Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi held his first public meeting with Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in an effort to drive a revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The hour-and-a-half-long meeting at the Lotte Palace Hotel in Manhattan on Monday was closely watched for signs of a rapport between the two men over the key issue of restoring wider negotiations.
The Egyptian president was accompanied by his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukri, and Khaled Fawzi, the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Division.
Mr El Sisi met earlier in the day with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to discuss reconciliation negotiations with Hamas and the prospect of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority resuming its involvement in Gaza in place of the militant group’s administration committee.
It followed mediation in Cairo between Mr Abbas’ Fatah party and its arch-rival, Hamas.
Egyptian officials said president El Sisi saw the 9pm meeting with Mr Netanyahu as an opportunity to discuss the resumption of the overall peace process.
Although Monday was the first time the two men had met in public, they had previously been involved in secret talks together.
Mr El Sisi joined Mr Netanyahu and then US secretary of state John Kerry for talks hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah in Aqaba in February last year, a former US official confirmed to Agence France-Presse earlier this year.
Mr Netanyahu also met with Donald Trump on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Monday as the first leader to have a one-one-one with the US president.
At the start of their meeting, Mr Trump was keen to stress that achieving Middle East peace was a priority for his administration.
“We are giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen. Most people would say there’s no chance whatsoever,” said the president, who is due to meet with Mr Abbas on Wednesday.
“I actually think with the capability of Bibi and, frankly, the other side, I really think we have a chance,” he added, referring to the Israeli prime minister by his nickname.
There were reports Mr Netanyahu and his team were dismayed that Mr Trump emphasised the issue during the meeting. Mr Netanyahu had hoped to keep the focus on his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal during his New York trip.
“I think Israel would like to see it (Middle East peace), and I think the Palestinians would like to see it. And I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it,” Mr Trump added at the start of the meeting.
“So we’re working very hard on it. We’ll see what happens.”
“Historically, people say it can’t happen. I say it can happen.”
As president El Sisi discussed Egypt’s efforts to revive the peace process, he also said that any international initiatives with the goal of reaching a reasonable compromise between all the interested parties were welcome.
Egyptian state press said the New York meetings would further reconciliation.
“Sisi stressed the importance that Egypt attaches to efforts to resume negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides with a view to reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue in accordance with the two-state solution and the relevant international references,” Al Masry Al Youm newspaper said.
Mr El Sisi also held meeting with New York-based and other American groups that have a strong interest in developments in the region. The attendees reportedly included influential religious ministers, officials and former members of the military, as well as leaders of research centres and US think tanks.