Israel and Egypt Made Peace in 1979 because Their Leaders Wanted to

In the conventional telling of the origins of the 1979 Camp David accords, President Jimmy Carter and his foreign-policy team dragged a reluctant Anwar Sadat and an even more reluctant Menachem Begin to the negotiating table and coaxed them into coming to an agreement. This story primarily emerges, write Gerald Steinberg and Ziv Rubinovitz, from the memoirs of several American officials. But recently declassified Israeli documents paint a very different picture of events, showing among other things that Begin supported peace with Egypt as far back as 1967:

[During Begin’s] stint as a member of the national-unity government created just prior to the June 1967 war, . . . the cabinet, led by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, endorsed the land-for-peace formula for Egypt and Syria, and Begin . . . joined in approving this framework. He repeated this position on numerous occasions, emphasizing the importance of a full treaty, as distinct from partial agreements or non-belligerency, which, he argued, would not bring Israel the full legitimacy that was required. In 1970, Begin resigned from the cabinet and returned to lead the opposition, citing the government’s [abandonment of these condition].

[In the months leading up to Camp David], Carter’s effort to involve the Soviet Union [in negotiations between Egypt and Israel] alienated both leaders, who made common cause in going around Carter. Sadat had recently evicted the Soviet military from Egypt, and Begin’s experience as a prisoner in the Gulag left a lifelong hostility; both viewed Moscow’s potential role as entirely anathema. The two leaders were also concerned that the American effort to solve the entire Middle East conflict, which included bringing in the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Syria’s President Hafez al-Assad, . . . would fail and also prevent realization of a bilateral peace agreement.

Only after they had made progress in their own negotiations did Cairo and Jerusalem ask for Washington’s assistance in ironing out the details. To Steinberg and Rubinovitz, the lessons for future peacemaking are clear:

Success requires leaders who see peace as a national priority and are willing to take prudent risks in order to achieve this objective. Such leaders and the interests that they share cannot be produced artificially or through outside pressure, and in their absence, efforts to reach agreements have no chance. In Sadat, Begin had a partner who recognized this, and vice-versa, and on this basis they explored the possibilities for agreement.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anwar Sadat, Camp David Accords, Egypt, Israeli history, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy