Egypt, Israel walking on eggshells as they try to make relations work
Israel and Egypt are finding plenty of potholes on the bumpy road to normal relations. The Israelis think the Egyptians are mvoing too slowly in implementing the newly reestablished relations. The Egyptians think the Israelis are pushing too hared. And both neighbors tend to misinterpret difficulties as expressions of bad intent.
Take the incident of the eggs. One of the few trade deals executed between Egypt and Israel was a large shipment of eggs imported from Israel. In a magazine article published this week, Egyptian journalis offered the Egyptians eggs at a low price to flood the market, then raised the price, then withdrew the eggs altogether.
"What are we to make of that?" he writes. "Could they really expect us to consider it as a demonstration of seriousness and good will?"
"He doesn't understand what happened at all," says an ISraeli diplomat. "We do not always have food surpluses in Israel. When we do, we export. At that particular time, we had a surplus, and then it ended."
When the common border between Egypt and Israel officially opened last Jan. 26 and ambassadors were exchanged a month later, the euphoria of the new peace treaty still held sway. The Israeli press reported the corssing of the first tour bus, the opneing of the Isrealie Embassy in Cairo, the arrival of the First El Al jet, passage of the first newspaper, all in exahustive detaul, as concrete signs that peace was at work.
Now, as the novelty weares off, the euphoria has given away to a more sober mood.
While up to 6,000 Israeli tourists have visited Egypt since January, only a few hundred Egyptians have crossed the border, most of them going to visit relatives in the Gaza Strip. Trade has been limited to a few shipments from Israel of chicks, eggs, and fruit. The l Egyptians have received an Israeli order for a shipment of onions, but it has not yet been delivered.
An Israeli agricultural delegation visited Egypt, but the Egyptian delegation scheduled to go to Israel canceled its trip in mid-August without explanation.
Only one or two Egyptian professors have visited Israeli universities, and no official invitations have yet been extended to Israeli academics by Egyptian insitutions. However, many Israeli writers, artists, intellectuals, and prominent political figures have come on private visits and met on a frequent basis with Egyptian scholars, officials, and even President Anwar Sadat.
The Israelis feel the Egyptians are dragging their feet on implementing the agreements.
"Many businessmen from Israel tried to sell things here and could not," says one Israeli Embassy official here, "because none of the Egyptians could get import licenses."
Another complaint is that the Egyptians who come to the embassy to inquire about visas are "dissuaged," in the words of the official, from doing so by the Egyptian guards at the gate. "In a country like Egypts," he concluded, "when a citizen wants to go to Israel and is stopped and questioned, he donsn't go."
It is, the Egyptians say, a misunderstanding. "The security people at the embassy are keen to do their work," says an Egyptian in the normalization office at the Goreign Ministry. "They have to check to see who's going in and why. We asked the Israelis, would you rather we had them removed?"
Meanwhile, the political climate between the two nations, which has been racked by suspensions of the Palestinian autonomy negotiations and nasty exchanges between ploiticians, does nothing to help induce Egyptian businessment to conduct ventures with Israel.
"People do not want to be the first," says an Egyptian woman with a firm that was negotiating a business deal with Israelis. "People have lost a lot here before. If conditions change, then the government will look to see who was the first to establish relations with Israel."