The Egyptian invitation is still in the mail
Granted, even without an ambassador, the relations between Israel and Egypt are proceeding smoothly, that is, at the usual level of coldness. But this is a period of symbols in which a smile, a handshake, a flowery phrase or a hug are the thin nail holding the road map to the wall.
The friendly telephone conversation between Hosni Mubarak and Ariel Sharon in January this year was more than routine congratulations uttered at the election of a new prime minister. Mubarak invited Sharon to visit Egypt after forming his cabinet.
A month later, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher announced that "a date for the invitation was not yet set." Half a year later, there is still no date for the visit. Nor is there an estimated date to reinstate the Egyptian (and Jordanian) ambassador in Israel.
One may wonder what Egypt is committed to - the Arab League's decision to sever ties with Israel (although not diplomatic ties) or to Mubarak's invitation.
Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah may be credited with a considerable part of the political product later dubbed the road map. Abdullah was the first to believe that the partial, gradual agreements, like those outlined in the Tenet and Mitchell reports, must be abandoned and replaced with an overall solution reflecting a comprehensive political vision. Mubarak elaborated on the idea a little more and suggested to Washington last June to first declare a Palestinian state, even if in temporary borders, and only then start negotiating on the whole idea. These suggestions were accompanied by another reward for Israel - an Arab security belt to guarantee its security. This security belt appears amorphously in the Saudi initiative ensuring a comprehensive regional peace with Israel at the end of successful negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israel shrugged at the Arab proposal "to protect its safety." But, meanwhile, some things happened in the region. For example, the tremendous Egyptian effort to put together the hudna, to stop the Palestinian terror wave and to give Israel a new challenge that would oblige it to start walking down the political path in exchange for a Palestinian cease-fire. Egypt took a risk, which is hard to call calculated in view of Mubarak's perception of Sharon as "the man who understands only force and war." Meanwhile, the risk is proving worthwhile. The Israel Defense Forces has retreated from the Gaza Strip and shifted to remote control over Bethlehem.
Mubarak knows that his achievement - which, in addition to praise from the Palestinian Authority and thanks from the organization leaders, also won praise from Washington - depends to a large extent on Sharon's good behavior. It is true that Mubarak placed the responsibility on Washington and demanded it educate her unruly, disobedient son after he achieved the hudna. But, for the Palestinian organizations, Mubarak has remained the hudna's father.
Therefore, his responsibility to this move does not end with the role of a lawyer who managed to get a good agreement, received his pay and can move on to the next client. Because the road map, the advanced version of Mubarak's initiative, is a Middle East vision, not merely an Israeli-Palestinian one. Mubarak, who turned the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel into an instrument to conduct policy, and who appoints or recalls an ambassador according to the temperature of Israel's relations with the Palestinians or other Arab countries, is now required to use this instrument to move the road map forward.
Granted, even without an ambassador, the relations between Israel and Egypt are proceeding smoothly, that is, at the usual level of coldness. But this is a period of symbols in which a smile, a handshake, a flowery phrase or a hug are the thin nail holding the road map to the wall. It is not superfluous to demand that Egypt strengthen this support and return its ambassador to Israel, to implement the invitation to Sharon to visit Cairo and to give the Israelis a feeling that an agreement with an Arab state is not a punishment or a whip.
After all, this is no more than a modest request. What are we asking? That he be more Palestinian than Abu Mazen and come to Israel? That he release Azam Azam? That he "recommend" to the editor of Al Ahram not only to write about Israel but to visit it, as well?