(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
The Camp David Accords are landmark peace agreements between Israel and Egypt. The leaders of both countries signed the agreements in 1979 in front of then US president Jimmy Carter at Camp David. The road to the agreements was often torturous and the results have been mixed. Nevertheless, peace has prevailed between the two countries.
After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, US diplomacy efforts towards peace in the Middle East had been stepped up. Under President Ford, this had involved a series of bilateral peace talks with Israel and Egypt. President Carter opted for a multilateral approach, realizing the importance of other players in the Middle East peace process. In 1977, he met individually with Egypt’s Anwar El Sadat, Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, Jordan’s King Hussein, and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. He was aware of objections to making peace with Israel from other Arab nations as well as some European countries, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, who had fought alongside the Egyptians. Some Arab groups threatened to attack Egypt if they entered a peace agreement with Israel and NATO armies were in readiness.
In the middle of all this, Menachem Begin became Israel’s prime minister and Egypt and Israel became engaged in secret bilateral talks. The US wanted a peace plan along the lines of the 1954 Geneva Conference, but Sadat felt things were not progressing due to the large number of players and his lack of confidence in the West. Israel also saw benefits in bilateral negotiations. It preferred dealing with one country rather than a number of Arab nations, and even felt that Egypt could help lessen the angst Arabs and communists had for Israel. Unbeknown to the rest of the world, Sadat visited Israel in November 1977 and gave a speech at the Knesset on his views for peace, territories occupied by Israel, and the Palestinian issue. His visit prompted a number of eastern European countries to threaten war against Egypt if it continued to recognize Israel or pursued any peace agreement with the Israelis.
Sadat’s visit to Israel prompted the Cairo Conference the following month and the Camp David Accords in 1978. Both he and Begin arrived at Camp David on 5 September of that year for what became 13 days of negotiations. Talks became bogged down and both men wanted to abandon them. There was little direct contact between the pair and it was left to Carter to shuttle between the two in their separate rooms, trying to get agreement. On the tenth day, talks stalled over the Sinai and West Bank. Carter’s aim was to try and get agreement for Egypt to have the Sinai and leave the West Bank with Israel. Negotiations continued for another three days, with Carter taking them both to Gettysburg National Military Park and drawing comparisons between the Civil War and the Israeli-Egyptian struggle.
Agreement was finally reached in the form of ‘A Framework for Peace in the Middle East’ as well as ‘A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.’ There were also letters of understanding between each country and the US. The first agreement called for self-government of the West Bank and Gaza, dealt briefly with Israeli-Egyptian relations, and Israeli-Arab relations. The second agreement led to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in March 1979, covering Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai, normal diplomatic relation between the two countries, Israel’s freedom to use the Suez Canal and other waterways, unimpeded travel between Egypt and Jordan, and restrictions on Egypt’s military presence in the Sinai. The agreement was sweetened by the US commitment to provide billions of dollars of grants and aid, including military aid, to both countries. Sadat and Begin jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1978.
As a result of the Camp David Accords, normal relations between Egypt and Israel began in 1980 with trade in crude oil and other commodities, regular airline flights, and an exchange of ambassadors. However, Arab perceptions of Egypt took a turn for the worst, with it being suspended from the Arab League for a decade, for recognizing Israel, for signing a peace treaty with them, and for not using the agreements to push for Palestinian rights. In fact, there was a shift in the Israel-Arab conflict from an Egyptian-Israeli issue to the Palestinian problem and this is probably still the case today.
Many Arabs remain upset with Egypt for not taking up the Palestinian cause during the peace negotiations. However, both Begin and Sadat saw multilateral negotiations as a problem. If this avenue had been pursued, it is possible that no agreement would have been reached. The Camp David Accords demonstrated to the Arab world that beneficial negotiations with Israel were possible, paving the way for the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians and the 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace, although neither agreement met with the same success. Also, Egypt has successfully mediated ceasefires between the Palestinians and Israel.
The Egyptian-Israeli agreements have not been seen by either side to be totally successful. Many Israeli settlers in the Sinai did not want to move and had to be forcibly shifted and their settlements dismantled. Israelis often regard the situation between the countries as a ‘cold peace,’ and that relations are far from normal, although the agreement was initially favored by most Israelis and was supported by the Knesset. They also complain of a tourism imbalance, with about 20 per cent of Israeli overseas tourists visiting Egypt but only two per cent of Egyptian overseas tourists heading for Israel.
Residents of both countries initially supported the Camp David Accords. However, in a 2006 poll by the Egyptian government, 92 per cent of its people saw Israel as an enemy. In contrast, an Israeli poll in 2001 still found that 85 per cent of its residents supported the Camp David Accords, although many think the accords favor Egypt as Israel lost the Sinai with its oil and tourism and where 4,500 of its people had lived.