Anwar Sadat & Begin 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Since the beginning of the regional turmoil and the regime change in Egypt,
there were Egyptian voices speaking of cancelling or reviewing the peace treaty
with Israel. Lately, after the terrorist attack in Sinai that killed 16 Egyptian
border guards, Mr. Mohamed Gadallah, legal adviser to the president of Egypt,
Mohamed Morsy, was quoted saying that the president is studying whether to amend
the Camp David accords to ensure Egypt’s “full sovereignty” over
Naturally, these expressions raise concern in the Israeli public.
However, let us put aside the political implications of these expressions to
examine international law: can Egypt legally change or cancel unilaterally its
peace treaty with Israel?
The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt has no
expiration date nor does it prescribe a procedure for its cancellation by one of
the parties. This treaty established the peace between Israel and Egypt on the
foundations of a full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the
Israeli recognition of full Egyptian sovereignty over Sinai. In the same breath,
the treaty established security arrangements, essentially creating limited force
zones, mainly in Sinai, and deploying an international force to supervise the
implementation of these security arrangements.
The peace treaty itself
allows the review and amendment of the security arrangements, at the request of
a party. However, amendments must be by mutual agreement.
Egypt may request that Israel review and amend the security arrangement. Israel
should consider such a future request in good faith, as required in the
implementation of treaties. It is worth mentioning that in the past, in face of
a change in security conditions in the Gaza Strip because of Israeli
disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel and Egypt agreed on a new
security arrangement. Under this arrangement, Egyptian border-guard forces, on
an agreed scale, have deployed on the Egyptian side of the Gaza Strip, where
only Egyptian civil police, armed with light weapons, were allowed to deploy
under the peace treaty.
This was done without derogation from the
treaty. Moreover, media reports suggest that where temporary security
needs justify the operation of additional forces, this pinpoint activity is
enabled through coordination channels with Israel. For example, publications
contend that Egyptian air force attacks against terrorist targets in Sinai,
after the terrorist attack mentioned above, were coordinated with
Egypt can reasonably argue that the security circumstances in
Sinai have changed due to the establishment and strengthening of terrorist
strongholds in the Sinai by local and foreign organizations. It may well be that
taking on the weapons these terrorists possess is not possible using only police
forces and light weapons. However, any amendment Egypt may seek in the existing
arrangement must be proportional to the new threat in the scale of force, its
equipment and duration of deployment.
Egypt should remember that the
removal from the border of significant Egyptian military forces that may pose a
military threat to Israel was a paramount factor enabling Israel to cut the deal
and withdraw from Sinai while preserving its security needs. If negotiation
regarding amendment of the security arrangements takes place, Israel too could
address circumstances that have changed on the ground. For instance, the flow of
illegal migrants through the Egyptian-Israeli border, most of them from Eritrea
and Sudan, seeking employment in Israel, is also a new phenomenon not
anticipated when the treaty was signed. Israel can seek to establish new
security arrangements with Egypt to tackle this problem.
law determines that even a fundamental change of circumstances which has
occurred with regard to those existing at the time of the conclusion of a
treaty, and which was not foreseen by the parties, may not be invoked as a
ground for terminating or withdrawing from the treaty, unless some exceptional
conditions were fulfilled. In any case, international law specifically states
that such a cause cannot be grounds to terminate a treaty that establishes a
boundary. Egypt cannot hold the territorial gains achieved in the peace treaty
while shaking off its obligations under it.The author is a IDF colonel
(res.) and an attorney. He is the former head of the IDF’s International Law Department.