Egypt, Israel swap eggs, tourists, but normalization moves slowly as Nile
Cairo — For one year a blue Star-of-David flag has fluttered unmolested over the heavily patrolled front entrance of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo's Dokki district.
Three flights of Israel's El Al airline have shuttled into Cairo airport each week, and a fourth is to be added. Some $3 million worth of Israeli eggs, Chickens, bananas, and miscellaneous goods have been shipped into the Egyptian market.
The Jerusalem Post can be found at selected newsstands.* And 20,000 of the 3. 6 million Israelis have visited the land of the pharaohs, the Pyramids, the country that once posed the greatest military threat to their existence.
These are some of the physical signs of "normalization," a process deemed crucial to the preservation of peace between Egypt and Israel. The Camp David accords explicitly call for "diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations, termination of economic boycotts and discriminatory barriers to the free movement of people and goods."
Planes of Egypt's Nefertiti airlines stand waiting to haul passengers to Israel's Lod airport, but most of the "free movement" seems to be originating in Israel and terminating in Egypt. Except for treaty-stipulated Egyptian oil shipments, outbound trade with Israel is negligible. And only 1,500 of the 42 millions in Egypt have journeyed north.
"Economically," says a Western diplomat, "normalization benefits the Israelis much more than the Egyptians. The average Egyptian cares very little about it."
Egyptian, Israeli, and neutral sources point out that even the little progress toward normalization is worth noting, but the future of the process is uncertain. In fact, as many problems exist with further normalization today as with another crucial part of Camp David -- namely, Palestinian autonomy. Both are bogged down.
While normalization is not officially linked to progress on the stubborn issue of autonomy ("the boring, technical issue of autonomy," as more than one egyptian official wearily puts it), sluggish normalization mirrors sluggishness in other aspects of Camp David.
Autonomy talks were broken off by Egypt late last year, with Israeli intransigence b eing blamed. Israel has called for their resumption, but Egypt says the time is not ripe. It is nine months past the Camp David deadline for an autonomy agreement.
Egypt's President, Anwar Sadat, Feb. 10 urged on a European peace initiative, anticipated sometime this spring, in the hopes, Egyptian officials say, of putting "moral pressure" on Israel to give ground on the Palestinian issue.
Mr. Sadat also is said to be waiting to see if Prime Minister Menachem Begin is replaced in Israel's June election by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, who may be more moderate but who still does not accept a Palestinian state.
An Israeli official told the Monitor that he hoped autonomy talks would resume but that Israeli citizens consider normalization "evidence of peace" and not a bargaining point for autonomy.
"We don't want Egyptians to think we are pushing for more normalization without proceeding with Palestinian autonomy. But our people want to know if after April 1982 [when Israel is to withdraw from the final one-third of the Sinai], the Egyptians, are going to remain committed to the process," he said.
"We don't want normalization as a huge trade relationship. We want it is a test every day of how far peace has come, to prove that we don't have only an agreement without value."
But Egyptians reply that normalization is, indeed, a test -- of how willing the Israelis are to compromise on autonomy. Officials calmly say they are committed to Camp David and to peace, but that normalization cannot be forced on the people or divorced from its context.
"How can we possibly not see the two as depending on each other?" asks a high-level Egyptian official. "When the Israelis build more settlements on the West Bank, when they make these declarations about Jerusalem ["eternal capital" of Israeli], when they complain that normalization is going too slowly -- can they expect us to go up and kiss Eliahu Ben Elissar [Israeli ambassador to Egypt ]? Normalization depends on progress and goodwill."
The Egyptian official points out that very few nations have totally harmonious, two-way relations between peoples.* He suggests that Israelis act more patiently and understand that Egyptians aren't waiting only until April 1982.
"I tell Israelis to look at the Nile if they want to understand the mentality of Egypt," he says. "It always flows. It gives food and fertility. It is given by God, not by man. And we wait for it."