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Normalization Between Egypt and Israel is Proceeding but at a Slower Pace Than Israel Had Hoped

February 23, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Far more Egyptians would like to come to Israel, as tourists out of curiosity or as businessmen to trade, than the Egyptian government is apparently prepared to allow, according to the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Eliyahu Ben-Elissar.

Speaking on a radio program marking the first anniversary of the opening of the Israel Embassy in Cairo, the first in any Arab country, he said that slow, step-by-step progress in normalization of relations between the two countries had been made during the past year, but slower than Israel had hoped.

Interviewed on the some program, the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel, Saad Mortada, expressed satisfaction with the tempo, adding that there were still differences between the two countries, mainly because of the Jerusalem bill declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, West Bank settlements and Israel’s treatment of some Arab mayors and Palestinians in the occupied areas.

Prof. Shlomo Shamir, of Tel Aviv university’s Shiloah Center for Middle East research, noted both successes and failures due to the differing

importance placed by the two parties on the normalization process. He said that after “normal” peace treaties ending a war, establishment of relations between the former enemies was left to progress at its own pace.

But the Israel-Egypt treaty ended three decades of an Arab attempt not only to gain territory or control, the usual reason for a war, but to annihilate the Israeli entity. While not so important to Egypt, normalization for Israel was a clear indication of Egyptian intentions, Shamir said.

Mortada said he recalled that some years ago the late Golda Meir had said that for her peace or normalization with Egypt would mean that she could go shopping in Cairo. “During the past year my Embassy has issued 50,000 visas to Israelis who have gone shopping in Cairo and been welcomed there,” he said.


But Ben-Elissar noted that in that same period the Israeli Embassy in Cairo has been asked for visas by only 1,500 Egyptians, including members of official delegations. He saw a lack of symmetry in the mutual normalization process.

“For the Egyptians, normalization is a means. For Israel it is a means of testing the quality and nature of the peace for which we have given up territory needed for defense … I remember how we were ready to dance in the streets when the Egyptian flog was raised here for the first time. No Egyptian had every dreamed for the day when the Israeli flag would fly in Cairo,” Ben-Elissar said.

“There is therefore a certain asymmetry, but the problems should be seen in their proper perspective. A psychological barrier still exists, not only between Israelis and Egyptians but between the Egyptian man-in-the-street and his government. For more Egyptians are ready to come to Israel than the Egyptian government is prepared to allow.”

Shamir said the greatest achievement of the past year was probably the breaching of the “Arab world’s taboo” against any relations with Israel. The failures were in the speed of normalization, arising from serious opposition to the peace treaty on the part of many Egyptian intellectuals. “But the peace treaty has created a new political fact. You have to compare now with the situation before. The Egyptians have advanced light years, even though they have not gone as fast as we would have liked to hope, Shamir said.

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