Early last month, William Welles heard that the Israeli
ambassador was coming to visit his downtown Cairo art gallery -
again. He locked the doors and went to sit in a coffee shop across
the street to watch. The last time the Israeli ambassador visited
his gallery unannounced in March, Mr. Welles was condemned in the
This time, the ambassador arrived to find a closed gallery.
The incident is one small measure of how politically and socially
unacceptable it has become in Egypt to host envoys of the state of
Israel. Almost a quarter century after Egypt signed a peace treaty
with Israel, sentiments, particularly in the media, still run high
against the Jewish state - especially since the beginning of the
latest Palestinian intifada in 2000.
Recently, however, Egypt's fledgling peace lobby has begun to
rebuild itself after three years of silence. With the unveiling of
the Palestinian-Israeli road map for peace, followed by this week's
summit in Aqaba, Jordan, some activists see a fresh opportunity for
attitudes to change.
A hundred activists, intellectuals, businessmen, and former
diplomats from Jordan, Egypt, the occupied territories, and Israel
met in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month to revive public dialogue
about the Middle East peace process.
Originally founded in 1997, the group first went to Copenhagen in
an attempt to set up parallel dialogue outside government peace
efforts and show the world and people of the region that there are
Arabs and Israelis ready to talk peace. The group's chapters strive
in their respective countries to present pro-peace points of view to
combat the knee-jerk, angry rhetoric that often dominates public
discussions. Through conferences, seminars, and opinion pieces in
newspapers they promote the idea that a real peace will be possible
"Just the fact that 100 Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, and
Egyptians are getting together to resume contact and declare
publicly that we've had enough of the violence is important," says
Israeli peace activist and conference attendee Gershon Baskin.
"Peacemaking is too important to be left in the hands of
politicians." Baskin founded the only joint Israeli-Palestinian
public-policy think tank back in 1988 and has long been working on
coming up with practical solutions to the conflict.
The delegates used the US-backed road map as a basis for their
discussions and talked about how peace could properly be
"I think this [the road map] is possibly the last chance for
peace in the Middle East," says Hisham Kassem, a member of the
Egyptian delegation and the publisher of the Cairo Times weekly news
magazine. Waiting another year for another peace plan, says Kassem,
will be too late at the current pace of settlement building. …