Israel upbeat over relations with Egypt
With a clear, post-Sinai rapprochement between Egypt and moderate Arab countries taking shape, Israeli officials are calm and optimistic about where it may lead.Skip to next paragraph
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Not all Israelis feel this way, but at an official level there is a mood of confidence that was distinctly absent in the weeks before the Sinai evacuation, when many in the Israeli hierarchy expressed suspicion of Egypt and foreboding about what would come after the withdrawal from Sinai.
This new, upbeat Israeli mood seems based on three post-April 25 developments:
* Egypt is still making it clear that Camp David is, if not the only way, then the ''precedent'' for a wider Arab-Israeli peace.
* Moderate Arabs are not objecting - and, in fact, appear to be endorsing Camp David in a way they never did when it was first drafted in 1978.
* Israel sees its peace with Egypt as ''strong and irreversible,'' regardless of Egyptian stands on the Palestinian issue. With Sinai out of the way, Israel is determined to bolster this peace through a concentration on bilateral normalization of relations and on Palestinian autonomy negotiations.
''The operative word for us (in our relationship with Egypt) is peace. We are very confident of it,'' a well-informed Israeli Foreign Ministry specialist told the Monitor April 27. ''The word peace carries a lot of weight within the government right now. Our strategy (with Egypt) is to make the peace irreversible.''
While it is still too early to determine the extent of the warming trend between Egypt and Arab moderates who had rejected Camp David, this Israeli official says the much-predicted development ''will not hurt'' relations between Israel and Egypt.
In the wake of the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai April 25 have come even stronger indications of a drawing together between Egypt and moderate Arab states.
A Cairo newspaper this week reported eight Arab countries - including the wealthy and populous cornerstones of the moderate bloc: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco - were on the verge of restoring full diplomatic relations with Egypt. The kings of Morocco and Jordan sent congratulatory messages to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
Saudi Arabia's government-controlled Radio Riyadh said the return of the Sinai was ''a pan-Arab achievement'' and indicated support for Egypt's continued negotiations with Israel on the issue of Palestinian autonomy.
In a letter from Mr. Mubarak to Israel's Menachem Begin last week the Egyptian President said his country would continue to uphold the Camp David process.
''We feel quite confident that peace with Egypt is a constant - Mr. Mubarak's letter spelled that out,'' the Israeli official said.
This official admitted, however, that Israel cannot expect to keep Egypt from advocating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza or an Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization dialogue:
''After all, the signatories to the (1980) Venice declaration advocated much the same thing. If France, Italy, Germany, and others said this, then logically one could expect Egypt to say this.''
Nor, said this Israeli, could Israel expect Egypt to refrain from criticizing Israel's settlement policy in occupied territories. Mr. Mubarak, in fact, told parliament that ''the planting of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory will produce nothing but more tension, fears, and suspicions.''
But such an Egyptian statement has done little to dissaude the Begin government. This week the Israeli government announced plans for seven new West Bank and Gaza settlements and promised an even faster building program in the future.
In a speech April 27, Mr. Begin said Jerusalem would remain undivided and ''there would never again be a redivision of western Eretz Israel,'' meaning the West Bank. Said the Israeli prime minister: ''Autonomy for the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria (the West Bank), and the Gaza district, yes - a Palestinian state in these areas of Eretz Israel, never. Under no circumstances.''
Thus at this time Israel sees its relationship with Egypt as separate from the Palestinian issue: If it is to be discussed between the two parties, then that will have to be in the forum provided by the Camp David ''autonomy'' talks. Moreover, Israeli diplomacy seems determined to fortify the peace with Egypt so that conflicts in this and other areas can be resolved in a peaceful manner.
''What we want is a situation like that between America and Canada,'' the Israeli Foreign Ministry official says. ''Not like, let us say, Britain and Argentina. We want to solve our problems with peace as a constant.
''If the other Arab countries that Egypt is talking to want that, then by all means, let us talk.''