On March 26, 1979, there was a monumental breakthrough in the Egypt/Israel sector of the Middle East conflict. After 30 years of war, hatred and misunderstanding, peace between Egypt and Israel became a reality. The successful negotiations at Camp David in September of 1978 broke a psychological barrier between the Arab world and Israel. It seemed that war and violence was the only means of settling the conflicting interests of the two parties. The Camp David summit succeeded at breaking the taboo against cooperation, and enforcing conventional conflict resolution instead of war.
1 In the following three sections, the peace treaty will be discussed in a variety of ways. Section One will examine the events using three levels of conflict analysis (International/systemic, state centric and individual actors). This section will put the negotiations in a broad perspective and help display the vast spectrum of analysis that is needed to understand the context of the peace treaty. Section Two will be an in- depth look at the Camp David Summit, and the negotiations that took place there.
This section will be centered on the issues that were debated, the goals of the adversaries, and the ultimate solutions and compromises that led to the successful framework agreement. Section Three will address the effects of Camp David and the final peace treaty. The legacy of the peace will be the main theme, and will examine the unresolved issues, the consequences of the agreement, and the precedents that it set. SECTION ONE – Levels of Analysis Part 1 – International level
Egypt has been more or less the same political entity for thousands of years. The deep identification with its historical roots has created a strong sense of National pride within Egypt, and a high self-image regionally and internationally. Although the country may have an inflated international self-image, there is little debate regarding Egypt’s influential regional role. It is unlikely that any other Arab country would have both the confidence and “Chutzpah”2 to enter bilateral peace negotiations with Israel.
Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat saw his country’s leadership position in the Mid-East as a structural property that could not be challenged, thus the independent peace initiative would not harm Egypt’s regional influence. 3 Although it took a decade to patch up Egypt’s relationship with its Arab neighbors, Sadat was ultimately correct. During the decade that preceded the Camp David accords, Egypt completely restructured its foreign policy. That involved a reassessment of Egypt’s perceptions of the global and regional system, and its place within that structure.
4 The major element of the change was the transferring of its superpower alliance from the USSR to the USA. The Bi-polar nature of the cold war period provided the opportunity for Egypt’s switch, since both superpowers were eager to attract client states in order to improve their international influence. Egypt’s decision to switch allegiances was a result of serious economic problems during the 1970s. Sadat had a personal mistrust for the USSR and believed that US support would solve many economic problems. The desire for a closer relationship with the USA was a major stimulus for Sadat’s peace initiative.
Since its inception as a legal state in 1948, Israel held an extraordinarily high profile in the international consciousness. The controversy regarding its legitimacy and the polarization of views regarding domestic and external issues of a vast variety insured the constant fluctuation of support for Israel by the international community. Perceived as both a victim and aggressor, Israel always acted in its own self-interest and often gave very little consideration to external influence with the exception of the United States, its greatest supporter.
In the war of 1948, both superpowers gave aid to Israel in hopes of convincing the new state to join their sides. America won out for both ideological and practical reasons. Ideologically, Israel was a democratic/capitalist state (despite the socialism displayed by the Kibbutz movement), and the natural ties with the strong American Jewish community (as opposed to the oppressed and persecuted Soviet Jewish community) provided the practical basis for the alliance.
Although international opinion was certainly a concern in Israeli foreign policy, the Israelis identified an unconcealed hostility from the neighboring states that has led to a constant struggle for survival. From the day of their Independence, war and survival have been dominant elements of Israeli life, causing Israeli decision makers to conduct themselves with the mentality of a cornered animal. Security concerns were first and foremost when negotiating the Egypt/Israel peace treaty. 5
The role of both the United States and the Soviet Union, and their relationships with Israel and Egypt should never be underestimated when trying to understand the peace treaty of 1979. The Soviet Union’s influence in the Middle East had an adverse correlation with the fortunes of Egypt, formally the strongest Soviet ally in the region. The Egyptian defeat of 1967 brought additional Soviet presence to the area, and the Egyptian success in the 1973 war marked the beginning of the end in Egypt-Soviet relations.
6 When Egypt rejected its friendship with the Soviet Union in favor of the USA, it placed Egypt on the same side as Israel in regard to the Systemic cold war conflict between the two superpowers. That common ground created the opportunity for an easing of tensions after the October/Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the subsequent peace. America proved to be the ideal arbitrator/mediator for the negotiations. The first step towards the Camp David framework occurred a decade earlier in the United Nations. Resolution 242 was passed in the general assembly on November 22nd 1967, during the political aftermath of the 1967 war.
The resolution outlined the guidelines for bartering land for peace, emphasizing the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition during war. The Israelis refused to accept the “wartime territorial acquisition” principal and made a clear distinction between offensive and defensive wars. 7 That debate was still evident during the Camp David Accords. Although unenforceable, Resolution 242 provided a starting point for all future negotiations; therefore, it was an important development. Part Two – Domestic/Bilateral level
During the period between Israeli independence in 1948 and the Egypt/Israel treaty of 1979, the two adversaries had met on the battlefield in all out warfare no less then four times. It was not difficult to understand the deep-rooted mistrust that lingered at the negotiation tables. The most important factor in the change of attitudes from a state level perspective was the domestic situation in Egypt. Sadat’s peace initiative took Israel by complete surprise, and the opportunity for comprehensive bilateral peace was essentially Israel’s to squander.
During the 1970’s, the structure of Egyptian society was in a very precarious position. Demonstrations and riots by workers and students began and rose in intensity between the years of 1974-1976, culminating in a full uprising in January 1977. The riots occurred and spread due to the rise in price in basic food items. Sadat saw American aid as the only feasible solution to the economic crisis. Sadat’s “American Strategy”8 was also expressed by abandoning many state centric economic practices, and declaring Egypt to be Capitalistic, and open to foreign investment.
The result of these measures (such as cutting out state subsidies on the basic food items) culminated in the January riots. Severe economic debt, civil unrest and lowered political credibility domestically were all major factors that inhibited Sadat’s actions. The foreign policy realm of activity was one of the few places Sadat could maneuver. 9 He attempted to involve himself in United States initiatives in Africa and the Arab sphere of the Middle East, but the unrest in Egypt undermined Sadat’s credibility. Sadat realized that the only way to reverse the economic deterioration of his country was a serious peace with Israel.
10 That action would enable him to shift resources from the military to development initiatives, but more importantly, it would ensure the American aid that Sadat had been courting since the beginning of his rule. From a military standpoint, Egypt was in absolutely no condition to conduct another war with Israel. After the 1973 October war, it had daringly isolated itself from the Soviet Union, Egypt’s main arms supplier despite knowing that America would not supply both Israel and Egypt with arms in the event of a war. After regaining some prestige during the October War of 1973, Egypt was militarily exhausted.
The prospect of another war with Israel could have undermined the stability of the Egyptian regime; there was a clear desire for a lasting peace from Sadat, and through advertising and the media, this was soon the desire of the Egyptian populous. 11 Israel had always made it clear that achieving peace and understanding among its neighbors was the ultimate regional goal, but despite an inherent willingness to negotiate, Israel showed very little flexibility on the issues at the root of the destructive regional atmosphere.