By Zvi Bar'el
It's hard to say about the peace between Israel and Egypt that "time flies when you're having fun." This week will mark 30 years since the signing of the peace agreement, and Egypt is still suspect. It never passed the test of "tourist peace"; masses of Egyptians never came to vacation on Tel Aviv's beaches. Israeli authors do not appear at Egyptian book fairs, and the Israeli embassy in Cairo is closely monitored, not only by Egyptian intelligence but also by intellectuals, journalists and reporters ready to pounce on any Egyptian "spy" who penetrates the besieged structure to ask for a visa to Israel. Professional associations forbid their members from visiting Israel, and when an Egyptian parliamentarian wants to insult his colleague he tells him that "even the Israelis would not do what you are doing."
This is a peace that from the start was based not on love but on the slogan that has remained so important for Israel: "No more war. No more bloodshed." A peace not only free of war but also from the threat of war. Because of this peace, the Arab world's leading country found itself isolated by the Arabs, but maintained its diplomatic ties even when Israel occupied another Arab country, Lebanon, killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians and destroyed hundreds of homes over the past 30 years. And it has kept these ties going even when Israel's current foreign minister-designate, Avigdor Lieberman, called for bombing the Aswan Dam, and when Israel embarked on a war in the Gaza Strip.
One can only guess Israel's reaction if some country did to the Jewish people even one tenth of what Israel has done to the Palestinians. And after all, Egypt still lauds Anwar Sadat as "the hero of war and peace," and President Hosni Mubarak continues to challenge extremist Arab leaders by saying that anyone who wants to wage war on Israel should do so from his own territory. Egypt took the strategic decision not to play this game. True, the Egyptian ambassador may not participate in the 30-year anniversary celebrations because Lieberman is about to become foreign minister, and Egyptians prefer to celebrate the victory of the October War and not the day that peace was signed. But it is only in Egypt where the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service and the head of the military wing of Hamas have been within touching distance of each other.
Cold or hot, this is a more successful peace than that between India and Pakistan, Syria and Lebanon or Egypt and Syria. All maintain full diplomatic ties, replete with a deep sense of revulsion for each other.
This is a strategic peace between states and not between nations. A peace of interests, the kind that suits precisely the threats that Israel has tried to neutralize.
Its test, like that of the peace with Jordan and the peace Israel aspires to have with Syria, is not in the "quantity" of normalization but in the number of border incidents that are prevented. A peace where the meeting of intelligence chiefs is considered by both sides to be a greater achievement than another meeting in Cairo or Jerusalem between an Israeli and an Egyptian author.
The expression "cold peace" has carved out a place in Israel's diplomatic and public lexicon.
But it is interesting to speculate how Israel would respond if a million Egyptian tourists visited Tel Aviv's beaches, hitting on Israeli girls and flooding the hotels, and the Egyptian dialect was heard in every corner of the malls of Rishon Letzion or Ga'ash.
And what would happen to that same peace if hundreds of thousands of Egyptians tried to take advantage of it to work in Israel, or if Egyptian businessmen bought strategically important Israeli companies? Are you feeling a little nervous already? Yes, we want a warm peace with Egypt, but at a distance. Tourists from Scandinavia? Yes. French apartment buyers? Sure. Just not Egyptians - Arabs, I mean.
It seems that both sides enjoy the peace's coolness. In Israel it serves as an excuse for lazy diplomacy because, after all, it's not worth giving up territory for a "cold peace" like this. For Egypt, this "cold" grants it the appropriate degree of distance that allows it to enjoy the status of "respectability" in the Middle East. All we want is to have the opportunity to reach another 30 years of this sort of peace.