In the view of leading European politicians, statesmen and journalists, the “peace” treaty signed between Egypt and Israel in March is more of a liability than a promising asset in their governments’ attempts to forge better relations with the Arab world. Many see it as a prelude to further conflict in the Middle East, and diplomats for the nine member states of the European Economic Community (EEC) have been quietly urging the United States either to extract more concessions from Begin or to make a new initiative — unilaterally if necessary — to widen the Treaty to include other Arab states and possibly the Palestine Liberation Organization as well.

An important ingredient behind these signs of divisions among the leading Western powers is the growing threat of major oil crisis. Europe remains far more vulnerable to any loss of supplies than its ally across the Atlantic, even with the massive rise in US oil imports from the Arab world over the past few years. Despite the added production from the North Sea and successful efforts in most countries to reduce energy consumption by five percent, the EEC depends on the Middle East for more than three fourths of its oil, and for important amounts of natural gas as well. More than one Arab oil minister has now formally linked the issue of oil with that of recognition of the PLO, chastening those political leaders who had hoped the two matters could still be kept separate. Added to their concern was the fact that those leaders had been counting on the Euro-Arab Dialogue to open up markets in the OPEC countries to European manufacturers, including military hardware, in order to help overcome mounting unemployment and inflation at home. The Middle East has now outstripped the US as Europe’s primary market abroad. In 1973, the EEC’s exports to the Arab world and Iran averaged only about $750 million a month, about half the $1.3 billion exported to the US each month. By 1977, however, the EEC monthly exports to the Middle East and North Africa (excluding Israel) had reached $2.7 billion, compared with less than $2 billion worth of goods sent to the US. (By the end of September 1978, the figures were even more impressive for the Middle East: $3.1 billion as against $2.4 billion for the US.)

Shortly after the treaty was signed, the Observer’s veteran Middle East correspondent, Robert Stephans, noted that it “may have more effect on Britain’s economy over the next five years than our forthcoming election.” Should the treaty fail to produce “a comprehensive Middle East peace, including a solution for the Palestinians,” he warned, “the Middle East may be in for a period of confused, sterile conflict, possibly even war.” [1] Le Monde Diplomatique noted than Begin’s “obstinate refusal to make even the smallest concession on the subject of the West Bank and Gaza had greatly facilitated the task of the militants in the Arab world.” And, it concluded, “the lavish promises made by the United States to each of the partners does not disguise the fact — on the contrary — that this peace treaty is a gamble.” Even the Guardian, which has always taken a pro-Israeli line in its editorials, had its doubts. Israel, it said, should make “to the PLO the sort of gesture Sadat made to them … That is what Europe, on the sceptical sidelines of the encounter, should be urging…. Magnanimity from Jerusalem could give substance to what now seems an insubstantial peace.” [2]

The official European reaction came almost as soon as ink on the treaty was dry. While European TV cameras focused on Carter’s nervous smile on the White House lawn and the clasped hands of Begin and Sadat, ministers from the EEC issued a statement praising the “will for peace “ but urging a “comprehensive” settlement involving “representatives of the Palestinian people.”’ [3] Even stronger wording had been urged by France and, according to some reports, Belgium and Italy as well, disavowing what they rightly saw as a separate treaty which would further antagonize the Saudis and Gulf “moderates” as well as Syria, Iraq and the PLO. Only last minute appeals by the British and West Germans — that Europe not be seen to be undercutting American efforts — prevented a polite denunciation or a conspicuous silence.

Since then, one influential body in European politics, the Socialist International, had held direct talks with the PLO. Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, together with the International’s president, Willy Brandt, met PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Vienna in early July. Although both men stressed that the meeting came solely as a result of the organization’s decision last autumn to establish contacts with the PLO, most European diplomats saw the timing of the meeting as a clear indication of widespread discontent within EEC governments about the direction of US policy in the Middle East and the lack of Israeli concessions in the “autonomy” talks.

Behind all the comment, many officials here see a danger of a severe rift in the Atlantic Alliance, with grave implications for the future of NATO. The US clearly took little account of the views of the Arab leaders other than Sadat, but European leaders like Giscard d’Estaing of France, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Henri Simonet and Britain’s former Prime Minister James Callaghan were said to be equally dismayed at the lack of consultation with themselves and at the terms of the treaty which finally emerged.

European concern about American policy in the Middle East had been mounting ever since the original peace negotiations, centering on the Geneva conference, were unilaterally abrogated by Sadat’s sudden visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. Prior to that, the EEC had formally expressed its view that a peace settlement should “be based on [United Nations] Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338,” adding that any settlement should recognize “1) the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force; 2) the need for Israel to end the territorial occupation which it has maintained since the conflict of 1967; 3) respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries; [and] 4)…that in the establishment of a just and lasting peace, account must be taken of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.” Furthermore, noted the EEC, “The Nine have affirmed their belief that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East will be possible only if the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to give effective expression to its national identity is translated into fact, which would take into account the need for a homeland for the Palestinian people.” [4]

As the preparations for Geneva were nearing an end, the EEC issued a statement further clarifying its position on the negotiations: “The Nine believe that the representatives of the parties in conflict, including the Palestinians, must participate in the negotiations in an appropriate manner to be defined in consultation with the interested parties; the illegal measure taken recently by the Israeli government in the occupied territories constitute a further obstacle to the negotiation process.” [5]

In late 1977 the Geneva process was halted. The US disavowed its October 1 joint statement with the Soviet Union by drafting a separate “working paper” with the Israelis, and soon thereafter Sadat went to Jerusalem. [6] The EEC member states, like their allies among the Arab “moderates” in North Africa, Jordan and the lower Gulf, were left with little choice but to wait and hope the final accord would give expression to their position on the matter. But the Camp David agreements last September confirmed many of the European leaders’ worst fears. There was no place for the Soviet Union, and so a risk to detente and to all the careful planning leading up to the SALT II agreement (a matter of particular concern to West Germany). There was no inclusion of the Palestinians. The final agreements did not specify that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories other than the Sinai peninsula.

Perhaps in the hope of using the time between the announcement of the Camp David terms and the date of the treaty’s final signature to press the US and Israel privately for further modifications, the EEC still kept silent. But Lord Carradon, Britain’s delegate to the UN Security Council at the time of the 1967 war and the author of Resolution 242, expressed the views of many of his fellow diplomats in Europe when he wrote, “It was a surprise to most of us when we heard amongst the euphoria of the first announcements from Camp David that questions affecting the future of the Palestinian people had been left out, including the central question of the future of Jerusalem…. We were shocked to realise that fears had indeed come to pass of a separate peace between Egypt and Israel with other issues ignored.” Noting that although Camp David repeatedly “paid tribute” to Resolution 242 “in all its parts,” Lord Carradon said he found it “alarming” when Begin subsequently reported “that he had successfully opposed the overriding provision of the Resolution: ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.’ Finally, noting Begin’s pronouncements after Camp David that Israeli troops “could stay on the West Bank not only for five years but for ten years or more,” Carradon concluded that “such statements reveal the hypocrisy of the promise of ‘full autonomy’ for the Palestinians.” He called for a “concerted and persistent effort to rally opinion in support of the Palestinian cause.” [7]

Since the signing of the Treaty and the declaration by the EEC reaffirming its support for a comprehensive settlement which would include the Palestinians, pressure on the Europeans to declare firmly their formal recognition of the PLO has mounted even further. Saudi Crown Prince Fahd called on the US to open a “direct dialogue” with the PLO, and the UAE Oil Minister Mana Said al-‘Utayba told a meeting of Arab oil ministers in Kuwait in early May that “we appreciate the statements of certain responsible Europeans that the settlement of the Palestine question is basic to a just and permanent Polution to the Arab-Zionist dispute. But we expect action to match the words.” The Euro-Arab Dialogue, he warned, could be threatened unless “these countries recognise the PLO.” [8]

Two weeks earlier, the PLO representative in Brussels, Nairn Khader, declared that he was ready to withdraw from the Dialogue unless the PLO is recognized. [9] His words were not lost on several EEC ministers who, fearful that other Arab states would follow suit and withdraw as well, began urgent consultations seeking to place the matter on the forthcoming meetings of EEC ministers due to be held this summer. The President of the EEC’s Council of Ministers, Henri Simonet, added his official voice to that of the ministers. Shortly after a visit to Saudi Arabia in April, he told newsmen in Brussels that the EEC might have to be more vigorous in pressing for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land. [10]

So far, the EEC states have not publicly faced up to the demands being raised by the Arab regimes — not only the militant states like Syria and Iraq but the oil producers as well. No doubt the EEC foreign ministries had been hoping to find a way out that would avoid involving the EEC in a political confrontation with the US or among themselves over the matter of the Palestinians. The Netherlands is reported to remain adamantly opposed to any formal recognition of the PLO. The new Conservative government in Britain has said it will support the Begin-Sadat treaty, although it wants the treaty broadened to include other Arab governments. It has pointedly failed to mention the Palestinian issue in its few public statements on the Middle East since the election. [11]

But the caution of some, like Britain, has been outstripped by those European countries like France, anxious to take immediate action regardless of the US position, and Italy, who privately but specifically want to disavow themselves from the Treaty and the intensely hostile reception it has received in the Arab world. None of these countries has yet publicly commented on the matter, but Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Fahd, after a tour of European capitals at the end of May, singled put France, West Germany and Italy for praise, saying they realized that a unilateral peace in the Middle East had not solved the region’s problems and that a just and comprehensive solution based on the United Nations resolutions was needed. [12]

Simonet is believed to be pressing his government in Brussels for action on the recognition issue. Both West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Giscard d’Estaing have been pressing urgently for a new form of cooperation between the Arab oil producing countries and the EEC and for a stronger “dialogue.” Now that countries like Saudi Arabia [13] and the UAE have called on the EEC and the United States to establish direct relations with the PLO, it is unlikely that they will be content with the equivocal sentiment expressed in previous EEC declarations, or with the informal comments attributed recently to President Carter. [14] The US, if it does not take action, may find not only Saudi Arabia and other Arab states but also some of its allies in Europe rejecting the Treaty or recognizing the PLO unilaterally. Arab diplomats in London reported privately in early June that West Germany had told Washington it would not provide financial aid to Egypt as the US had hoped. Chancellor Schmidt was reported to feel that this would link his country too closely with the Treaty and that while West Germany was willing to help the US “bail out” in Turkey, Washington would have to foot the bill for Egypt alone.


[1] Observer, April 8, 1979.
[2] Guardian, March 27, 1979.
[3] Arab Report, April 11, 1979.
[4] Statement on the Middle East adopted by the heads of state and government of the Nine Countries of the EEC, June 29, 1977. See Fiches du Monde Arabe, Arab World File, December 7, 1977.
[5] Statement by Henri Simonet, acting president of the EEC Council of Ministers to the UN General Assembly, September 26, 1977. Ibid.
[6] See “Sadat’s Desperate Mission,” MERIP Reports 64 (1977).
[7] “Danger After Camp David,” The Middle East Yearbook 1979 (London), p. 13.
[8] Gulf Times, May 13-19, 1979.
[9] Guardian (Manchester), April 27, 1979.
[10] Arab Report, May 9, 1979.
[11] In a press conference on May 14, the new foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, while calling for a “comprehensive settlement…as quickly as possible,” said, “The position which I take is this, that there has been an agreement between Israel and Egypt under the auspices of the United States, and that that agreement is there and we should seek to build on it and to…carry out the provisions of that agreement as quickly as possible…. We shall help the United States in every was that we can.”
[12] Gulf Weekly Mirror, May 26-June 1, 1979. Italy has since been awarded a lucrative oil supply contract by the Saudis, while France hopes to obtain firm Saudi commitments on supplies when its existing contract expires later this year. See also Le Monde, June 19, 1979.
[13] See the interview with Crown Prince Fahd in Le Monde, summarized in the Gulf Times, May 20-26, 1979.
[14] The former US ambassador in Egypt, Hermann Eilts, told al-Ahram on April 28 that he was convinced President Carter would do something to help the Palestinian cause. The newspaper quoted Eilts as saying, “At a private luncheon President Carter told us, ‘I feel committed personally to the Palestinian cause…. I want to do something for the Palestinians.’” Arab Report, May 23, 1979.

How to cite this article:

Pamela Ann Smith "European Leaders Unhappy with Sadat-Begin Treaty," Middle East Report 80 (September/October 1979).

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