No MKs wanted to meet Egyptians, so Lieberman chose the less qualified (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Barak Ravid 06/12/12)
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A group of Knesset members is slated to hold a first-of-its-kind
meeting with some of their Egyptian counterparts in Washington in
another week and a half.
The meeting was supposed to be kept far from the media´s eye. But the
delegation´s composition caused such consternation in the Knesset
that Speaker Reuven Rivlin personally asked Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman to alter it.
The meeting was arranged by Israel´s ambassador to Egypt, Yaacov
Amitai, who has been in contact with various Egyptian
parliamentarians. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars agreed to host the meeting, and the U.S. State Department
helped with issuing the invitations.
Because Israel has become a punching bag in Egypt´s ongoing election
campaign, any meeting with Israeli officials opens its Egyptian
participants to political attack. Nevertheless, several
parliamentarians from liberal and secular parties agreed to Amitai´s
proposal to hold an informal dialogue with their Israeli peers. The
Egyptian delegation will be headed by the founder of the liberal
Reform and Development Party, MP Mohammed Anwar Esmat al-Sadat - who
is also the nephew of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the man
who signed the peace treaty with Israel.
Putting together the Israeli delegation, however, proved unexpectedly
difficult. Initially, it was slated to be headed by Kadima MK Avi
Dichter, who is fluent in both Arabic and English and had many
contacts with Egyptian officials in his previous positions as Shin
Bet security service chief and public security minister. But Dichter,
citing a scheduling conflict, said he couldn´t make it.
Lieberman then asked several other MKs, and in the end, three were
chosen: Ruhama Avraham Balila (Kadima ), Yitzhak Vaknin (Shas ) and
Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu ).
That caused an uproar in the Knesset, because though Avraham Balila
sits on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and Vaknin was
active in the Geneva Initiative (a group formed to promote an Israeli-
Palestinian agreement ), none of the three have any substantial
foreign affairs or defense experience, much less expertise on Egypt
There´s also an issue of language competency. Amar speaks fluent
Arabic, and Vaknin speaks some. But none of the three speaks English
well enough to conduct diplomatic talks, according to sources
involved in organizing the delegation.
Thus when Rivlin saw the list, he immediately asked Lieberman and
other Foreign Ministry officials to change it, recommending that MKs
with more diplomatic experience be sent. But Knesset sources said
Lieberman refused. Lieberman´s office denied this, however, insisting
that the minister had nothing to do with the matter.
Rivlin then asked two other MKs - Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee chairman Roni Bar-On (Kadima ) and Avishay Braverman
(Labor ) - if they would join the delegation and serve as its
chairman. But both refused.
Meanwhile, Avraham Balila has withdrawn, citing a scheduling
conflict. She is expected to be replaced by Likud MK Carmel Shama-
Hacohen. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 06/12/12)
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