Energy deals prompt rival Middle Eastern countries to consider making peace

Israel, Palestine and Egypt may be finally moving towards establishing peace in conflict-ridden parts of the Middle East, new reports have confirmed.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel on Sunday to discuss efforts to renew stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, the first public visit by an Egyptian foreign minister in nine years.

“My visit to Israel today is a continuation of Egypt’s longstanding sense of responsibility towards peace for itself and all the peoples of the region, particularly the Palestinian-Israeli peoples,” Shoukry said, standing beside Netanyahu at a press conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move “illustrates the change that has taken place in Israeli-Egyptian ties, including President (Abdel-Fattah) El-Sisi’s important call to advance peacemaking, with the Palestinians as well as Arab states.”

In his speech at a new power plant in Assiut, 400 kilometers south of Cairo, Egypt’s head of State El-Sisi said he saw “a great chance for a better future,” between Israel and the Palestinians, Bloomberg reports. An ensuing statement by Netanyahu championing Egypt’s involvement was coordinated, the people familiar with the talks said, speaking on condition of anonymity. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said it was “complementary” to his country’s effort.

Bloomberg analysts indicate that returning as a key power broker in the region would help burnish Egypt’s international image as it struggles to revive its economy. Potential rewards would mitigate any increased risk of attack by militants because of closer ties to Israel. The affinity between El-Sisi, 61, and Netanyahu, 66, is also remarkable given that antipathy toward Israel still runs deep in Egypt. The government in Cairo and civil society groups typically have sought to keep dealings with Israelis to a minimum, and official contact is frequently kept secret.

According to a Bloomberg report, dozens of militant attacks by an Islamic State affiliate on Egyptian security personnel have allowed El-Sisi to pull closer to the Jewish state. Israel, also targeted by militants operating in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, has let him boost military operations along their shared border beyond what the 1979 treaty permits. “There is definitely a high level of cooperation that could be unprecedented, especially in the field of combating terrorism,” said Mohamed Kamal, a former lawmaker and a political science professor at Cairo University. “Egypt will handle this issue in a rational way, based on national interest.”

Experts argue that potential gas deals between the countries would take cooperation to another level. Israeli supplies would ease Egypt’s energy crunch until it can develop its own field, the largest in the Mediterranean.

After Israel and Turkey ended a six-year rift last month and said they would start talks on energy supplies, Netanyahu publicly sent a message of reassurance to El-Sisi. Israel’s Leviathan field, a large natural gas field located in the Mediterranean Sea, “can supply Egypt, and that is something we are working to advance, as well as Turkey,” he said at a news conference in Rome last month.

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