A shared, secret arrangement
THE CAMP David Accords represented the first dent in the Arab world’s rejection of Israel and the impact was felt far beyond the Israel-Egypt relationship.
There were widespread hopes 40 years ago that the other Arab states would quickly follow suit and make peace with Israel — and although this did not happen, security expert Ofir Winter, believes the deal opened the door to the partial peacemaking successes and important proposals that have come since.
“Jordan was the only country to formally follow,” according to Dr Winter, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies who wrote his doctoral thesis on how Arab regimes relate to peace with Israel. “But we do have the Oslo Accords, which is an interim agreement with the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organisation], and the Arab Peace Initiative that was put forward in 2001 saw Arab countries accept the Egyptian principle of land for peace.”
It is often forgotten that at Camp David, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian issue as well as Israeli-Egyptian peace. They signed up to holding “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects”, together with Palestinian representatives.
They agreed that in the West Bank and Gaza “the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas.”
Yasser Arafat’s Fatah was furious that the Egyptian leader had made an agreement on the Palestinian future and so rejected it. The United Nations also shunned the Framework for Peace in the Middle East, as this part of the Camp David Accords was called.
This, according to the veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, was a “missed opportunity”.
He told the JC: “No one knows what would have emerged if the Palestinians would have accepted autonomy.” While the self-rule under discussion was less than statehood, Mr Baskin believes that it could have eventually led to a two-sate solution that the Palestinians could have accepted. “The Palestinians,” he reflected, “should have looked at it more seriously.”
But opportunities presented by Camp David were missed in other areas too — and one of them could have prevented some of Israel’s biggest headaches today, according to Gershon Hacohen, a former soldier who served the IDF on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts.
The deal was important for “breaking of the ice” between Israel and the Arab world, he said, but it also destined the Gaza Strip to become a source of permanent instability on Israel’s doorstep.
In his view, the Camp David negotiation presented a rare opportunity that could have stopped Gaza from becoming the narrow, densely-populated coastal enclave it is known as today. Gaza had been controlled by Egypt before 1967 and had Begin and Sadat retained this connection, things could have been very different.
The Gaza Strip could have been enlarged to Arish in the Sinai and Palestinian autonomy could have been pursued there, Mr Hacohen said, in an area that he believes would have been large enough to be viable.
The fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still raging — as Egyptian leaders know well, given that Gaza is their next-door neighbour — in ample evidence that the peace that did emerge from Camp David was a cold one.
“No one in Israel expects now to have a warm peace,” said Tamar Hermann, a public opinion analyst with the Israel Democracy Institute, comments. She believes the public takes the peace treaty for granted, but that with the wider Israeli-Arab conflict still raging, the relationship will not deepen.
For Dr Baskin, the Israel-Egypt relationship is about as close as it can be until Israeli-Palestinian peace, but Ofir Winter said that “the potential isn’t exhausted for either side.”
But it can be difficult to get an actual sense of how deep Israeli-Egyptian ties run today because much of the relationship in what many consider the most important area — defence — runs under the radar, creating a situation where priorities are shared, but secret.
Israeli and Egyptian flags beyond heavy security blocks at the Nitzana border crossing