March 26, 1985, will mark the sixth anniversary of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, brokered and signed in Washington, the culmination of the “Camp David process.” What have been the consequences of this pact, and where is the peace it was supposed to usher into the region?

On April 25, 1982, Israel completed its final withdrawal from Sinai, returning all but a small piece of the Egyptian territory it occupied in the 1967 war. Forty days later, on June 6, Israel invaded Lebanon, inflicting massive destruction on civilian population centers, destroying the organized Palestinian presence in the country and laying the basis for the installation of a Phalange-dominated government. This sequence of events succinctly highlights the most salient result of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty: to remove Egypt as a military threat to Israel and thus facilitate the invasion of Lebanon. None of the other, more advertised purposes of the “Camp David process” have materialized. Since the invasion, Egyptian-Israeli relations have been frozen. Even before then, relations between the two countries were rife with difficulties rooted in the nature of the accords reached at Camp David in September 1978, after extensive mediation and cajoling by Jimmy Carter and other American officials.

The Camp David Accords consist of two separate “frameworks” for agreements with no expressly stated linkage between them. One was a “Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty Between Egypt and Israel” — a strictly bilateral arrangement between the two countries. It outlined provisions for full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, the level of Egyptian forces to be deployed there after the withdrawal, the right of free passage by Israeli ships through the Suez Canal, and other principles to be included in a peace treaty. The framework also specified that full, normal diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt would be established after a peace treaty was signed. This framework became the basis for the treaty signed in Washington on March 26, 1979, although not until after a second intensive American effort at mediation, the Blair House talks, produced a text agreeable to both sides. This aspect of the Camp David Accords was fully implemented on April 25,1982, except for the Israeli refusal to evacuate the Taba area, about a kilometer southwest of the recognized international border near Eilat. Aside from this snag, which has assumed larger proportions than it merits due to the general deterioration of relations, the letter of the peace treaty has been implemented.

The second element of the Camp David Accords, the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” provided for negotiations between Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestinian representatives over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Camp David formula called for autonomy for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, at least a partial withdrawal and redeployment of Israeli military forces, the creation of a self-governing authority, and final determination of the status of these territories after a five-year transition period. No Jordanian or Palestinian representatives have ever agreed to participate in these talks. Israeli-Egyptian negotiations over “full autonomy” were immediately put under a cloud by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s declarations that Israel would not suspend settlement activity throughout the course of these negotiations, which was the Egyptian-American interpretation, but only for a three-month period. Begin also declared that after the five-year transition period Israel would assert its claim to sovereignty over “Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District.”

This was certainly not what Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat had in mind, and the Americans at Camp David, including Jimmy Carter, also expected a different resolution of the question of the occupied territories. Zbigniew Brzezinski later commented that

Begin himself has walked away from what he committed himself to — full autonomy. He has said autonomy for the people, not the territory or autonomy administratively but not legislatively…. We thought we had an agreement on no more settlements until negotiations with the Palestinians, and Begin reinterpreted that as meaning no more settlements until negotiations with the Egyptians on the peace treaty.

In Brzezinski’s words, Carter had been “outsmarted” by Begin. [1]

Military-Strategic Aspects

Why did the “Camp David process” become so hopelessly stalled? Why did the United States permit Israel to undermine the provisions of the agreements relating to the occupied territories? The answer lies in the cardinal importance of the broad military and strategic considerations which both the Carter and Reagan administrations perceived in the Egyptian-Israeli entente. Between the actual Camp David meetings in the fall of 1978 and the March 1979 signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, the revolution in Iran had toppled the shah’s regime, removing a major American regional ally. Washington saw the Egyptian-Israeli treaty as the basis for an opportunity to resituate American military power in the Middle East. “A new power structure in the Middle East could evolve from the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty,” Drew Middleton, the New York Times military correspondent wrote,

in which Israel and a rearmed Egypt, both supported by expanded US military involvement and arms deliveries, would more than balance Syria, Iraq and Libya, the principal Soviet clients, and the Palestine Liberation Organization…. The primary task in establishing the new power structure in the Middle East, according to analysts, is the rearmament of Egypt. [2]

The US facilitated the conclusion of the Camp David agreements by promising $4.5 billion in new military aid to Israel ($3 billion) and to Egypt ($1.5 billion) over the next three years. This was in addition to the current levels of military assistance each country was receiving — approximately $2 billion and $1 billion per year, respectively. As the date for the Sinai withdrawal approached, Reagan administration officials saw the deployment of the multinational force there, whose ostensible purpose was to monitor Egypt’s compliance with the treaty’s military force limitations, as an opportunity to acquaint American troops with the terrain of the Middle East. Secretary of State Alexander Haig tried to overcome Egyptian opposition to American use of the bases evacuated by Israel. [3] In this setting, resolution of the Palestine question had assumed a decidedly lower place on the agenda of US policy makers. On the day the treaty was signed, the Washington Post reported that,

US officials concede privately that the administration lowered the priority it had put on getting Israeli commitments on the Palestine problem because of a new sense of urgency that Carter felt about getting the Egyptian-Israeli treaty as a way to stem the tide of reverses in the Middle East for his administration. [4]

While the Carter administration permitted Begin to implement his vision for the occupied territories without formally endorsing it, in early 1981 Ronald Reagan went a step further by declaring that Israeli settlements on the West Bank were “not illegal,” reversing the official US stand since 1967. Menachem Begin understood that US concern with establishing an Egyptian-Israeli-American “condominium” in the Middle East gave him a virtual free hand in the occupied territories and in the autonomy negotiations. The Israeli government intensified the pace of settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A new “civil administration” in the West Bank functioned in the same manner as the previous military government, but signaled Israel’s intent to retain sovereignty over the area. Repressive measures against the inhabitants of the occupied territories mounted as Israel promoted the Village Leagues as a potential interlocutor representing the Palestinians in the autonomy talks. These measures resulted in an uprising in the West Bank during the spring of 1982.

At the same time, Israel launched a series of aggressive acts towards other Arab states. Just before the elections, in June 1981, it bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Tamuz. In July 1981, Israel staged a massive air raid on downtown Beirut, killing several hundred persons. In December 1981, Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights and reconfirmed its annexation of Arab Jerusalem, with its vastly expanded municipal boundaries reaching almost to Bethlehem and Ramallah.

In response to Israeli intrasigence, Egypt suspended the “autonomy” talks three times during 1980. Although neither Sadat nor his successor, Husni Mubarak, repudiated the talks or cancelled them entirely, it was apparent long before the invasion of Lebanon that there was no realistic chance of their success. Thus the Camp David Accords were reduced to what Arab critics had always maintained they would be — a bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.

Egyptian Expectations

Anwar al-Sadat did have a strategic vision behind his peace initiative — a vision of “peace with dollars,” in which US economic aid would revive the Egyptian economy and Egypt’s close relations with the US would enhance Cairo’s position of leadership in the Arab world. In this scenario, the US had to be willing to put pressure on Israel to deliver a settlement of the Palestine question which could respectably be sold to other Arab countries. Sadat calculated that once Egypt showed itself willing to make peace with Israel, the United States would find the benefits of such a peace attractive enough to press Israel to implement seriously the Palestinian provisions of the Camp David Accords. But Sadat entered Camp David from a position of weakness. He could not credibly abandon the “Camp David process,” because this would have required him to face internal social and economic pressures without US political and economic support. Consequently, he had no leverage over the United States or Israel.

Sadat’s stubborn adherence to Camp David, and the growing Egyptian dependence on the United States in the face of increasing Israeli belligerence, certainly contributed to the political disaffection which ultimately resulted in his assassination.

There had been some Egyptian dissatisfaction with the peace treaty even immediately after its conclusion. The National Progressive Unionist Party (Tagammu‘), a bloc of Marxists, Nasserists and progressive Islamic forces, opposed the treaty from the outset because it failed to guarantee Palestinian rights and because it compromised Egypt’s sovereignty over the Sinai. The magazines associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Da‘wah (The Call) and al-I‘tisam (Perseverance), asserted in religious terms that no peace was possible while Jerusalem remained occupied. Opposition became more pronounced after full diplomatic relations were established and the embassies opened in Cairo and Tel Aviv on February 25, 1980. When Yitzhak Navon, then president of Israel, visited Egypt in November 1980, a storm of pro test greeted him. On October 28, in preparation for Navon’s arrival, the weekly newspaper of the opposition Socialist Labor Party (‘Amal), al-Sha‘b (The People), featured a full-color Palestinian flag with the slogan “A million flags for Palestine in place of one Israeli flag in Cairo.” Members of ‘Amal threatened to walk out of the People’s Assembly if Navon was permitted to address the body, and this event had to be deleted from the proposed agenda. ‘Amal, although it had previously expressed reservations about the treaty, had never been so outspokenly critical of Egyptian-Israeli relations. This marked’ Amal’s transformation from a tame loyal opposition created by Anwar al-Sadat into an opposition force, albeit one with a limited mass base of support.

The Workers’ Committee of the Helwan Iron and Steel Works, one of the few remaining bastions of Nasserism in the working class, also threatened to hold a demonstration if Navon visited their workplace, and this event, too, was deleted from his agenda. The headquarters of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions was an important center of opposition to normalization of relations with Israel. Many trade union functionaries privately expressed this view to interested visitors, or passively indicated their sentiments by prominently displaying pictures of Gamal ‘Abd ul-Nasser in their offices or by reading the opposition press. Sa‘d Muhammad Ahmad, president of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions and also Minister for Labor Power and Training, was reportedly opposed to establishing ties with the Israeli trade union federation, the Histadrut.

In early 1981, the organizers of the Cairo International Book Fair denied Israel a booth, using the convenient excuse that the application had been submitted late. After direct pressure from President Sadat, they reversed their decision, and assigned the Israelis a booth next to the exhibit of the Palestinian children’s publishing house Dar al-Fatat al-‘Arabi, the only Palestinian presence at the fair. When Israel’s ambassador arrived to inaugurate the Israeli booth, Israeli security agents tried to obscure the neighboring Palestinian flag so that their ambassador would not be photographed in front of it. This led to a fight; two Egyptians were arrested. Later in the week, there was a spontaneous demonstration against the Israeli exhibit after Tagammu‘ members distributed leaflets in front of the Israeli booth (now moved to a new location).

On February 26, 1981, the first anniversary of the establishment of Egyptian-Israeli diplomatic relations, ‘Amal and Taggamu‘ held a joint press conference in which they condemned the Camp David Accords. Many observers have noted that the June 1981 Israeli bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor produced a dramatic change in Egyptian public opinion. Public criticism of the government’s policies toward Israel increased markedly after this incident.

The Political Content of “Normalization”

Much of the early Egyptian protest against the normalization of relations with Israel was centered among intellectuals. This partly reflected the absence, ever since the military coup of July 23, 1952, of any meaningful vehicle for the masses of the Egyptian people to participate in political activity. It also reflects the heavy burden which intellectuals in particular were made to bear, given the Israeli interpretation of normalization.

In the context of the treaty, normalization of relations is primarily an obligation incumbent upon Egypt. Israel did not believe that it was sufficient for Egypt to commit itself to nonbelligerence, or even to the establishment of full diplomatic relations: the ultimate guarantee of the peace would be the establishment of a thick network of economic and cultural relations. Some Israelis voiced the familiar argument that once Egypt realized the benefits of such relations, it would be reluctant to resume a hostile attitude towards Israel. Other Israelis argued that the more involved with Israel Egypt became, the more it would be pulled away from the Arab world and towards a new order in the Middle East in which the Israeli-American axis was dominant. Most Israelis shared the view that full economic and cultural relations with Egypt would signify that Israel had become an “accepted” part of the Middle East. Thus Israel was seeking not only peace with Egypt but ideological legitimation.

Consequently, the Israeli interpretation obliged Egypt to carry out not only legally specified and quantifiable measures, but also a wide range of qualitative steps. Levels of trade and cultural exchange were scrutinized in Israel as an indication of whether or not Egypt was sincerely upholding its treaty obligations. Israelis complained that critical articles in the Egyptian press were evidence that Cairo was not pursuing peaceful relations. There was tremendous pressure on Egyptian journalists, writers, scholars and artists to meet and collaborate with their Israeli counterparts. And this was supposed to happen regardless of Israeli behavior on still-outstanding political and diplomatic issues.

A survey of Egyptian university students’ opinions conducted in March 1982 indicates a fairly realistic assessment of the results of the treaty by the respondents. [5] The treaty itself had broad support, but there were not many illusions about the character of the relations with Israel it had brought about. In fact, 61 percent of the respondents still viewed the Israelis as aggressors. They continued to support the treaty because they felt that domestic issues such as the economy and expansion of democratic rights were the most pressing issues facing the country. They were willing to uphold the peace treaty in order to gain breathing room to deal with other issues. This somewhat reluctant acceptance of the treaty seems to have been the emerging consensus before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It was far from what the Israeli government considered satisfactory.

After the Invasion

The invasion of Lebanon crystallized a hostile Egyptian national consensus around the peace treaty. It also confirmed growing suspicions that the United States would not effectively restrain Israeli aggression or give Egypt anything like the status which it accords Israel.

The press, even the semi-official dailies, al-Ahram and al-Akhbar, was unanimous in its condemnation of the invasion and of the American support for it. The opposition parties held news conferences, called for a boycott of American products, distributed leaflets, formed an Egyptian National Committee in Solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese People and even participated in street demonstrations protesting Israeli actions in Lebanon.

Official reaction remained verbal until after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. Only then was the Egyptian ambassador in Tel Aviv brought home for consultations. Subsequently, Cairo announced that he would not return to Tel Aviv until Israel withdrew from Lebanon. Subsequent statements of the Egyptian position have included additional conditions such as a freeze on settlements, or referred to the necessity of Israel’s carrying out “confidence-building measures” in the occupied territories. Shortly after the withdrawal of the Egyptian Ambassador, Foreign Minister (now Prime Minister) Kamal Hasan ‘Ali announced that relations with Israel were “90 percent frozen.”

In 1979 and 1980, 55 separate commercial, cultural and scientific exchange agreements between Egypt and Israel were signed. Some were never implemented at all, and very few remain in force today. Reliable statistics indicating the concrete level of Egyptian-Israeli relations in the areas of trade, tourism and cultural exchange are difficult to obtain. In the economic arena, the main item of exchange has been oil from the Sinai fields. As part of the treaty, Egypt agreed to provide Israel with 40,000 barrels per day for one year at a discount price (resulting in a loss to Egypt of over $150 million), and thereafter at the prevailing market price. The annual value of this oil trade in 1983 was about $600 million. Other Egyptian exports to Israel amounted to $700,000 in 1982 and $800,000 in the first nine months of 1983. Israel tried to balance its account with Egypt mainly by exporting agricultural products, including apples, eggs, chicks, soybeans and butter. Israeli exports to Egypt totaled $12 million in 1980, rose to $25.5 million in 1982 and fell to $6 million in the first three quarters of 1983. [6] Israel and Egypt signed a trade agreement on May 8, 1980, and ratified it on April 1, 1981. Before this, Israel had access only to the private sector of the Egyptian economy.

The trade agreement was supposed to open the large government-supervised public sector to Israel, but the Egyptian bureaucracy held up implementing it for more than a year before the invasion of Lebanon. It has been frozen since then. [7] There had been much talk of Egyptian-Israeli cooperation in land reclamation and irrigation schemes. Israel does have significant technical expertise in these areas from which Egypt could benefit. Anwar al-Sadat’s casual offer to divert the Nile waters for Israeli use aroused a storm of comment and protest in Egypt. One more serious project was said to involve 200,000 hectares south of Lake Manzalah in the Sinai. In June 1981, a team of Israeli agricultural experts arrived to survey a land reclamation project in Upper Egypt. There is no confirmation that either of these projects has actually been implemented. Since the invasion of Lebanon, there has been little mention of Egyptian-Israeli cooperation in this field.

Tourist exchanges have been similarly lop-sided and undramatic. There is regular bus service between Israel and Egypt, and air service is provided by El Al and Nefertiti Airlines (a subsidiary of Egypt Air, organized so as not to interfere with EgyptAir’s flights to Arab countries). An agreement regulating tourism between the two countries was signed on October 27, 1981. In 1982, 4,300 Egyptians visited Israel and 30,000 Israelis visited Egypt. For the first three quarters of 1983 the figures are 1,800 and 25,000 respectively. [8] Reports of Israelis’ declining interest in visiting Egypt may mean that those who are curious about Egypt and who have the resources to travel have already made their visits. Many Israelis simply have no interest in anything Arab. Official relations between the two countries’ ministries of tourism have cooled, not only because of the invasion of Lebanon, but also because of Israel’s opening of the Sonesta Hotel at Taba in November 1982. Egypt’s strict enforcement of visa regulations and arrests of Israelis traveling in the Sinai without permits have further soured relations in this area.

The strong Israeli effort to establish cultural relations and to form ties with Egyptian intellectuals was also the arena in which it was most possible for individual Egyptians to resist normalization of relations. Despite the continued operation of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo after the invasion of Lebanon, there was an immediate decline in the level of cultural exchanges which had been prominently featured as the fruits of normalization. The Israelis were asked not to participate in the International Agricultural and Food Industry Exhibition held in Cairo in October 1982 for “security reasons.” There was no Israeli exhibit at the Cairo International Book Fair in 1983 or 1984. Israel did participate in the 17th Cairo International Fair in March 1984, and the Israeli Minister of Commerce and Tourism attended.

The official “freezing” of Egyptian-Israeli relations has given Egyptian intellectuals a signal that they may voice their criticisms of Israel publicly. Some of Egypt’s most influential intellectual journals, such as al-Ahram al-Iqtisadi (The al-Ahram Economist) and al-Siyasah al- Duwaliyah (International Affairs), and the popular weekly magazines Ruz al-Yusuf and al-Musawwar have been major forums for attacks on Israeli policy.

There has been widespread criticism of the Israeli “cultural invasion of Egypt.” The Third Symposium of the Teaching Councils at Egyptian Universities, held in June- July 1983, condemned the activities of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo and demanded that it be closed. [9] At a Cairo seminar sponsored jointly by Georgetown University and the al-Ahram Institute for Political and Strategic Studies in mid-1983, many Egyptian participants sharply criticized both American and Israeli policy, especially with regard to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. [10]

Egyptian-American Relations

The Lebanon invasion made it clear that the United States would not restrain Israel out of regard for Egyptian sensibilities and interests. But it is Israel which has turned to the United States, complaining that Egypt has violated the peace treaty by refusing to return its ambassador to Tel Aviv. Secretary of State George Shultz criticized Egypt on this account when he visited the Middle East in the spring of 1983. Pro-Israel members of Congress have tried to make criticism of Egypt’s refusal to return its ambassador to Tel Aviv a part of US policy. An amendment to the foreign aid bill for fiscal 1984, proposed in the House of Representatives, expressed concern “about the lack of progress in the normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel.” [11]

While Egypt has continued to abide by the letter of the treaty, there is no doubt that Cairo has begun a subtle reorientation of its foreign policy. The extent of this reorientation should not be overestimated. Egypt remains firmly in the American camp. The US Air Force continues to deploy F-4 Phantom fighters at Cairo West airfield, and AWACS command-and-control planes have rotated in and out of Egypt. Due largely to USAID-financed purchases, Egypt is now the second biggest importer of US products in the Middle East. The Egyptian economy remains heavily dependent on US aid. There is little pro-Soviet popular sentiment in the country.

But there are clear signs that Husni Mubarak has been less willing than his predecessor to embrace the United States unreservedly. Egypt has not agreed to US conditions for construction of military facilities originally offered at Ras Banas, on the Red Sea coast; consequently, Congress has refused to appropriate money for construction. The first US military exercises held in Egypt in 1980, and Operation Bright Star, in November 1981, were accompanied by great fanfare. In 1982, following the Lebanon invasion, no exercises were held. Bright Star 1983 was given almost no publicity by the Egyptian government, much to the chagrin of the Reagan administration, which wanted to advertise its augmented intervention capability in the Middle East. (A joint air and naval exercise, code-named “Sea Breeze,” was conducted with little publicity in November 1984. [12])

The United States remains Egypt’s principal source of military hardware, but Mubarak has made an effort to diversify suppliers to include France, Italy, The United Kingdom and Spain. [13] Egypt has also moved cautiously to reestablish full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. In September 1981, Anwar al-Sadat expelled all Soviet experts from Egypt along with the ambassador and six members of his staff. After the invasion of Lebanon, 60 Soviet technical experts returned to Egypt. Soviet- Egyptian diplomatic relations were reestablished in June 1984. No one suggests that Egypt is likely to return to the Soviet camp. But the increased Soviet presence in Egypt, along with recent Kuwaiti and Jordanian arms talks with Moscow, signal a renewed Soviet presence in the Arab world which Washington cannot view with equanimity.

Egyptian-Arab Relations

Egypt’s Arab connections never were entirely severed, even in the era of Anwar al-Sadat. Sadat initiated and announced publicly Egypt’s military support for Iraq soon after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. As Egypt has abandoned Sadat’s predominant orientation towards Israel and the United States, it has actively sought to improve its relations with the 17 Arab states which broke diplomatic relations in response to the peace treaty with Israel. Iraq has continued to receive considerable military supplies from Egypt, and in August 1983 the two countries signed an $80 million trade protocol. Sixty percent of the labor force in Iraqi oil fields is now said to be Egyptian, freeing the Iraqis for military service. [14]

Israel’s destruction of the PLO base in Lebanon convinced Yasser Arafat to restore ties with Egypt as a counterweight to Syria’s hostility and the overall weakening of the PLO. Arafat’s meeting with Husni Mubarak in Cairo on December 22,1983, aggravated dissension within the PLO, but it was warmly greeted by the opposition parties in Egypt. Jordan, which hoped to benefit from this development, signaled its approval of the PLO-Egyptian rapprochement by signing a trade protocol with Egypt two days after the Arafat-Mubarak visit.

Egypt tried to use its improved relations with Jordan and the PLO as a lever to press Israel to pay greater attention to Egyptian concerns and, by doing so, to win increased acceptance for Egypt in Arab and Islamic circles. Immediately after the Arafat-Mubarak meeting, Egypt’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, al-Shafi‘i Abd al-Hamid, visited Israel to seek permission for 160 West Bank notables to attend the meeting of the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) in Casablanca in January 1984. This was the first visit of a senior Egyptian official to Israel since the Lebanon invasion. The Israelis complained that the Arafat-Mubarak meeting violated the peace treaty and refused to allow the West Bankers to attend the ICO meeting

Egypt was invited to rejoin the ICO (from which it was suspended in 1979) without having to repudiate the peace treaty with Israel. Pakistan and Guinea were Egypt’s main public sponsors, but Iraq, Morocco and Saudi Arabia were also in favor, while Algeria, Libya, Syria and Tunisia were opposed. Cairo subsequently broke diplomatic relations with Costa Rica and El Salvador for having their embassies in Jerusalem, in accord with an ICO resolution, and Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Butros Ghali also urged Nigeria not to restore diplomatic ties with Israel when he visited that country in March 1984. [15]

Israel was, of course, greatly annoyed by these developments. The Shamir government was unwilling to take any initiatives in Lebanon or the West Bank and Gaza Strip which might persuade the Egyptians to return their ambassador to Tel Aviv or otherwise improve relations. The Likud was content with an indefinite continuation of the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza; while it would have liked to withdraw from Lebanon, it also insisted on continued domination of the south. Under these circumstances, placating Egypt had a low priority.

Relations with Egypt were a minor issue in the Israeli elections of July 1984. The Alignment criticized the Likud for failing to insist that Egypt live up to its treaty obligations! This was part of the Alignment’s electoral strategy, which muted substantive criticism of the Likud’s foreign and military policy. This proclivity to critique the Likud from the right makes it that much more difficult for the new government to contemplate a major policy change. Prime Minister Shimon Peres knows that he does not have a mandate for a more conciliatory policy.

When the government of national unity was finally formed in September, Peres immediately sent a message to Mubarak urging that the Egyptian ambassador return to Israel. The Egyptians reaffirmed their position that this would not occur until Israel evacuated Lebanon and carried out confidence-building measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Peres also called for a meeting between himself and Husni Mubarak to discuss improving Egyptian-Israeli relations. Announcing Egypt’s rejection of this suggestion, Mubarak’s foreign policy advisor, Usama al-Baz, called on Israel to lift the ban on Palestinian political activity, free political prisoners, reinstate deposed Palestinian mayors and other elected officials, declare a moratorium on new settlements and end Israeli interference in the economic life of the occupied territories. [16]

The most dramatic indication of improved Egyptian- Arab relations, and the one with the most significant potential consequences for Israel and the United States was Jordan’s announcement, on September 25, 1984, that it was renewing full diplomatic relations with Egypt. This was followed by an official visit by Jordan’s King Hussein to Egypt in early December, and an unannounced visit by Mubarak to Aqaba this January. Hussein’s motivation for reestablishing ties with Egypt has as much to do with his desire to build a front with Egypt and Iraq against Syria as it does with any desire for negotiations over the West Bank. But the renewal of Jordanian-Egyptian relations may also be an attempt by King Hussein to construct an Egyptian-Jordanian-PLO bloc able to negotiate with Israel.

In the past, Washington has welcomed the idea of Jordanian-Egyptian rapprochement. But now this has taken place in the context of Hussein’s denunciation of the Camp David agreements on national television in Egypt. Although Egypt continues to assert its adherence to the Camp David agreements, Mubarak has endorsed Hussein’s formula for negotiations and his call for the PLO to be brought into negotiations. At the same time, Mubarak has stated his readiness to be “flexible” on this point.

The Treaty Today

There is nothing to indicate that the Israeli national unity government, or even a government in which Likud did not participate, would be prepared to offer anything close to the terms which Hussein would require in order to conclude an agreement over the West Bank. There is also no indication that the Reagan administration is seriously concerned about the deterioration of US relations with Egypt and, more recently, public differences with Jordan. Except for the brief and inconclusive involvement in Lebanon, Washington has been content to let Israel have its way in the region, secure in the knowledge that most Arab rulers, including Mubarak, have little choice but to remain committed to an alliance with the US.

There is no doubt that the peace treaty with Israel has become accepted as a political fact of life in Egypt. In the campaign for the People’s Assembly elections which were held on May 27, 1984, all the opposition parties were critical of the results of the peace with Israel, but none called for its abrogation — including Tagammu‘, which continues to oppose the treaty in principle.

What, then, is the status of the “Camp David process”? There is no chance that it will lead to an overall resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor was this ever seriously intended by either Israeli or American policy makers. American aid has not solved Egypt’s economic problems. Moreover, the influx of Americans into Egypt associated with the embassy, AID and a large number of research projects has created an anti-American backlash among Egyptian intellectuals of considerable proportions. Nor has the Egyptian-Israeli treaty provided a secure foundation for a regional American military presence. Carter administration officials seem to have understood Egypt’s limitations in this regard, and the necessity of bringing other Arab states into the process if this objective was to be met. The Reagan administration’s support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the minimal attention it has devoted to the Palestine question have forced Egypt and Jordan, much against their preference, to distance themselves from the United States.

Israeli hopes for Camp David have likewise been frustrated. The removal of Egypt from the Arab military balance represents a definite long-term asset for Israel. But the invasion of Lebanon, which this facilitated, has proven a military, economic and political disaster. Moreover, Israel is no closer to achieving legitimacy in the region on its own terms. At the same time, Israel clearly could achieve recognition from its most important Arab neighbors, and from the PLO, if it were prepared to accept coexistence on the basis of self-determination for the Palestinian people and to abandon the strategy of survival through regional domination.



[1] New York Times, March 20,1982.
[2] Ibid., March 27, 1979.
[3] Jerusalem Post International Edition, March 29- April 4, 1981.
[4] Washington Post, March 26, 1979.
[5] Abdul-Monem Al-Mashat, “Egyptian Attitudes Towards the Peace Process: Views of an Alert Elite,” Middle East Journal 37,3 (Summer 1983), p. 400.
[6] Marie-Christine Aulas, “The Normalization of Egyptian-Israeli Relations,” Arab Studies Quarterly 5,3 (Summer 1983), p. 230; New York Times, December 4, 1983.
[7] al-Ahram al-Iqtisadi, September 6, 1982, p. 35.
[8] New York Times, December 4, 1983.
[9] Shu‘un Arabiyah, no. 31, September 1983, pp. 243-48.
[10] Middle East International, July 22, 1983.
[11] Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), March 2, 1984; Ma’ariv, December 14, 1983.
[12] Philadelphia Inquirer, November 7, 1984.
[13] See MEED, July 13, 1984, for details on a large arms deal with France.
[14] MEED, January 27, February 17, 1984.
[15] Middle East International, May 4, 1984.
[16] New York Times, November 13, 1984.

How to cite this article:

Joel Beinin "The Cold Peace," Middle East Report 129 (January 1985).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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