CAIRO — Thirty years after Egypt signed a historic peace treaty with Israel — the first Arab country to do so — many here still question whether the 1979 deal with the Jewish state delivered the benefits Egyptians believed it was supposed to.
The Israeli government marked the March 26 anniversary with a reception last Wednesday. Egypt, a U.S. ally and a regional heavyweight, barely acknowledged it.
The mood in this Arab nation now is far removed from the momentum of the iconic handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on the White House lawn that ended the war.
On the street, there were no visible signs of the anniversary. The date, however, didn’t pass unnoticed in Egyptian newspapers, which last Thursday published commentaries questioning whether the treaty gave the two neighbors the desired stability.
Some Egyptian analysts said it failed to improve the situation for Palestinians or help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Others said the accord was a must and a diplomatic victory for Egypt.
Egypt’s foreign minister at the time of the treaty, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, now 87, recounted in the independent El-Shorouk daily that the peace deal was “an event to be remembered in history for 100 years.”
Others were more subdued.
“The fact that we are not fighting on the battlefield doesn’t necessarily mean that we achieved peace,” Ameen Howeedi, Egypt’s former intelligence chief and defense minister, said in comments published in the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. “If we say that, then we will be leaving our children a deceitful political heritage.”
The head of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, Abdel Moneim Saeed, told The Associated Press the deal “at least gave Egypt the Sinai back, and this is no small value.”
He was referring to Begin’s withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Sinai Peninsula in 1982. Egypt also emerged “stronger to help the Palestinians” in the years that followed, Saeed said.
But post-treaty relations have stayed frosty — something that has become known in Israel as “cold peace.”
Egyptian officials are quick to criticize Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, although they act as mediators between the two sides. Cairo is currently trying to arrange a cease-fire and prisoner swap between Israel and the Hamas militants in Gaza. It also is hosting reconciliation talks between Hamas and its Western-backed Palestinian rival, Fatah.
Saeed denies claims by some that the treaty promised Egypt riches but that the country today is poorer because of it.
“If this agreement was not signed, Egypt would have fought with Israel for every single decade since,” he said.
The office of Israeli President Shimon Peres said last Thursday that the Israeli leader called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to offer congratulations on the anniversary.
“There’s no doubt that although the 30 years have not been perfect, they were 1,000 times better than continuing our conflict and war,” the statement quoted Peres as saying. “I remember well your saying that you weren’t interested in sacrificing your children and soldiers in vain.”
The statement quoted Mubarak as saying he had no intention of changing Egypt’s policy on peace with Israel and that “whoever seeks war doesn’t know what a real war is.”
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