Netanyahu seeks to reassure Egypt over FM pick

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

JERUSALEM: Israeli premier-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to reassure Cairo over choosing a firebrand who once told the Egyptian president to go to hell as his foreign minister, his office said on Sunday.

The move comes as the two nations get ready to mark the 30th anniversary of their landmark peace treaty later this week.

The key post in Netanyahu s government is set to be filled by the outspoken Avigdor Lieberman, who last October said Mubarak could go to hell if he continued to decline to visit the Jewish state.

Close aides of Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman have met with Egyptian officials to explain to them that the arrival of Mr Lieberman at the foreign ministry should not be a reason for tension between the two countries, a statement from Netanyahu s office said.

As part of these efforts, the head of the national security council in Netanyahu s government, Uzi Arad, met the Egyptian ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda last Wednesday, the statement said.

Israel and Egypt will this week mark 30 years since the signing of their landmark peace treaty, and the choice of Lieberman for the foreign ministry post has, according to the Israeli press, ruffled feathers in Cairo.

The discontent rose to such a level that several Egyptian officials said Cairo would boycott the Israeli ceremony to mark the signing this week, the press said. The report could not be immediately confirmed.

An official at the Egyptian embassy told AFP that the ambassador still has not decided whether he will attend an event at the foreign ministry on Wednesday to commemorate the treaty s signing. He did not elaborate.

A statement from the embassy would say only that the ambassador expresses his regret over attempts to involve Egypt in internal political affairs in Israel. Egypt does not meddle in internal affairs of any country.

Officials from Lieberman s Yisrael Beitenu party have likewise held direct contacts with the highest Egyptian officials in Israel and Cairo, Danny Ayalon, tapped to be Lieberman s deputy in the foreign ministry, told public radio.

The discussions that have taken place make for an excellent base for the continuing of the excellent work relations between the two countries, Ayalon said.

Addressing the Israeli parliament last October during a special memorial service for a far-right minister killed by Palestinians in 2001, Lieberman said of Mubarak: He wants to talk to us? Let him come here. He doesn t want to talk to us? He can go to hell.

After Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Shimon Peres apologized to Mubarak for the comments, calling them unfortunate, useless and harmful. Lieberman in turn slammed them for acting like a battered wife with Cairo.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak came to Jerusalem in November 1995 to attend the funeral of slain Israeli President Yitzak Rabin, but has never made an official visit to the Jewish state.

Lieberman s Yisrael Beitenu party won 15 seats in the February election, becoming the third-largest in parliament.

An immigrant from ex-Soviet Moldova, Lieberman has built his reputation on controversial statements about Israeli Arabs that have earned him the label of racist from critics and a reputation of a needed strong hand from supporters.

Netanyahu, who has until April 3 to form a government, has so far signed his sole coalition agreement with Yisrael Beitenu, agreeing to name Lieberman as foreign minister and giving the party four other ministries.

That arrangement may change, however, if Netanyahu succeeds in his goal of forming a broad-based government that would include either the centrist Kadima party or center-left Labor.

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