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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 14:10 GMT
Analysis: Egypt's message to Israel
Egyptian protest
Egypt has been at boiling point over Israeli moves on Jerusalem
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

The recall of Egypt's ambassador to Israel sends a very strong message from the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state more than 20 years ago.

To this day, only Jordan has followed in Cairo's footsteps by opening an embassy in Tel Aviv. Three other Arab states opened interest sections but these have been closed in protest at the recent violence.

Egyptian ambassador to Israel Muhammad Bassiouni (pictured with his wife)
Bassiouni has been stationed in Israel since 1986
Given Egypt's weight in the Arab world, its peace treaty with Israel and good relations with the US, Cairo has been allowed to play a major role in past Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking.

Although Ambassador Muhammad Bassiouni has been ordered home, Egypt has not bowed to pressure from other Arab countries and its own people in the street to sever ties with Israel and close its embassy.

Nevertheless, Egypt is being feted throughout the Arab world and especially in the streets and ministries of the West Bank and Gaza.

Egypt-Israel peace
19 Nov 1977
Sadat flies to Israel and recognises Jewish state
17 Sept 1978
Israel agrees pull-out from occupied Sinai
26 Mar 1979
Full peace treaty signed
Egypt's envoy recalled
5 Nov 1995
Pres Mubarak's first trip to Israel for Rabin's funeral
Arabs are angry about what they see as Israel's ongoing massacre of Palestinians for protesting against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinian death toll has passed 200 in nearly two months of clashes.

The recent meetings held to discuss the issue - at the Arab League in Cairo and an Islamic summit in Qatar - left it to individual states to decide whether to downgrade their relations with Israel.

Jordan has also resisted calls to close its embassy, but Amman has issued furious statements criticising "Israeli aggressions" and has delayed sending a newly-appointed ambassador to his post in Tel Aviv.

Riot police deployed at Cairo University
Some Egyptian protests have threatened to get out of control
Many Arab countries without relations with Israel, and which therefore have little leverage on the situation, regularly criticise any perceived escalation of the crisis on Israel's part.

Saudi Arabia - which is providing $250m in a billion-dollar Arab aid package to the Palestinians - has appealed to the world community to co-operate to pressurise Israel to comply with international resolutions specifying Israeli withdrawal from occupied land.

From enemy to cautious friend

Full diplomatic relations were instituted between Israel and Egypt, previously its most formidable Arab enemy, as part of the historic peace treaty signed by President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin on 26 March 1979.

Recognising Israel and going it alone to recover land seized by Israel in 1967 earned Cairo more than a decade of isolation from fellow Arab states.

Sadat, President Carter, Begin shake on the 1979 peace treaty
A White House lawn handshake ended 30 years of war
But despite the ups and downs of Arab-Israeli relations since then, only once before has Egypt recalled its ambassador and that was following Israel's bloody invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Tuesday's move underlines Israel's isolation in the region. Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami called it a "grave matter" but suggested it might just be a "public step" to placate popular anger.

Egyptian street protests have been among the most strident in the region since the Israeli-Palestinian violence broke out in September.

It will be interesting to see at what point Egypt will consider sending Mr Bassiouni back to Tel Aviv.

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