Israeli papers welcome Shoukry’s visit

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Jerusalem two days ago to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the first official visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Israel in nine years.

While Shoukry’s visit has been met with mixed reviews from the Egyptian press, Israeli papers were either neutral or positive about it.

Israel Hayom, a free tabloid that has the widest daily circulation in the country at around 250,000 copies, called the minister’s visit “historic” and stated that it is part of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s “vision of creating peace in the region.”

Popularly known as “Bibiton” — a combination of Netanyahu’s nickname, “Bibi,” and the Hebrew word for newspaper, “iton” — Israel Hayom is right-wing and nationalistic. It is edited by Amos Regev, a friend of Netanyahu, and owned by Sheldon Andelson, a conservative US business magnate who is also a supporter of US presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Another right-wing newspaper, Maarev, was also supportive of Shoukry’s visit. Although it took the angle that it was the first step in a rapprochement between Egypt and Israel rather than for developing peace talks between Palestine and Israel.

Shoukry claimed that he was going to Israel to facilitate peace talks between Palestine and Israel, stating that he supports a two-state solution.

Maarev posted an article titled “Egyptian Minister of Israel: Peace or focusing on financial initiatives?”

The article extensively quotes former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel, who stated that while Sisi, like Hosni Mubarak before him, is aware that peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine will most likely not lead anywhere, he is using them as an opportunity to become publicly closer to Israel.

Mazel added that because there are strong political forces in Egypt that are anti-Israel, any warming of relations between the two countries must appear to be for the sake of Palestine.

“The thing is, Egypt has tremendous forces that oppose Israel traditionally, and the president does not want confrontation with them,” said Mazel. “First of all, its intellectual class is mostly Nasserist and anti-Israeli, as well as its Islamic scholars at the university of Al-Azhar, and [are] really reluctant to have anything to do with us. So apart from military, the two most powerful forces in the country really are not crazy about Israel, and do not want to see high-tech Israeli and Egyptian economic ties blossom. So the wisdom is to start on an issue with consensus — aid to the Palestinians.”

Mazel also stressed the importance of economic ties between Egypt and Israel, stating that Sisi wishes to foster their growth. He praised Sisi’s economic leadership, saying: “General Sisi initiated a huge number of moves to rehabilitate the economy of Egypt. He expanded the Suez Canal, built a new capital east of Cairo, brought experts from around the world that helped him increase wheat yield by 40 percent, allowing a much greater supply of food. He created millions of hectares of agricultural land for Egyptians.”

While 2015 was not the worst year for the Egyptian economy, with GDP coming in at 4.2 percent, the highest it’s been since the 2011 revolution, it sufferedseveral setbacks including decreases in tourism, Suez canal revenues and foreign reserves. Egypt has continued to face economic setbacks in 2016 with tourism declining by 46 percent and increasing dollar shortages.

Yedioth Ahronoth, another Israeli tabloid that is also conservative, though more left-leaning than Maarev or Israel Hayom, covered Shoukry’s visit fairly neutrally. It published several articles about the visit, which focused on the political importance of an Egyptian visit to Israel. It called Shoukry’s visit to Jerusalem historic, and stated that it was an important visit for Netanyahu.

Haaretz, a more left-wing national newspaper, focused on the significance of sending a foreign minister. Haaretz published an article pointing out that, while Mubarak would send his intelligence minister, Omar Suleiman, to discuss military cooperation and intelligence, it has been nine years since an Egyptian foreign minister visited Israel.

Haaretz stated that this shows a new level of normalization in Egypt-Israel relations and that Sisi is interested in opening diplomatic channels with Israel. “In the end he may also invite the prime minister to visit Cairo,” Haaretz wrote. “It shows that Egypt and Israel have joint interests, only some of which are on the security level.”