Mediterranean Sea. Many of those wounded in the Israeli attacks in Gaza in May were treated in Egyptian hospitals.
In 1979, Egypt became the first country in the Arab world to recognize Israel. Jordan followed in 1994.
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