Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have blamed each other publicly for the strained relations between their countries.
In an interview published in yesterday's editions of The New York Times, Peres said the current "cold peace" with Egypt could cause Israelis to question the value of efforts to normalize relations with their Arab neighbors.
"You see," Peres said, "some Israelis can say, rightly, 'Look, the Arabs want land for peace.' In the case of Egypt, 99.999 percent of the land was returned and many Israelis are asking, 'Did we get 99.999 percent of peace?' "
Mubarak responded in Cairo yesterday that he was dissatisfied with Israel's attitude toward mutual problems and urged it to be more flexible over a disputed strip of beach at Taba, on the Gulf of Aqaba coast. Egypt says Taba is part of the Sinai and should have been returned to it with the rest of the Sinai. Israel also claims the four-acre tract, on which it has built a luxury resort hotel.
During recent talks, the two sides narrowed differences but failed to resolve the dispute. "I am asking the Israelis to be much more flexible," Mubarak told reporters, according to news agencies.
Relations between the two countries, which signed a peace treaty in 1979, have been cool since Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. Egypt recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest and has refused to resume normal relations.
Israeli hard-liners such as former defense minister Ariel Sharon who oppose making significant concessions to the Arabs argue that the strained relations are a result of Egypt's desire to win favor with other Arabs who had ostracized it after the peace treaty. Thus, Sharon contends, there is little Israel can do to warm up the so-called cold peace.
Peres told The New York Times that since he became prime minister in September, his government had made several unilateral moves to ease Arab-Israeli problems including a plan for withdrawal from Lebanon, an invitation to negotiate with Jordan's King Hussein and expressions of readiness to improve relations with Egypt. "Now it must be a mutual effort, and I can't say that I am satisfied with the mutuality of the effort," he said.