It was incorrectly reported in the March 14 editions of The Washington Post that Israeli merchant ships have not been allowed to use the Suez Canal. According to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, at least 18 ships flying the Israeli flag have crossed the Suez Canal in the past two years.
Nearly three years after Egypt and Israel signed their historic peace treaty in an emotion-charged ceremony in the White House, normalization of relations remains hesitant and, at times, frustratingly elusive as viewed from this side of the border.
Israel, euphoric in those initial days of peace fever after March 26, 1979, gradually has become chary--bordering on disillusioned. Almost daily new barriers to the kind of routine bilateral relations that other nonwarring nations take for granted are perceived here.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's refusal to include Jerusalem on his itinerary when--and now, if-- he makes his first visit to Israel has commanded headlines here recently.
Yet smaller, less contentious conflicts about mundane normalization agreements signed long ago are what have prompted suspicions here that the spirit of Camp David is being eroded by Egyptian connivance.
These suspicions, in turn, have become magnified by the April 25 deadline for Israel's withdrawal from the last third of the Sinai Peninsula and the fear that when Egypt gets back the last slice of the territory it lost in the 1967 Six-Day War, such avenues to normal relations as trade, communications, cultural exchange, diplomacy and tourism will become even more tortuous.
It is widely taken for granted now in Israeli government circles that Mubarak intends to lower Egypt's profile in relations with Israel drastically after April 25 as Egypt seeks rapprochement with its former allies in the Arab world.
While Israel has learned to take that prospect for granted, it has not learned to live comfortably with it.
"Frankly speaking, I don't see what Egypt stands to gain from lowering its profile with Israel after this magic date. Camp David and the treaty is sort of a combination deal, a combination of two major elements," Oded Eran, deputy director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Egypt desk, said recently.
The elements to which he referred are--apart from Israel's withdrawal from the Sinai--normal relations and negotiations on autonomy for the 1.3 million Arab residents in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"How do you expect us to go on with normal autonomy talks if they the Egyptians try to improve their relations with the Arab world at our expense?" Eran asked.
Eran said that the late president Anwar Sadat "looked at the whole thing differently": rapprochement with moderate Arab states and genuine normalization of relations with Israel were not incompatible.
Mubarak, according to Eran and other Israeli officials, appears to regard a visible economic, cultural and diplomatic relationship with Israel as an obstacle to Egypt's hopes for renewing ties to the Arab world.
Mubarak's determination not to include Jerusalem on the itinerary for his first visit to Israel is a symptom of that conviction, Israeli officials say.
Last month, when Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir visited Cairo, Mubarak made it clear that he preferred a "working" visit to an official state visit and that the visit could be to any Israeli city other than Jerusalem. Israel's annexation of the city's eastern sector in 1967 remains a sticking point in any comprehensive peace agreement.
Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his Cabinet immediately said that if Mubarak refused to visit Jerusalem, he could not come to Israel.
Israeli officials say they now believe that Mubarak may decide to extract himself from an awkward position by visiting Jerusalem for part of one day, while spending the night in Tel Aviv or another city.
But there is a growing belief among Israeli officials that if the Jerusalem standoff is not resolved before April 25, Mubarak will not visit Israel in the foreseeable future, even though, as one Israeli official put it, "There may be more to talk about after April 25 than before."
But other elements of normalization, and not the Mubarak visit, are causing the growing anxiety in Israel about the future of relations. They include the following:
Trade relations, which according to the treaty and a trade agreement signed in April 1980 were supposed to include normal commerce without any "discriminatory barriers or economic boycotts."
Although Israel ratified the agreement in June 1980, Egypt did not ratify it until April 1981.
Annual trade between the two countries is only $20 million, a minute proportion of their total exports, and Israeli officials complain that despite year-old Egyptian promises, the public sector of Egypt's industry, 85 percent of the total, has remained closed to Israeli trade.
Eran portrayed a subtle practice of discrimination. For example, he said, when 100 tons of liquefied carbon dioxide were needed here recently, Israeli importers found a Cairo firm willing to sell it. But because it was a public company, Egypt refused to permit Israeli tanker trucks to load the shipment and refused to grant permission so that Egyptian trucks could transport it.
Also, Israeli officials say, Egypt's restriction of Israeli money transfers through just one bank--the Bank of Suez--has hampered trade. Israeli firms have not been allowed to open branches in Egypt, the Israelis say, and Egyptian newspapers do not accept ads from Israeli companies.
Shipping. Despite signed agreements, Israeli merchant ships still are not allowed to use the Suez Canal, Israeli officials complain. Moreover, they say, Egypt rejected Israel's offer to let Egyptian merchant vessels use its port at Ashdod and land routes to relieve congestion at Port Said and Alexandria.
Freight transport across the Sinai, in which shippers are still tied to back-to-back loading of trucks at the El Arish border crossing. In dispute are crossing fees to compensate Egypt for the cheap fuel Israeli truckers can purchase there. Egyptian diesel fuel costs 3.5 cents a liter, while Egyptian truckers would have to pay 42 cents a liter in Israel.
Tourism. While 50,000 Israeli tourists have visited Egypt in the past two years, fewer than 2,000 Egyptians have visited Israel. Officials here charge that Egyptians seeking Israeli visas often find that passport applications take up to three months to process in Egypt, thereby discouraging visits to Israel.
The Egyptian commercial airliner that flies between Cairo and Tel Aviv four times weekly shows Egypt's ambivalence toward normalization, Eran said. The plain white Boeing 707 has no Egyptian identifying marks other than the obligatory registration numbers.
Cultural exchanges. Although the countries have made progress in this field, it has been slow, said Eran, who noted that a youth exchange program set for June 1981 did not take place until January.
Communications. A telecommunications agreement was signed in February 1980, but telephone, telex and mail connections still pass through Europe. Egypt also has refused to exchange television programs with Israel.
There is particular annoyance here at statements made by some Egyptian officials that after the Sinai turnover, the normalization process may go more smoothly.
"First they linked peace and the progress of normalization to progress in the autonomy negotiations. Now, they are linking it to the withdrawal," said Eran.
The question on his and other Israeli officials' minds is what normalization will be pinned to after April 25.