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Egypt seen as ideal peace broker on 40th anniversary of Sadat visit

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin smile as they address the international press November 21, 1977 in Jerusalem. It was on the third day of Sadat's history-making trip to Israel, the first Arab leader to recog
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Israel's former envoy in Cairo says Egypt remains a reliable partner

Egypt is a trustworthy ally that both Israelis and Palestinians see as an ideal mediator for peace negotiations, Israel’s former ambassador to Cairo said on Monday at an event to mark the 40th anniversary of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s landmark visit to Jerusalem.

Speaking to i24NEWS on the sidelines of a conference organized by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's Bar Ilan University, former Israeli envoy Haim Koren said that while Egypt was always looking out for its own interests, Israel and the Palestinians have come to respect its role as peacemaker.

"The fact that we and the Palestinians can trust them, gave them a lot of credit, in order to promote those negotiations," Koren, who served as envoy between 2014 and 2016, said.

Although according to Koren, "Egypt sees first and foremost Egyptian interests," he continued that "among those traditionally, they are taking care of the Palestinian cause so they see themselves a regional leader for the solution of the regional problem, including with the Palestinians, so they can be a good mediator in the sense that they understand the practical situation, and they know the obstacles they face."

Cairo has also been influential as a mediator not only between the Palestinians and Israel, but also as a third-party to internal Palestinian disputes.

Koren said that only time will tell what will come of the most recent unity government deal brokered by Egypt over recent months between Islamist Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and West Bank-based Fatah.

"We'll have to wait and see," Koren said, arguing that the deal is "a long process" and that "there are a lot of domestic issues within Gaza and among the Palestinians themselves."

Sadat in Jerusalem

Emily Rose/i24NEWS

Sadat -- who was assassinated by a radical Islamist four years later -- made a much-vaunted visit to Jerusalem on November 19 1977 that helped paved the way for a formal Egypt-Israel peace treaty. His visit wowed Israelis, who had been at war with Egypt for decades.

Despite the subsequent peace agreement co-signed by then-Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, relations never truly warmed and anti-Israel sentiment remains rampant in Egypt.

Professor Menachem Milson, who served as aide-de-camp to Sadat during the visit, reflected upon the remarkable day the former enemy chief landed.

"When he landed in the Ben Gurion Airport," Milson recalled to i24NEWS, "I had the good luck and the good fortune to be there, to greet him, alongside the President of the State of Israel, and Prime Minister Begin, I was of course elated, extremely moved, and I believe that in retrospect, that peace with Egypt, for all the ups and downs, in the Israeli-Egyptian relationship has proven to be a really major step towards, strengthening the country."

Milson reflected upon what he said was Sadat's bravery to affirm to his own people, in their mother tongue, that the time was at hand for peace with Israel.

"There were in the past Arab diplomats who spoke in English about the readiness to make peace or the importance of making peace," Milson said. "The different point here was that he spoke to his own people in Arabic and that was really a major change, a radical change, so I personally believed it, because years before I was expecting this exact thing that a leader, an Arab leader, would tell his people: I want to make peace with Israel."

Sadat's willingness to push toward peace was nothing short of a regional revolution, according to Milson.

"When Sadat announced in Egyptian parliament that he is willing to go to the ends of the earth to talk with Israelis and make peace with the Israelis it meant that a real revolution had occurred in terms of our political thinking," Milson said.

Leadership needed

Egyptian Presidency (Egyptian Presidency/AFP)

Egypt's ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat also addressed the crowd and praised Sadat's commitment to regional peace, asserting that we should use the deal to “draw lessons that will light the path to peace in a region with countries destined to live side by side in security and prosperity.”

However he had less laudatory words for the present batch of Middle Eastern leaders.

Khairat said that "we need a respected leader and visionary who was willing to go against all odds,” asserting that such leader must take "major steps to bring peace and stability to this country and the region at large.”

The envoy also took aim at Palestinian terrorism in the name of resisting Israel, in addition to West Bank settlement-building eagerly pushed by the current Israeli government.

“Do violence, terrorism and incitement bring security to innocent civilians?” said Khairat. “Are settlements in the west bank and Jerusalem conducive for peace?”

Efraim Karsh, director of the Begin-Sadat Center, told i24NEWS that the deal clinched between Israel and Egypt at Camp David in 1979 "was probably the most important single event in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Karsh argued that the deal changed the face if the Middle East because the “it paved the way to the [1994] agreement with Jordan and it paved the way to an agreement with the Palestinians."

"It moderated parts of the Arab world," Karsh said, noting that the Egyptian government suffered a regional backlash after the deal was signed.

According to Karsh, Sadat was the linchpin for the deal with Egypt, but when it comes to the recent Palestinian reconciliation deal, Karsh says the agreement won’t hold.

"They will start killing each other before too long.”

Emily Rose is an editor on the i24NEWS English web desk.

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