40 YEARS SINCE CAMP DAVID I told Be­gin: pyra­mids not Is­raelite deed


THE IS­RAEL-EGYP­TIAN peace process started with a Carmel Col­lege grad­u­ate and his col­leagues tak­ing the trip of a life­time.

Rob­bie Sabel landed in Cairo in 1977 and, in his down­time from ne­go­ti­at­ing, toured the city with the head of the Shin Bet in­tel­li­gence ser­vice and went to see the pyra­mids. “It was the most ex­cit­ing part of my life,” he says.

They had “no idea” about the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion for Is­raelis be­cause they were the very first to visit, so they

“just walked through the streets of Cairo.”

Dr Sabel, who was born in

Rob­bie Sabel Eng­land and ed­u­cated at Carmel Col­lege un­til 1959, re­calls giv­ing Prime Min­is­ter Me­nachem Be­gin a his­tory les­son upon his re­turn to Jerusalem. “We had to con­vince Be­gin that the pyra­mids were not built by the Is­raelites.” As Deputy Le­gal Ad­viser to the Is­rael Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs at the time of the Camp David Ac­cords, he made nu­mer­ous trips to Cairo and helped to or­gan­ise Pres­i­dent Anwar Sa­dat’s Novem­ber 1977 visit to Is­rael. “When I was first given no­tice to pre­pare a pos­si­ble itin­er­ary I said: ‘Don’t be stupid’.”

Dur­ing that first Cairo visit, de­spite the ex­cite­ment, “it felt fu­tile”.

He re­calls: “Our in­struc­tion at the time was that we could not with­draw from the whole of Si­nai. We were get­ting nowhere.”

But he says that Mr Be­gin was de­ter­mined, even be­yond the ex­pec­ta­tions of the Amer­i­cans who were driv­ing the process. “The Amer­i­cans told us that we can reach some­thing called non-bel­liger­ence, mean­ing no fight­ing, but you can’t get a full peace treaty.” So what fac­tors helped his team to make a break­through and strike a fi­nal deal? Dr Sabel cites a strong feel­ing that each side was mak­ing a ma­jor gain but not get­ting eve- ry­thing they wanted. He also refers to the feel­ing that Is­raelis were re­as­sured about their se­cu­rity as a sig­nif­i­cant piece of the Si­nai was de­clared de­mil­i­tarised.

Be­tween the ne­go­ti­a­tions for the his­toric ac­cords, Dr Sabel went on a very per­sonal jour­ney. “My fa­ther had served in Egypt in the Bri­tish army in the Sec­ond World War and I went back to visit the places, in­clud­ing the cafes, he went to visit in Cairo.” He picked up lo­cal sug­ared al­monds, one of his fa­ther’s lo­cal favourites, for him.

Four decades on and now law pro­fes­sor at He­brew Univer­sity, Dr Sabel re­flects on the part of the Camp David Ac­cords that was not ful­filled: Pales­tini­ans were not given self-gov­er­nance straight af­ter­wards. But he thinks that Camp David served as a foun­da­tion for the peace process that be­gan in the 1990s. “Parts of Oslo are taken al­most ver­ba­tim from Camp David,” he says.

He also thinks that Oslo ne­go­ti­a­tions were able to work on the as­sump­tion that their ideas would be eas­ier to get ap­proved, given that Be­gin had agreed to con­ces­sions.

As for the Is­rael-Egyp­tian peace, his team had hoped to see a warmer re­la­tion­ship, but at least the se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship has proved solid and stur­dier, be­yond the ex­pec­ta­tions of some.

“We fore­saw good trade re­la­tions and cul­tural re­la­tions, yet [in this area] noth­ing hap­pened. But we have se­cu­rity.”

Be­gin was de­ter­mined be­yond even the Amer­i­cans

Be­gin in front of the Giza pyra­mids in April 1979

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