Tel Aviv Diary: Bibi's Best Day May Be His Worst

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Jerusalem on July 10. Marc Schulman writes that as Netanyahu was enjoying soccer with his Egyptian guest, an investigation was launched by the Israeli attorney general into “unreported funds” received by him while he was prime minister. Ronen Zvulun/reuters

Sunday night was an odd night in Tel Aviv. Every bar was packed with patrons watching the Euro soccer final between Portugal and France (Portugal was victorious, in sudden-death overtime). However, much of the conversation focused on two very incongruous items that led the news.

The two top stories yesterday were on the visit of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Israel (the first Egyptian foreign minister to visit the country in nine years) and the announcement of an ongoing investigation into funds received by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from foreign businessmen.

The visit by Egypt's Shoukry marks the impressive improvement in Israel's diplomatic position that has come to pass in recent weeks. From the re-establishment of high-level diplomatic relations with Turkey, to a very visible and successful African mission, in the past two weeks the prime minister has successfully undermined the popular contention that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the world.

The very public and warm visit by Minister Shoukry (who even watched the soccer final with Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence) is the culmination of the slow but steady improvement in Israeli-Egyptian relations that has taken place under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

The new affinity between the two countries is a clear outgrowth of the close security coordination that takes place between Israel and Egypt—especially at this time of continued Islamic State militant group (ISIS) insurrection in the Sinai desert (the section of Egypt that abuts southern Israel). According to some unconfirmed reports, over the last two years Israel has attacked militants in Sinai using drones, with the blessing of the Egyptian government.

With Turkey floundering amid its multisided conflicts, Egypt is once again trying to assert itself as the de facto leader of the Arab world. This shift explains its renewed interest in trying to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians.

For the Israeli government, the Egyptians are viewed as better mediators than the French, or, for that matter, the Americans. The Egyptians are considered realists who know the limits of what can actually be achieved at the moment. That is why Egypt's initial proposals present a means of building trust and calming the violence, and they are not about final status agreements, which the French seem to be pushing.

The Egyptians also hold the true key to what Israel desires in any sort of peace—and that is normal relations with the Arab world. In addition, aside from military and intelligence cooperation, Egypt could clearly benefit from Israeli technological assistance, especially in areas such as water management. However, the Egyptian government needs to move slowly, so as not to be accused of abandoning the Palestinian people.

It appears the time is right for closer relations between Israel and Egypt, as is the timing for a diplomatic initiative aimed at improving relations with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, who have been reluctant to engage the Netanyahu government for fear that it would accomplish nothing, may have concluded that their attempts to get the international community to intervene on their behalf at this moment of global turmoil are now bound to fail. Therefore, they might grab the Egyptian initiative as a means of climbing down their tree of unwillingness to negotiate with Netanyahu.

As Netanyahu was enjoying the soccer game with his Egyptian guest, the Israeli equivalent to the attorney general announced he was engaged in an investigation regarding whether unreported funds may have been received by Netanyahu, or someone in his family, after he became prime minister in 2009. Rumors of this investigation have been circulating for the past week, and the announcement did little to clarify the true details.

One Netanyahu supporter told me this morning, "It's all nonsense! They keep on accusing Netanyahu of different crimes, but he is always proven not guilty." Those words echoed, more or less, the official response by the prime minister's office last night.

Others are not so sure, wondering if this could be the scandal that finally brings Netanyahu down. Sunday was clearly a successful day for Netanyahu. But the news the same day of an investigation into unreported funds may also represent the beginning of the end of his premiership.

Multimedia historian Marc Schulman is the editor of HistoryCentral.com.

Tel Aviv Diary: Bibi's Best Day May Be His Worst | Opinion