Wednesday, September 17, 2008

AFP Story on 30 Years Since Camp David Conference

Egypt surveys peace horizon 30 years after Camp David

CAIRO (AFP) — Thirty years after Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David accords, which led to Israel's first peace treaty with an Arab nation, the Egyptian street is divided between forgetfulness and optimism.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the accords on September 17, 1978, after secret negotiations supervised by US President Jimmy Carter, leading to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979.
"The what accords?" "No idea." "Sorry, I don't know the details," are some of the responses on Cairo's streets.
Others refuse even to give an answer when asked about Egypt's relations with Israel.
But while poorer Egyptians are generally unaware of the accords' existence, wealthier classes say a horizon empty of war with Israel is good both for humanity and for business.
The absence of war is paramount, says Hisham Abdel Aziz, a 47-year-old civil servant, because "they made too many people suffer."
The two countries fought five wars in 25 years: the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, the Suez Crisis in 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition which ended in 1970 and lastly the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
More than 20,000 Egyptian soldiers died in the conflicts.
"I think the accords were a good thing because there are no more wars with Israel," says geographer Amr Osman, 44. "The most important thing is for the country to be at peace, for the economy to evolve and for tourism to develop."
Sadat made an unexpected visit to Jerusalem in 1977 to begin negotiations with Israel, becoming the first Arab leader to make an official visit to Israel and to recognise its existence.
"Sadat is the only Egyptian leader to have understood the American and Israeli mentalities. He was far-sighted. We got back all our land," says 26-year-old engineer Ibrahim al-Adli.
Israel had captured and occupied Egypt's Sinai peninsula during the 1967 war, with Israel returning the land to Egypt in 1982, evacuating its soldiers and settlers alike under the terms of the peace deal.
"Nowadays the Arabs have no sense of direction, no identity. They won't get anything back, with or without war," continues Ibrahim. "The Palestinians have missed their opportunity to get their rights back."
Tareq Khalil, 25, says the accords "haven't done anything. Zero."
"The accords didn't get us back Sinai. It was the wars beforehand," says Ahmed Eissa, 58. "The accords simply opened talks with Israel which were a dead letter."
Despite the peace agreement and the subsequent exchange of embassies, normalisation between the two populations is far away, although business possibilities abound, especially in tourism.
"Egypt welcomes Israeli and Jewish tourists. There's no problem because these are business relations. There's no relationship between peace and business," says a young man who declined to give his name.
Nevertheless, Israel frequently warns its citizens against holidaying in Sinai, because of what it says is the possibility of militant attacks or kidnappings.
Despite ongoing distrust on both sides, peace remains the ultimate end, whatever the means.
"We would not be where we are if the wars had continued. The most important thing is peace, with Israel or whomever else," says 25-year-old driver Hani Salem.
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