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Egyptian Experts: Relations with Israel Deteriorating  25 Years After Camp David Accords - 2003-09-18

On the 25th anniversary of the Camp David peace accords, signed by Israel and Egypt, both sides are acknowledging their relations are worsening. VOA's Greg LaMotte spoke with scholars and political experts in Egypt who say the main reason is disagreement over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Peace between Egypt and Israel began September 17, 1978 when the Camp David peace accords were signed at the White House.

But on the 25th anniversary of that historic day, which at the time made Egypt the only Arab country to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, there are no celebrations anywhere in Egypt. In fact, Egyptian politicians and scholars say relations with Israel are at an all-time low, mostly because of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Emad Gad, an expert on Egyptian-Israeli relations at the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, notes that both countries describe their relations as being cold.

"The Israeli press describes the relations with Egypt as a cold peace," he said. "I think the relations between Egypt and Israel today is in a critical situation and we can describe it as not in relation to a cold peace, but we can speak about cold war between Egypt and Israel because of the Israeli aggression on the Palestinians."

This week, the Egyptian government-run newspaper al-Ahram called for the Israeli ambassadors in Egypt and Jordan to be expelled if Israel follows through with its recent decision to exile Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Shortly after the second Palestinian intifada began in September of 2000, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak re-called Egypt's ambassador to Israel to protest what he called excessive force by Israeli troops against the Palestinians. These days Egypt has only been sending envoys to Israel in its capacity as a consultant to the Palestinians.

Mr. Mubarak has only set foot once in Israel, in 1995 for the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Egypt could not be involved in the Middle East peace process unless it releases Israeli national Azzam Azzam, who is jailed in Egypt for spying.

Since 2001, Mr. Mubarak has frozen many economic exchanges with Israel, and that has cut in half Egyptian imports from Israel.

Today, many Egyptians feel as though the peace treaty with Israel has harmed Egypt's ability to fully represent the views and opinions of the Arab world.

The spokesman for the 22-member Arab League, Hisham Yousef, says he agrees that Egypt's relations with Israel are, as he put it, the worst in years. And he notes that the deepening Israeli-Palestinian conflict has hurt Israel's already bad image throughout the Arab world.

"I think this is the case not only with Egypt, but I think this is generally the case because the sentiment in the Arab world, in general, and in the Arab public opinion and the Arab streets is that they feel that enough is enough," he said.

Expert on Arab affairs Abdullah al-Ashaal, who lectures at several universities in Egypt, says the peace treaty negotiated at Camp David has been good for Egypt. But, he adds that Egypt has not used its relationships with Israel and the United States as effectively as it should have. "Egypt has a lot of cards in the Arab world and these cards would also be used vis-a-vis the United States and European Union," he explains. "But, unfortunately to my mind I think Egypt needs a new foreign policy, which is based on effectiveness, a new view or a new vision of the events and a new reading also. And, I think that the tools of the Egyptian foreign policy need to be rejuvenated."

Mr. al-Ashaal also notes that the Camp David peace accords enabled Egypt to recover the Sinai desert from Israel and paved the way for stronger relations with the United States, something he says has led to a stronger Egyptian economy and an improved infrastructure.

Although he declined to be interviewed, Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Gideon Ben-Ami, released a statement this week acknowledging worsening relations between the two countries. But the ambassador went on to say the peace treaty itself has shown its ability to survive what he called the ups and downs of the Middle East peace process, even though it has not produced what the ambassador termed the desired benefits for Israel and Egypt.