Today, they’re a distant memory — Middle East peace talks, sort of quaint. On March 26, 1979, 33 years ago, Israel and Egypt signed a Peace Accord at Camp David, Maryland, at meetings convened and actively conducted by then President Jimmy Carter.
Earlier, on September 17, 1978, Israel and Egypt had signed two agreements, the first between Israel and any of its Arab neighbours. The Camp David Accords were negotiated by the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and the Egyptian president Anwar Sadat under the mediation of U.S. President Jimmy Carter at the government retreat at Camp David, Maryland.
The documentary below is not a polished mainstream network production, but an example of a Texas student’s history fair submission. (Seat-of-the-pants peacemaker.)
The peace treaty that Israel and Egypt eventually signed on March 26, 1979 closely reflected the earlier agreements hammered out as the Camp David Accords in September of the preceding year at the presidential retreat in Maryland.
Egypt and Israel had technically been at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, and Israel had occupied the Sinai Peninsula (Egyptian territory) during the Six-Day War of 1967. War had again broken out in 1973 on the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kipur. The Accords had their origin in Sadat’s unprecedented visit to Jerusalem — the first visit ever by the chief of state of an Arab nation to Israel –on November 19 through 21, 1977, to address the Israeli government and Knesset (parliament) on the subject of peace.
The treaty formally ended the state of war that existed between the two countries, and Israel agreed to withdraw troops from the Sinai Peninsula in stages. The treaty also provided for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations between the two countries. These provisions were duly carried out, but Israel failed to implement the provisions calling for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza areas. The conflict involving these territories continues to this day.
Menachem Begin’s decision to participate in the historic peace process was largely unexpected. As Israel’s first elected right-wing prime minister, he was hawkish in his views toward Egypt and Israel’s other Arab neighbors. His decision brought him the contempt of his conservative constituency.
Anwar Sadat was later assassinated by fundamentalist army officers on October 6, 1981. His risks for peace cost him his life.
In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, the foundation of the Camp David Accords was placed in jeopardy.
[amazon_enhanced asin="0788425153" /]
Egyptian public anger towards the Jewish state mounted after Israeli troops, in pursuit of suspected militants, inadvertently shot dead five Egyptian border guards, leading to a riot on September 9, 2011 at the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
In mid-September 2011, the new Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf suggested that the 32-year treaty could be revised, which prompted disbelief in the Israel.
“The Camp David agreement is not a sacred thing and is always open to discussion with what would benefit the region and the case of fair peace,” Sharaf told Turkish television. “We could make a change if needed.”
In light of the dramatic changes in much of the Arab world, and the reluctance of the U.S. to put its reputation on the line by risking a new round of failed peace talks, the anniversary of the Camp David Accords seems like a quaint memory from long ago.
[pullquote]‘The last thing President Barack Obama, or his possible Republican replacement, would want is yet another costly military engagement in the region.’[/pullquote]Added to that, the current 2012 presidential campaign in the U.S., dominated by candidates’ attempts to outdo one another in their support for Israel, raises questions about the ability of the U.S. to serve as an honest broker. Current discussions are more focused on preventing Iran from developing its nuclear capacity, and on preventing Israel from launching a pre-emptive strike against Iran, or on weighing the global repercussions of such an attack by Israel. Efforts to negotiate Palestinian autonomy or an end to new Israeli settlements on disputed territories have taken a low place on the agenda.
The nature of American influence in the Middle East has significantly changed since the late 1970s. Several of the repressive regimes the U.S. supported have been toppled since the Arab Spring, and the newly emerging governments are not as amenable to American influence. A new round of Camp David talks may not be practical or appropriate, but the U.S. still has a great interest in seeking peaceful relations in the region. The last thing President Barack Obama, or his possible Republican replacement, would want is yet another costly military engagement in the region.
Where will the next peacebuilders emerge?
Next year in Paris? Amman, Jordan? Doha, Qatar? Jerusalem or Cairo?
Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.