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Egyptian-Israeli Relations Described as 'Distant' at Best - 2004-03-25

On March 26, 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace agreement. Twenty-five years later, the two countries may be at peace, but their relationship is distant, at best.

Egypt and Israel signed the agreement in what was to be a first step toward a comprehensive peace plan throughout the Middle East.

At the time, Egypt was the only Arab country to have signed a peace agreement with Israel.

But, according to analysts and government officials from both sides, relations today between the two countries have become, at best, cold.

There are no anniversary celebrations taking place in Egypt, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak withdrew a delegation that was to travel to Israel for 25th anniversary celebrations there in protest of the Israeli assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

Four years ago, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel shortly after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada. Egypt still has no ambassador in Israel, although the two countries have maintained diplomatic relations.

According to the head of the political science department at Cairo University, Hassan Nafae, the peace agreement fell short of expectations on both sides.

"The expectations, either Egyptian expectations or the Israeli expectations have not been met at all," he said. "So, the question is either we don't understand each other at all, or the objectives of each other, or both sides do understand each other but each party is trying to achieve his own goals by his own means. The peace treaty with Israel has been preserved, but we are far away from a comprehensive peace."

Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, said Egypt's withdrawal from anniversary celebrations in Israel is regrettable. But, he said, despite their differences, the two countries are at peace.

"For the last 25 years there is a peace agreement and peace relations between our two countries," he said. "Peace that has survived many obstacles. And, nevertheless, it was kept alive and we have within our relations several dimensions that are important for the two countries."

Ambassador Shaked says the lines of communications between governments and businesses on both sides remain open.

Mr. Shaked says his government is aware that, in its relations with Israel, Egypt must also consider the views of its Arab neighbors. He blamed Palestinian terrorists for the frosty relations between Egypt and Israel.

The relations may be strained, but no regional observer or government official on either side suggests Egypt and Israel will break off relations altogether.

They point out that, while the 1979 agreement has not made Egypt and Israel close friends, it has allowed them to live side by side in peace.