What's In Store For Egypt-Israel Relations?

Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the historic Camp David treaty that saw Egypt become the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. Since then, only Jordan has joined Egypt in signing such an accord. Many Egyptians feel that keeping peaceful ties with the Jewish state has damaged their country's standing, and as a new, right-leaning government takes shape in Israel, they wonder what's in store.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Tomorrow marks the date 30 years ago that Egypt became the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. The treaty in 1979 has achieved its major goal, preventing another war between the two countries. But many Egyptians feel that keeping peaceful ties with the Jewish state has damaged the country's standing. And as a new right-leaning government takes shape in Israel, Egyptians wonder what's in store. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.

PETER KENYON: Egyptians believe the treaty negotiated at Camp David cost former President Anwar Sadat his life. He was assassinated two years after he signed it, and since then only Jordon has signed a similar accord with the Israelis. Egypt spent years overcoming Arab anger at what many people call a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. That anger seemed to resurface late last year as Israeli warplanes pounded the Gaza Strip.

(Soundbite of protest)

KENYON: From Jakarta to Istanbul, protestors condemned the Jewish state. But running a close second as an object of vilification was Egypt.

(Soundbite of protest)

KENYON: Egyptians were also angry. Truck driver Rafat Imam(ph), sitting at a roadside cafe on the way to the Gaza border, said a few days after the Israeli offensive began that he was disgusted with his government for failing to help the people of Gaza.

Mr. RAFAT IMAM (Egyptian): (Through translator) It's shameful. And that's not just my opinion. Everyone feels that. What's happening to the Palestinians is wrong. They're our brothers at the end of the day and Egypt could do many things to help them.

KENYON: But Egypt ignored the pressure and kept the border closed to all but emergency medical cases and supplies, explaining that it could not just throw the border open without violating the Camp David accord.

Analysts said the government had decided it could live with domestic dissent and regional condemnation, but it could not afford to break the treaty with Israel.

Three decades into what has frequently been referred to as a cold peace, the Camp David accord has taken root. There are trade ties, including the sale of Egyptian natural gas to Israel. And there's also the nearly $2 billion in U.S. foreign aid that has flowed to Cairo each year, second only to the amount given to Israel.

There are also close contacts as Egypt tries to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas, and a prisoner swap.

Analysts Assander Imrani(ph) at the International Crisis Group says if Egypt was once a reluctant partner in this accord, that's no longer the case.

Mr. ASSANDER IMRANI (International Crisis Group): If Camp David didn't exist, it would be - we would be dealing with a completely different region. We would probably have Egypt behaving more like Iran. It's almost unthinkable, you know, to think of the consequences of Camp David not being there.

KENYON: But Imrani says Egypt-Israeli relations are likely to face a new test as the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu puts together a new Israeli government. His foreign minister is expected to Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing leader who said last year that President Hosni Mubarak could go to hell.

Mr. IMRANI: The choice of Avigdor Lieberman adds insult to injury in that Lieberman has a history of having made other remarks, certainly racist ones, but also I think at one point he said - he suggested that the (unintelligible) should be nuked. But it's going to be difficult for the Egyptians to deal with him.

KENYON: If the past 30 years are any guide, however, Egypt will find a way to keep up its end of the Camp David accord, the improbable, unpopular chilly peace that has been a fact of life for more than a generation now.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.

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