Egypt's Sisi lends backing to Israel-Palestinian peace efforts

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi promised Israel on Tuesday warmer ties if it accepts efforts to resume peace talks with the Palestinians, urging its leaders not to waste an opportunity to bring security and hope to a troubled region.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reacts after delivering a speech at the Lower House of parliament in Tokyo, Japan, February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

In an impromptu speech at an infrastructure conference in the southern city of Assiut, Sisi said his country was willing to mediate a reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions to pave the way toward a lasting peace accord with the Israelis.

“I say we will achieve a warmer peace if we resolve the issue of our Palestinian brothers... and give hope to the Palestinians of the establishment of a state,” Sisi said.

“I ask that the Israeli leadership allow this speech to be broadcast in Israel one or two times as this is a genuine opportunity... We are willing to make all efforts to help find a solution to this problem.”

French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday an international conference due in late May in Paris to relaunch peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis had been postponed but would take place this summer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told France’s foreign minister on Sunday that Israel remained opposed to the French initiative, born of French frustration over the absence of movement toward a two-state solution since U.S.-brokered talks collapsed in 2014.

Israel is concerned that the conference would seek to dictate terms, but Netanyahu welcomed Sisi’s remarks from which he said he drew “encouragement”.

“Israel is willing to participate alongside Egypt and the other Arab states in advancing the diplomatic process and stability in the region,” he said in a statement.

A Palestinian official also welcomed Sisi’s remarks.

“We welcome any efforts aimed at ending the Israeli occupation,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Reuters.

Egypt was the first of a handful of Arab countries to recognize Israel with a U.S.-sponsored peace accord in 1979, but Egyptian attitudes to their neighbor remain icy due to what many Arabs see as the continued Israeli occupation of land that is meant to form a Palestinian state.

Sisi, who rarely speaks publicly about foreign policy, offered the 2002 Arab peace initiative as a potential way ahead.

The initiative offered full recognition of Israel but only if it gave up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agreed to a “just solution” for Palestinian refugees.

But he also urged the Palestinians to unite ahead of talks.

“I say to our Palestinian brothers, you must unite the different factions in order to achieve reconciliation and quickly. We as Egypt are prepared to take on this role. It is a real opportunity to find a long-awaited solution,” Sisi said.

Reporting by Lin Noueihed in Cairo, Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson