Still Going Strong (Extract)

The treaty is good for Egypt and Israel even if it has yet to fulfill the hopes for a true peace nurtured so boldly by Sadat and Begin

24hands88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Extract from an article in Issue 24, March 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. In the early afternoon hours on Tuesday, March 13, 1979, the phone rang at Prime Minister Menachem Begin's official residence in Jerusalem. It was the third and last day of U.S. President Jimmy Carter's eventful, stormy visit to Jerusalem. The presidential visit was aimed at bridging a few unresolved items between Egypt and Israel, in order to clinch an agreement. A short while earlier, Carter had taken off to meet President Anwar Sadat in Cairo. Begin had laid down to take a short rest. It was Carter's aide on the phone. "The president would like to talk to the prime minister," he told me. I was there, at the residence, carrying out my duty as Begin's spokesman, and so it happened that I was privileged to hand over the phone to the prime minister. He heard directly from the U.S. president that Sadat had unhesitatingly given his final consent to the full negotiated text of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The three leaders agreed immediately to sign on this historical first-ever treaty between Israel and an Arab country in Washington, on March 26, 1979. From start to finish, from the conception of the idea to the signing of the agreement, from the arrival of Sadat in Jerusalem on November 19, 1977 to the signing ceremony at the White House on March 26, 1979, the process had taken 17 long months, with both rough and smooth rides along the way. The ups and downs, breakdowns and crises - sometimes leaving us all feeling as though we were on a roller coaster - had finally produced a comprehensive peace treaty. And that treaty has endured for 30 years, and is still going strong. By any yardstick the peace accord between Egypt and Israel was an unprecedented event. Its ramifications continue to affect our region and, I dare say, extend far beyond the expectations of the original partners, Sadat and Begin. Looking back, and evaluating the treaty and its consequences in light of current events, it seems that its strength emanates from several sources. Throughout the entire process, all the parties, and particularly Egypt and Israel, made significant efforts to lower expectations, lest potential failures boomerang badly against the partners and jeopardize their respective domestic and international positions. I remember well that as we alighted from the helicopter that brought our delegation to the main entrance to Camp David, Maryland, on September 6, 1978, at the commencement of the Egyptian-Israeli summit under the American umbrella, I asked Begin, "What do you expect this meeting to produce? How long should we stay here?" After all, Carter had convened the summit without offering an agenda, a list of specific issues to be discussed, a timetable or even how long the summit would last. Ever cautious, Begin told me, "I assume that we will stay here three or four days, we will discuss the main issues we have been dealing with in recent months, at best we'll agree to come up with a declaration of intent, then we'll go home and continue our negotiations elsewhere in the coming months." As it happened, 13 days later the Camp David Accords had matured to such an extent that both sides were ready to sign. The successful summit produced the basis, the framework and the substance for a peace treaty that has lasted for 30 years. This was because first and and foremost it served a convergence of both Egyptian and Israeli interests - as different as they were - on three major levels: strategic-political-military considerations; domestic politics as each leader perceived them; and the personal achievement that would be attributed to the Egyptian and Israeli leaders, who would be making their mark on world history as the ones who made the impossible happen. The treaty is basically the outcome of the Camp David summit. Its maturity and endurance derives most prominently from the fact that it was essentially an Egyptian-Israeli bilateral agreement. Both the Egyptian and Israeli leaders preferred this, as was clearly evident once Carter endorsed the two-accords option (the one related to the Egypt-Israel agenda, the second to the Israeli-Palestinian autonomy issue) as the summit reached its mid-point. On one side, much attention and detailed suggestions were given to practical questions related to military thinning out, demilitarization and withdawals in Sinai; on the other side, the issue of suggested autonomy on the West Bank was treated in generalities. In short, and without denigrating the role of the United States as a presidential host and facilitator, the successful conclusion of the summit and packaging of the peace treaty should be attributed primarily to the way Egypt and Israel pursued their preferred interests. The last 30 years have proven that the treaty has been able to withstand turbulent years - tragic political assassinations in Egypt (Sadat) and Israel (Rabin); the rise of militant fundamentalist Islam; two Israeli wars in Lebanon; the bloody Palestinian intifadas; major internal Palestinian rifts; the recent devastating IDF incursion into Gaza; and the ongoing terrorist warfare inside and outside both Egypt and Israel. The writer was press secretary and media adviser to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin (1974-1981), participated in Israel's negotiating team at Camp David, and accompanied Begin throughout the peace process with Egypt. Extract from an article in Issue 24, March 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.