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Monday, 19 October, 1998, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Camp David, 20 years on
 Camp David spoke of
Camp David spoke of "a new era of reconciliation"
By BBC Middle East Correspondent, Paul Adams

Sitting in the middle of a region still plagued by division and hostility, one could be forgiven for not realising that anniversaries of two of the most significant milestones in Middle East peace have fallen within days of each other.

Both had their origins in the desire of regional leaders to break down decades of deadlock. Both were signed in the presence of US presidents amid feelings of high optimism.

CAMP DAVID

The Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt, witnessed by Jimmy Carter at the president's Maryland retreat on 17 September, 1978, spoke of "a new era of reconciliation in the Middle East". It marked the first peace agreement reached between Israel and one of her hostile Arab neighbours.

A climate of fear helped to bring Mr Netanyahu to power in 1996
A climate of fear helped to bring Mr Netanyahu to power in 1996
For 20 years, that peace has held, but reconciliation remains a distant prospect. Both sides call it a "cold peace" and since the advent of Israel's present right wing government, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the temperature has fallen dramatically.

Marking this anniversary, the Israeli government points out that anti-semitism and denial of the Holocaust remain regular features of the official Egyptian press.

Military briefings note that Egypt's army has recently adopted a more aggressive posture, while ministers, including Mr Netanyahu, accuse Egypt of interfering in negotiations designed to end more than 18 months of stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians.

OSLO

The Oslo accords were also signed in the presence of the US President
The Oslo accords were also signed in the presence of the US President
The anniversary of Camp David follows last Sunday's fifth anniversary of the so-called Oslo accords, more accurately the "Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government", signed in the presence of Bill Clinton on the White House lawn on 13 September, 1993.

The sense of excitement that accompanied this breakthrough was even more pronounced than the optimism that surrounded Camp David.

Israeli-Palestinian relations, after all, lie at the heart of the Middle East conflict. Resolve these differences, the theory goes, and the rest will gradually fall into place.

But once again, the atmosphere has soured. A peace that always entailed great risks has been blown off course by violence and a return to hard-line, entrenched positions.

But once again, the atmosphere has soured
But once again, the atmosphere has soured
Islamic militants have targeted Israeli civilians with suicide bombs, while Jewish extremists have attacked innocent Palestinians and murdered one of the signatories of Oslo, their own prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

A climate of fear helped to bring Mr Netanyahu to power in 1996. His government promised "peace with security", but in two years has delivered neither. Speaking to Jewish settlers recently, the prime minister called Oslo a "flawed, evil accord" and admitted that his party had promised to honour it "to capture the reins of power".

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Martin Bell's report on the Camp David summit, from 1978
Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.


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