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.

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

 

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship