US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo today to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, after Egypt called for a renewal of the Middle East peace process.
Even before Sisi had raised the issue, Kerry had planned a visit to discuss the crisis in Libya and Syria and to raise concerns about Egypt’s harsh crackdown on dissent.
But the top US diplomat is also keen to hear more from the Egyptian leader about how he intends to help broker peace between his Israeli and Palestinian neighbours.
“He’s interested in hearing a bit more directly from the president about what role he has in mind,” a senior US official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Yesterday, in a televised speech, Sisi urged Israelis and Palestinians to seize what he said was a “real opportunity” and hailed his own country’s peace deal with Israel.
In 1979, Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel after years of conflict, and today it remains an influential player in the region.
Washington believes the only way to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a negotiated settlement resulting in two states side-by-side within recognised borders.
But the US does not believe the time is yet ripe to resume a direct dialogue between the sides, preferring instead to lobby both to make confidence building measures to reduce violence and calm tensions.
Some in the international community are becoming frustrated with that approach and France—and now Egypt— are pushing for a quicker resumption of efforts to seek a final deal.
There is sympathy for that goal in Washington, and an acceptance that there is a risk that the process could become unsalvageable if it is allowed to fester, but there is also caution about pushing too fast.
“We’ve said repeatedly that we believe negotiations are the only way to solve the problem. We’ve also said that we’re not ourselves trying to resume negotiations at this point,” the official said.
“The secretary is very interested in hearing some more about the details of what President Sisi has in mind,” he added.
Supporters of the peace process have been dismayed in recent months by Israel’s ongoing construction of settlements on Palestinian land and by Palestinian knife and gun attacks on Israelis.