Israel's 'Cold' Peace With Egypt, Jordan Grows Chillier

Hala Mustafa, editor of Egypt's 'Democracy' magazine i i

Hala Mustafa, editor-in-chief of Egypt's Democracy magazine (shown here in 2007), faces sanctions from the Egyptian journalists' union for meeting the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Hala Mustafa, editor of Egypt's 'Democracy' magazine

Hala Mustafa, editor-in-chief of Egypt's Democracy magazine (shown here in 2007), faces sanctions from the Egyptian journalists' union for meeting the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen.

AFP/Getty Images

The Obama administration has made little progress so far in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The stalemate is heightening Arab enmity toward the Jewish state — even in the two Arab nations that have peace treaties with Israel: Egypt and Jordan.

The Egyptian and Jordanian governments maintain diplomatic and limited trade relations with Israel, but the hostility in the state-run media is escalating.

Thirty years after Israel and Egypt signed their peace accord, an Egyptian editor faces possible sanctions simply for meeting last month with the Israeli ambassador.

It has been 15 years since Jordan's peace accord with Israel, but the pro-Israel nonprofit organization The Israel Project says a new poll finds Jordanians have an intensely negative attitude toward Israel and little optimism for the peace process.

The Arab media is rarely sympathetic to Israel, but lately, the barrage in Egypt has been unrelenting. The state-backed Al-Ahram newspaper announced a ban on its reporters interviewing Israelis, and the latest issue of its English-language weekly blares the headline "Wanted for Murder," over an article about Israel's Gaza offensive that asks, "How long will it take to charge Israeli war criminals?"

Israel's Low Profile In Cairo

Are these signs of a dramatic new chill between Egypt and Israel? As a matter of fact, no, Egyptians reply with a smile — just try and find the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

On a bustling thoroughfare, down the street from Cairo University, a small blue and white cloth flutters high atop an anonymous-looking apartment building. It's barely noticeable from street level, and you have to look twice to recognize it as the Israeli flag.

Occupying a few floors of a high-rise instead of the usual prestigious compounds that house diplomats from other nations, the Israeli Embassy in Egypt captures the awkward and sometimes hostile nature of a three-decade peace of sorts.

The situation inspired the 2005 hit comedy El-sefara fi El-Omara, or The Embassy in the Building . Veteran comic actor Adel Imam plays an engineer who returns from Dubai to find the Israeli Embassy has moved into his building.

Stunned to see the Israeli flag flying outside his window, he stalks to the elevator where he complains about the Israelis to a fellow passenger. He urges the other man to join him in shunning the diplomats, only to be struck speechless when he finds he has been talking with the Israeli ambassador himself.

Egyptian 'Boycott'

Although the film played it for laughs, Egyptian journalists fail to see the humor in shunning Israel. The journalists' union has maintained a boycott of Israel since the 1980s.

Last month, Hala Mustafa, editor of Al-Ahram's Democracy journal, held a one-hour meeting with Shalom Cohen, the Israeli ambassador to Egypt. As a result, the Egyptian journalist faced sanctions from the union.

When she arrived at the union's headquarters to defend herself, she says she was surprised when union leaders stood by and watched while a government official led the questioning.

Mustafa says after hosting and praising President Obama's historic June 4 speech in Cairo on dialogue and outreach, Egypt should be more willing to shake off old attitudes.

"The positive aspect in this crisis is that it raised public debate in the country on Egypt's relations with Israel. Not discussing the issue, it's not a solution," she says.

Abdallah Schleifer, journalism professor at the American University in Cairo, says the media boycott of Israel reflects what he calls an "un-serious" approach to the problem. He notes that while intellectuals, journalists and others are permitted to vent their outrage against the Jewish state, the government continues to have active trade relations with Israel in textiles, natural gas and other areas.

"You would think the boycott would be in an area of seriousness: no products from the settlements, no products from Israel, no trade relations with Israel. That's serious boycott stuff, but somehow we don't hear about it," Schleifer says. "Instead we hear about the idea that journalists should boycott their own job, which is to go get the news."

On the other hand, says analyst Emad Gad at the state-financed Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, the 1979 peace accord was always meant to be a first step, with full normalization coming only after the Palestinian question was resolved.

"I think we are waiting for two or three generations to speak about peace. We are waiting for the starting point," Gad says.

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