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Limited Progress Made, 30 Years After Israeli-Egypt Peace Treaty

Egypt and Israel on Thursday marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of a peace accord between the two nations, the first between the Jewish State and an Arab country. There were no celebrations on either side of the border.

The ceremonies in Israel were low-key, with Foreign Ministry officials inviting Egypt's ambassador to a reception this week.

No commemoration events were held in Egypt.

The peace deal brokered by the United States and signed by Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin ended the state of war that had existed between the two countries since 1948. Egypt became the first Arab nation to recognize the Jewish State, and Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, which Israeli forces had captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

At the time, the treaty was hailed as the end of Israel's isolation among its neighbors in the Middle East. However, since 1979, only one other Arab country - Jordan - has signed a peace treaty with the State of Israel.

Neither trade nor tourism has flourished. Contacts are primarily between officials and few visitors cross the border each year. Commerce between the two reaches barely $271 million annually - largely in Egyptian gas sales to Israel.

Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel's ambassador to Egypt from 1996 to 2001, tells VOA he nonetheless sees reason to celebrate.

"There is [a] problem with the peace," he noted. [But] first of all, let me say that we are very happy that there is peace, because in the last 30 years, not one Israeli soldier, not one Egyptian soldier, has died in war."

Egypt paid a price for signing peace with the State of Israel, bringing it the scorn of the rest of the Arab world. In 1981, an Islamist militant assassinated President Anwar Sadat. Having relations with Israel have since continued to fuel the anger of Egyptian militants.

However, Mazel says Cairo has also reaped the benefits of peace, and he says there are hefty incentives for the Egyptians to continue maintaining the treaty.

"Egypt has the support of the United States and the assistance of the United States," he said. "It started with $2 billion. Egypt has the support of the United States in many, many fields: technology, in training the army, so it is important. You cannot deny it."

In a statement marking the treaty's anniversary, the Israeli foreign ministry said Israel's goal is to see the peace with Egypt become vibrant and prolific.

That goal appears distant.

Egypt has consistently cooperated in regional peacemaking efforts, most recently brokering indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

However, the Egyptian leadership has maintained a distance. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has not once accepted Israeli invitations to visit.