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No MKs wanted to meet Egyptians, so Lieberman chose the less qualified (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Barak Ravid 06/12/12)Source: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/no-mks-wanted-to-meet-egyptians-so-lieberman-chose-the-less-qualified-1.435786 HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 in particular.

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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