A "memorial assembly" is usually considered a gloomy term. Even when it refers to an assembly marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which took place yesterday (today, March 26, is the actual date of the anniversary). It subsumes the context of a sour event that began with an historic turning point and concluded with an newly minted political term - "cold peace."
The treaty was signed by a visionary Egyptian president, Anwar al-Sadat, and a history-laden Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin. A quarter of a century later, it was supposed to be commemorated by two Egyptian parliamentarians, who were subjected to scathing criticism in Egypt for agreeing to visit the Israeli Knesset at a time that Israel "is murdering the Palestinian people. "The visit was canceled as an Egyptian gesture toward the Palestinians' mourning for the killing of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Israel is a bad country in the public discourse in Egypt. For some of the media it is still the "Zionist entity" and is plotting conspiracies of domination, is stealing Egyptian antiquities, is spying and is spoiling Egypt's relations with the United States. Woe to the Egyptian journalist who will visit Israel in order to learn about the country. Israeli books are not on display at the Egyptian international book fair, and Egyptian writers are not permitted to allow their works to be translated into Hebrew. Israel must not be allowed to understand the Egyptian "spirit," say the opponents of such translations, because that understanding has intelligence value. Those who oppose the peace speak of it as "peace between governments," meaning that there is no fraternity between the nations, and there is more than a hint that the government in Cairo has betrayed its citizens.
True, this is not the model of the peace that was longed for, but anyone who tries to forgo it will be in trouble. The peace has come through and survived tremendous tests and trials: barren and stingy talks at Taba that ended more than a decade after the treaty was signed; deep Egyptian isolation in the Arab world lasting for many long years; the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor behind the back of the Egyptian friend; the Lebanon War, which thrust Egypt into an Arab tug of war; and the first intifada and the second intifada, too. In fact, it's a wonder the peace treaty is still in existence. Yet not only is there no Egyptian military threat, but Israel wants to recruit Egypt as part of the security belt it wants to create around the Gaza Strip.
The peace with Israel rapidly evolved into a principal element of the Egyptian security conception, even when Israeli cabinet ministers suggested that Israel bomb the Aswan Dam. When Arab leaders called for an attack on Israel at the start of the intifada, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak proposed that they do use their own countries as staging grounds, and not Egypt. Egypt, he declared, will not sacrifice any of its citizens for such a war. Israel, as usual, remains suspicious, doing an annual stocktaking in which it checks the cold scale of the peace with Egypt. With what other country does Israel do such a reckoning? When was peace signed with France or Holland? But with Egypt, who knows? It's only been 25 years. A temporary peace.
However, this peace exists far beyond arithmetic calculations of profit and loss. It shattered axiomatic thinking and a national heritage according to which Israel is a lone country amid an Arab world that wants only to destroy it. Sadat sought a comprehensive, durable peace but "made do" with a durable peace, a possible peace, even if not utopian. An Egyptian peace, not necessarily a pan-Arab one. As such, he opened the twisting channel of additional "peaces," with Jordan, partially with Morocco, partially with Qatar, a bit with Tunisia and something with Oman. Negotiations with Syria, negotiations with the Palestinians, and in any event, no new boycott of a country that will seek ties with Israel.
Each Arab state according to its ability and according to its ambitions. And all this while Israel continues to occupy territories not its own and is waging a fierce war with the Palestinians.
After 25 years, the enigma that preoccupies Israel - "what's left of the peace with Egypt?" - can be shelved for good, and together with Egypt maybe the time has come to stop holding the annual memorial ceremonies for the peace. After all, the sun comes up every day, too.
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