Mahmoud Abbas (R, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L).jpg
Palestinian National Authority's President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) in Ramallah, West Bank, 29 June 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ATEF SAFADI

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry urged Israel and the Palestinians to return to long-broken-down peace negotiations Sunday, in the first visit to Israel by a top diplomat from Cairo in nearly a decade.

"It is no longer acceptable to claim that the status quo is the most we can achieve," Shoukry said in Jerusalem, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shoukry said the visit came in the context of an unusual speech made by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi in May, in which al-Sissi made a direct appeal to Israeli and Palestinian leaders and public opinion for progress towards a peace deal.

If Egypt were to succeed in bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, this would have a "far-reaching, dramatic and positive impact" on the entire volatile region, Shoukry said.

Since talks between the parties last broke down in April 2014, the situation on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian areas had deteriorated and "the plight of the Palestinians has become more arduous every day," he added.

Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to follow the examples of Egypt and Jordan, the only Middle Eastern countries to have made peace with Israel, and "join us for direct negotiations" in order to "turn the vision of peace based on two states for two peoples into a reality."

His comments were a rare example of the Israeli leader expressing his commitment to the two-state solution. In interviews with the Hebrew media, Netanyahu has of late said that the two-state solution under the current circumstances cannot be implemented.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said Sunday's "significant" visit, which follows Shoukry's June 29 visit to Ramallah in the West Bank, was an attempt to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, but would also focus on Israeli-Egyptian bilateral issues.

The last visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel was in 2007. 

Egypt's former president Mohammed Morsi enjoyed close ties with Hamas at the expense of Israeli-Egyptian relations. The Islamist movement which rules Gaza is the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Netanyahu said the visit marked the positive change in Israel-Egypt relations since al-Sissi assumed power in 2014.

Since attempts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians failed two years ago, the sides have remained in deadlock.

A French bid to launch multilateral talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was recently rejected by Israel.

The Palestinians have demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for talks, but Israel insists on direct talks without any preconditions. 

Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel in decades, which includes pro-settlements coalition partners, but no centrist party that prioritizes peace talks.

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