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December 5, 2004
Further Signs Of Israeli-Egyptian Rapprochement

In another significant sign that Egypt and Israel may be drawing closer, the two nations swapped prisoners at the Taba checkpoint today, resolving another irritant between the two nations:

Egypt freed an Israeli Arab man convicted of spying in exchange for Israel's release of six Egyptian students Sunday, a swap that signaled a warming of relations that had been severely strained by the four-year-old Palestinian uprising. ...

Egypt released Azzam Azzam, who was sentenced in 1997 to 15 years in prison after an Egyptian court convicted him of espionage. At the time, Azzam ran a textile factory in Egypt, and Israel has denied he was an agent. ...

Israel, in turn, released six Egyptian students who had sneaked into the country in August and were arrested on suspicion they tried to kidnap Israeli soldiers and commandeer a tank.

The swap is the second major development in this past week that seems to show improving relations between the two countries, and especially between Hosni Mubarak and Ariel Sharon. Earlier, Mubarak made a stunning statement that Sharon -- long reviled as a war criminal by Arabs -- represented the Palestinians' best chance for peace. In fact, he told the press that if the Palestinians didn't hurry up and conclude an agreement with Sharon, they likely would not see one in a long time, an allusion to Sharon's political troubles.

These developments have been made possible by two major developments: the death of Yasser Arafat and the offer of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza by Sharon. The latter is the boldest move towards peace by Israel since Ehud Barak offered Arafat 95% of what he demanded, only to be rewarded by another bloody intifada for his courage. The former proves that the Bush and Sharon administrations chose the correct policy by refusing to negotiate with Arafat, who would never have provided any kind of concession in negotiations. With the old, unreconstructed terrorist out of the way, even the other Arab governments feel free to negotiate with Israel. Arafat's presence as Great Leader prevented them from achieving peace as surely as it did the Israelis.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 5, 2004 10:37 AM

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