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Israel turns its back on French-Egyptian Mideast initiative

  • January 15, 2021

Jan 15, 2021

For Israel, the past few days have been full of diplomatic activity. On Jan. 5, the Foreign Ministry picked Ambassador Eytan Na’eh to head its future mission in Abu Dhabi. A few days later, the ministry picked former Ambassador David Govrin to head its future liaison office in Rabat. According to other reports, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi had met this past weekend with his Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi. The discreet meeting had focused on promoting strategic interests, including issues pertaining to the security, economic and civil ties between the two countries. The two men had met last at the beginning of December. On Jan. 13, the Emirates announced that Israeli tourists could now enter the country without a pre-requested visa. On the very same day, Israeli and Moroccan representatives signed aviation agreements to establish direct flights between Rabat and Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been busy diplomatically. On Jan. 11, he participated in an international online forum with six other heads of states, exposing Israel’s relentless mass vaccination drive. The forum had been established last April, in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The idea was for these countries to share their experiences in successfully battling the pandemic. The driving forces behind this forum were Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Netanyahu.  

One could say that this list is indeed impressive, reflecting Israel’s vitality on different diplomatic stages. However, Israel chose to avoid one major diplomatic rendezvous that took place last week in Cairo. The foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany met Jan. 11, in an attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The four ministers had invited Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers to join them in Cairo. In order to facilitate things, they offered Ashkenazi and Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Malki to meet with them on the same day, at the same venue, but separately.

Ashkenazi was quick to respond that he would not be coming. The official reason was the nationwide lockdown imposed throughout Israel as of Jan. 7 at midnight for a two-week period. Without any commercial flights, Ashkenazi could hardly get to Egypt, his people reasoned. Still, Ashkenazi did not propose any virtual meeting instead. It seems that he preferred to keep his distance. Netanyahu, for his part, made no reference once or ever to this upcoming quartet meeting. With that, Malki decided not to come. He did tough send a message for the participants.

A joint statement issued at the end of the Cairo meeting hinted at the disappointment over Ashkenazi’s reaction. “The ministers discussed their recent contacts with their Palestinian and Israeli counterparts and the views of each party. They also took note of the message addressed by the Palestinian Foreign Minister to the host of the meeting H.E. Sameh Shoukry,” the statement read. It continued, “At the end of the meeting, the ministers agreed to reach out to the Palestinians and the Israelis conveying their common vision on the way forward towards peace.”

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