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Israeli circles disclose the story behind Sisi's speech and Blair's role in arranging it

President Sisi with Tony Blair
President Sisi with Tony Blair

Israeli political and media circles continued their noticeable interest in the speech delivered by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi last Tuesday in which he discussed the settlement file in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Within this context, informed Israeli sources have disclosed that the speech in which Al-Sisi sent peace messages to the Israelis came upon a direct request from Tony Blair, the former envoy of the Quartet.

Barak Ravid, a Haaretz newspaper commentator, quoted official political sources in Tel Aviv as saying that Blair personally requested Al-Sisi to deliver the speech in order to improve the circumstances for the formation of a national unity government in Tel Aviv with the participation of Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog. Ravid considered Blair's step to be "an intensive and unprecedented intervention" of this kind.

In a report published by the newspaper's website this morning, which Arabi 21 has seen, Ravid quoted the same sources as saying that Blair and Kerry "as well as other international parties" asked Al-Sisi to deliver the speech in order to enable Herzog to defeat leading figures in the Labour party who happen to be opposed to the idea of joining the Netanyahu government on the grounds that joining the government would amount to political suicide by the party.

The sources explained that in spite of Al-Sisi's willingness to fulfil these international demands, the plan has failed because Netanyahu, in a last minute decision, relinquished the idea of joining the Labour Party to the government.

Contrary to what has been published so far, it was Herzog and not Netanyahu who suggested to Blair asking Al-Sisi to deliver the speech. Apparently, Blair and Herzog agreed that Al-Sisi should request in his speech that "the Israeli parties reach a national accord over the need for pushing forward the political settlement process with the Palestinians". And this, in fact, is exactly what he said in his speech.

The sources said that Blair went last week to Cairo where he met with Al- Sisi and asked him to deliver a speech "in which he addresses the Israelis directly in order to enhance the prospects for reaching an agreement over a national unity government". Ravid also said that in spite of the conclusion of Blair's mission as a Quartet envoy, he comes once every two or three weeks to the region and visits Israel where he briefs Netanyahu and Herzog about everything he hears from the Arab leaders.

According to the sources that spoke to Ravid the only message which Blair conveys to Netanyahu and Herzog from the Arab leaders is about their readiness to develop the relations with Tel Aviv, but adding that the Arab leaders always stipulate that Israel should communicate with the Palestinians regarding the settlement.

The sources stressed that Blair was the one who initiated the mediation between Netanyahu and Herzog in order to form a national unity government in which the Labour party participates.

The sources pointed out that Blair took the initiative of communicating with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who blessed the idea and urged the Egyptian side to respond positively.

Yet, Netanyahu gave a resounding slap in the face to both Al-Sisi and Blair when he stopped the negotiations with Herzog and concluded an initial deal with the Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann according to which the party joins the government in exchange for assigning the defence ministry to Liebermann. It is worth mentioning that Liebermann called, during the reign of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, for attacking Egypt and suggesting bombing Egypt's Aswan Dam.

In an article published by Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday, Alex Fishman disclosed that the speech was preceded by months of communications that took place behind the scenes between the two sides. This time these communications with Al-Sisi's men in Cairo were spearheaded by the Prime Minister's envoy, lawyer Isaak Molco.

Fishman added: "What began as a political step ended up with an internal political construction step that stole all the cards. With the combination of Liebermann and Netanyahu, there are no basic facts leading to the holding of negotiations with the Arab League in Cairo."

This was first published on Arabi21 on 19th May 2016.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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