Our World: The legacy of a teetering peace

By CAROLINE B. GLICK, JPOST

One of the first casualties of the Egyptian revolution may very well be Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. The Egyptian public’s overwhelming animus towards Jews renders it politically impossible for any Egyptian leader to come out in support of the treaty.

Over the weekend, the junta now ruling Egypt refused to explicitly commit itself to maintaining the treaty. Instead, under intense American pressure they sufficed with stating that they would maintain all of Egypt’s international obligations. According to news reports, the generals themselves are split in their positions on Israel. One group supports maintaining the treaty. The other supports its abrogation.

Ayman Nour, the head of the oppositionist Ghad Party and the man heralded as the liberal democratic alternative to Mubarak by Washington neo-conservatives has called for the peace treaty to be abrogated. In an interview with an Egyptian radio station he said, “The Camp David Accords are finished. Egypt has to at least conduct negotiations over conditions of the agreement.”

The Muslim Brotherhood has been outspoken in its call to end the treaty since it was signed 32 years ago.

Whatever ends up happening, it is clear that Israel is entering a new era in its relations with Egypt. And before we can begin contending with its challenges, we must first consider the legacy of the peace treaty that then prime minister Menachem Begin signed with then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat on March 26, 1979.

What was the nature of Israel’s agreement with Egypt? What was its impact on Israel’s strategic vision? What were the strategic assumptions that formed the basis of its component parts? How did all of these issues impact Israel’s perception of the longterm prospects for its relations with Egypt? WHEN BEGIN and Sadat signed the peace treaty, their act was the culmination of 15 months of negotiations catalyzed by Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and his speech before the Knesset in November 1977.

Sadat’s visit to Israel’s capital was an extraordinary gesture. Here was the man who just four years earlier had waged an unprovoked, brutal war of aggression against Israel that placed the country in mortal danger and killed some 2,600 of its finest sons.

Here was the leader of the country that had fought five unprovoked wars of aggression against Israel in 29 years.

And yet suddenly, here was this man, Israel’s greatest foe standing before the Knesset and declaring that he was not seeking a ceasefire, but peace. As he put it, “I have not come to you to seek a partial peace, namely to terminate the state of belligerency at this stage…

I have come to you so that together we might build a durable peace based on justice, to avoid the shedding of one single drop of blood from an Arab or an Israeli.”

The effect of Sadat’s visit on the Israeli psyche generally and on Begin’s mindset in particular was profound.

A new book of the two leaders’ correspondence, Peace in the Making: The Menachem Begin-Anwar Sadat Personal Correspondence edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad of the Begin Heritage Center presents readers with a portrait of the Israeli leader enthralled with the belief that he and Sadat were embarking their nations on the road to a peaceful future.

But it was not to be. Whether Sadat was purposely deceptive or whether he was simply blocked from implementing his vision of peace by an assassin’s bullet in 1981 is unclear. True, he committed Egypt to peace. The peace treaty contains an entire annex devoted to specific commitments to cultivate every sort of cultural, social and economic tie imaginable.

But both Sadat and his successor Mubarak breached every one of them.

As the intervening 32 years since the treaty was signed have shown, in essence, the deal was nothing more than a ceasefire. Israel surrendered the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and in exchange, Egypt has not staged a military attack against Israel from its territory.

The peace treaty’s critics maintain that the price Israel paid was too high and so the treaty was unjustified.

They also argue that Israel set a horrible precedent for future negotiations with its neighbors by ceding the entire Sinai in exchange for the treaty. Moreover, the Palestinian autonomy agreement in the treaty was a terrible deal. And it set the framework for the disastrous Oslo peace process with the Palestinian Authority 15 years later.

For their part, supporters of the treaty claim that the precedent it set was terrific for Israel. The treaty cites the borders of the Palestine Mandate as Israel’s legal borders. And since the Mandate envisioned a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan River, at a minimum the peace treaty sets a precedent for a future annexation of the west bank of the Jordan.

Both sides of the argument are largely irrelevant.

Precedents don’t matter in politics. Interests, not precedents determine how states and non-state actors operate. As for whether or not the deal was justified given the exorbitant price, it is unclear what choice Begin had.

In 1977 Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. And he was the most hostile president Israel had faced. His negative attitude toward the Jewish state made it all but impossible for Begin to walk away from the table. When Carter’s antagonism was coupled with Sadat’s romantic pledges of everlasting peace and brotherhood, it is easy to understand why Begin agreed to overpay for a ceasefire.

WHILE BEGIN’S behavior during the negotiations is relatively easy to understand, Israel’s behavior since the peace with Egypt was signed is less comprehensible, and certainly less forgivable. Since Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1981, it has been the state’s consistent policy to ignore Egypt’s bad faith. This 30- year refusal of Israel’s leadership to contend with the true nature of the deal this country achieved with Egypt has had a debilitating impact both on Israel’s internal strategic discourse as well as on its international behavior.

As the US-backed demonstrators in Tahrir Square gained momentum, and the prospect that Mubarak’s regime would indeed be overthrown became increasingly likely, IDF sources began noting that the IDF and the Mossad will need to build intelligence gathering capabilities towards Egypt after 30 years of neglect.

These statements make clear the debilitating impact of Israel’s self-induced strategic blindness to our neighbor in the south.

Under the ceasefire, with Israeli approval and encouragement, Egypt has built a modern, US-trained and armed military. And for 30 years, that military has been training to fight Israel.

On the other side, Israel stopped training in desert warfare and stopped gathering intelligence on the Egyptian military. As far as IDF commanders and successive defense ministers have been concerned, there was no reason to prepare for war or care about Egypt’s preparations for war because we were at peace.

On the international stage, our leadership’s refusal to acknowledge that Egypt had not abandoned its belligerent attitude against Israel was translated into an abject refusal to admit or deal with the fact that Egypt leads the international political war against Israel.

Rather than fight back when Egyptian diplomats at the UN initiate anti-Israel resolution after anti-Israel resolution, Israeli diplomats have pretended that there is no reason for concern.

THIS IS also the case regarding Egyptian anti-Semitism.

Before the peace treaty, the Foreign Ministry prepared regular reports on anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media and school system. These reports were distributed at embassies and consulates throughout the world. After the treaty was signed, the reports were filed away and never spoken of.

In his speeches, Sadat repeatedly claimed that he was channeling the hopes and beliefs of the entire Egyptian people. But the fact is that Sadat was a military dictator.

Israel failed to consider the implications of signing a deal with a military dictator on the prospects for the deal’s longevity. In an interview with Der Spiegel last week, the Muslim Brotherhood’s puppet Mohamed ElBaradei explained those implications. As he put it, Israel has “a peace treaty with Mubarak, but not one with the Egyptian people.”

The advantage of having a good relationship with a dictator is that he can deliver quickly. The disadvantage is that once he is gone no one is bound by his decisions because he doesn’t represent anyone.

There are other problems with making deals with dictators. Due to the repressive nature of authoritarian regimes, they have no mechanisms in place for peaceful changes. And yet change in dictatorships, like change everywhere else, is an historic inevitability.

In the absence of a mechanism for peaceful change, as a general rule, change in authoritarian regimes is revolutionary rather than evolutionary. The revolution in Cairo is the clearest example of this.

ANOTHER PROBLEM with the deal that Israel made with Sadat is demonstrated by the current unrest in the Sinai. In 1977 Egypt’s was the strongest regime in the region. So when Israel thought about the threat emanating from Egypt, it thought about the Egyptian army barreling toward Beersheba. That is why the Egyptian military was barred from operating in the Sinai.

The last thing on Israel’s mind in 1978 was the Beduin tribes in the Sinai. Back then Sinai’s Beduin were pro-Israel and bitterly disappointed when it withdrew. But a lot has changed since then.

Over the past 20 years or so, the power of Egypt’s central authority in its hinterlands has weakened.

The strength of the Beduin has grown. And over the past decade or so, the Beduin of Sinai, like the Beduin from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to Israel have become aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and its al-Qaida and Hamas spinoffs. The Beduin attacks on Egyptian police and border guard installations in El-Arish and Suez over the past three weeks are an indication that the fear of a strong state, which was so central to Israel’s thinking during the peace process with Egypt, is no longer Israel’s most urgent concern.

Transnational jihadists in the Sinai are much more immediately threatening than the Egyptian military.

But the peace treaty – signed with a military dictator – provides neither Israel nor Egypt with tools to deal with this threat.

As Israel moves into the uncharted territory of managing its relations with the post-Mubarak Egypt, it is imperative that our leaders understand the lessons of the past. Fantasies are no match for reality.

Aggression must be fought, not wished away. And the world is a dynamic place. Today’s solutions will likely be irrelevant tomorrow as new challenges eclipse the current ones. Our strategies must be rational, flexible and sober-minded if we are to chart a forward course rather than be thrown asunder by the coming storm. And we must never put all our eggs in anyone’s basket.

February 15, 2011 | 19 Comments »

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19 Comments / 19 Comments

  1. Maybe the U.S.’s efforts with the military in Egypt was a bribe (mordida, as they say in Mexico) to keep the peace with Israel.

    You completely disregard that the U.S. is committed to defending Israel and keeping the peace in the Middle East. You portray us as the great Satan. It’s a tap dance the U.S. does to treat its Middle Eastern allies equally but Israel is first.

  2. TO CULTIVATE EVERY SORT OF CULTURAL, SOCIAL, ECONOMICAL TIE IMAGINABLE. But, Sadat and Mubarak breached evey one of them.— FOR 30 YEARS THE EGYPTIAN ARMY BUILT, ARMED, MODERNISED BY THE US, HAS BEEN TRAINING TO FIGHT ISRAEL.It looks like starting with this damned Carter,the US has been working towards the eradication of Israel?
    I won’t dwell in 32 years of smart/stupid decisions, too many of them.
    ONE FACT REMAINS: They outsmarted us on the battlefield in spite of our victories and their enormous losses (the worth of an arab’s life?).They outsmarted us in peace (a piece of paper for the Sinai). They outsmarted us in the field of PR around the globe. Born an arab, die an arab; Jews haven’t yet learned the harsh reality of the Middle East. Weren’t we supposed to be the smartest ???

  3. I have to ask, is the Egyptian army stupid? Does 30 years of financial support and training of Egyptian forces mean the U.S. is now rendered powerless? I can’t think that’s true. Does Egypt have enough money to go to war? I don’t think so, especially when the hand that fed them may now have to kick their butts…

    Only if a bin Laden type gets control would a war scenario be in the offing. You heard the Egyptian people. They want freedom, jobs, better wages. Let’s take them at their word until circumstances prove otherwise.

  4. The best thing is for the United States to stop their “foreign help” to Israel, Egypt, Pal-Arabs, Jordan, Lebanon, and everyone else.
    Then if United States wants to benefit from security and intelligence co-operation with Israel they may chose to re-pay Israel with benefits.
    Without American help, Israel will rapidly become stronger than Egypt. Excellent weapons are available from Russia for less then half the US price, they can be equipped with Israeli electronics to compete with American systems.

  5. The United States now finds itself in a bizarre situation: it cannot stop its $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt, as that would prompt Egypt to renounce its peace treaty with Israel; but to continue that aid would build an anti-Israeli army.

    But perhaps not if Egypt is starving…

  6. New IDF Chief to build the army from zero

    Now that Benny Gantz has been approved as IDF Chief of Staff, he faces the formidable task of building the army from scratch. With Mubarak gone, Israel has to prepare for confrontations with Egypt. An all-out war may remain unlikely for the next few years, but Egypt will test Israel’s nerves in Sinai and probably not discourage Iran from doing the same.

    In the thirty years since the peace treaty has been in effect, IDF has lost its capability to fight the Egyptian army, which relies on 16 million conscripts, advanced tanks and aircraft, ballistic missiles, and ultimately nuclear weapons. The United States now finds itself in a bizarre situation: it cannot stop its $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt, as that would prompt Egypt to renounce its peace treaty with Israel; but to continue that aid would build an anti-Israeli army.

    Egypt wants peaceful nukes

    After the Russians started loading uranium rods into the Bushehr reactor in Iran, Egypt could wait no longer. A nuclear Shiite state would be an affront to non-nuclear Egypt.

    So Mubarak rushed to revive an old project: constructing a nuclear reactor near El Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast. Construction will begin in a year, which is unthinkable speed for Egypt. Like its Iranian counterpart, the Egyptian reactor will produce plutonium for nuclear warheads.

  7. Bottom line, land for peace is not worth the paper it’s written on. Peace comes from strength not weakness.

    Exactly. Peace will never come from signed agreements since muslims will never honor agreements signed with infidels.

  8. Yamit says Begin could have resisted Carter because Carter was a weak President and an anti-semite to boot.

    I never mentioned that he was antisemitic! Your insertion not mine and if he was antisemitic it’s irrelevant.

    One need not view and conclude Carter was a weak president just from hindsight all the polls and the election results confirmed that he was in real time.

    Israel was broke after the Yom Kippur war but except for the few years after 67 war we were always broke,but we were till then never in a more secure position vis a vis all of our belligerent neighbors and America was not providing us with aid or money yet. What could Carter have then have used for leverage except to threaten us militarily. If he had, Begin should have gone public with the threat, but certainly not cave in. I think my understanding of Begins motives and character are closer to the mark than that which you are trying to inject.

    Without knowing preceisely what was proimised or threated by the U.S. at each of these issue junctures, it is unwise to simply attribute Israel’s positions or reversal of positions as being a failure of moral character or intestinal fortitude on their part.

    Hindsight is great in revealing the consequences of decisions and actions taken, but if one is to take any lessons from what hindsight reveals in that regard, one must know far more precisely the context within which those decisions and actions were taken by Israeli leaders and in particular what pressures, threats, promises or all of the foregoing Israeli leaders had to deal with in ultimately coming to the decisions or taking the actions that they did.

    If you have any pertinent information that refutes my understanding please do post them. I have lived here long enough to know that most decisions by our government that have been negative are almost 1oo% non influenced by America but reflect our internal conceptions and rivalries. America has been a useful scapegoat to covering up the screw-ups of our microbial politicians. That’s not to say there was then or now no pressure from America and others. Of course there is always pressure on us but that pressure is seldom if ever determinant, unless it’s matched from here by the weakest and most corrupt examples of civil leadership.

  9. Hindsight illuminates the past from which lessons can be derived. As is often the case, however, situations that appear to be much the same are different, ekither by subtle but material differences in circumstances or the nature of the players taking the lead. Such is the case when it comes to assessing the actions of leaders past.

    Yamit says Begin could have resisted Carter because Carter was a weak President and an anti-semite to boot. Yes, it was apparent at the time that Carter was weak as regards Iran, but he was not weak when it came to his dealings with Israel. Futhermore, it was not apparent at the time that Carter was a closet anti-semite, which only became apparent in time.

    We know that America has pressured Israeli leaders in past. We rarely, if ever know just what specific threats the U.S. has made to pressure Israeli leaders to either adopt a position or change a position. Though Begin may have indicated to the citizens committee of which Yamit was part of that he would be taking certain resolute positions or would not bow to U.S. pressures, he nonetheless appears to have done so. Similarly, Sharon did re: the Rafah crossing agreement in November 2005, on the Road Map for peace, which he gave agreement subject to 14 reservations and Netanyahu reversing himself in 1996 on relinquishing authority to much of Hebron to the Palestinians and last year regarding his address at I think Bar Ilan university where he stated a new position that Israel would recognize an independent Palestinian state.

    Without knowing preceisely what was proimised or threated by the U.S. at each of these issue junctures, it is unwise to simply attribute Israel’s positions or reversal of positions as being a failure of moral character or intestinal fortitude on their part.

    Hindsight is great in revealing the consequences of decisions and actions taken, but if one is to take any lessons from what hindsight reveals in that regard, one must know far more precisely the context within which those decisions and actions were taken by Israeli leaders and in particular what pressures, threats, promises or all of the foregoing Israeli leaders had to deal with in ultimately coming to the decisions or taking the actions that they did.

  10. Bottom line, land for peace is not worth the paper it’s written on. Peace comes from strength not weakness.

    G-d did not provide the land to be divided up for worthless promises.

    Every country has experienced stupid and irresponsible leadership and yet we continue along the same paths. Are we ever to learn from the mistakes of the past?

  11. Do you not get it guys

    Comment 6 by Yamit82 is what is needed. the rest keep on thinking those thoughts privately, but these battles are going to be decided by men and women inthis real material world

  12. In 1977 Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. And he was the most hostile president Israel had faced. His negative attitude toward the Jewish state made it all but impossible for Begin to walk away from the table. When Carter’s antagonism was coupled with Sadat’s romantic pledges of everlasting peace and brotherhood, it is easy to understand why Begin agreed to overpay for a ceasefire.

    I was part of the citizens committee who met with Begin 2 days before he left for Camp David and he was adamant that he would never cde to Egypt the settlement blocks in the Sinai. He Oozed bravado and confidence in our meeting. Well we know what they were worth in the end. That fucking coward never had the guts to face us afterwords and was responsible for screwing us in our negotiations over compensation which they dragged out for over three years, keeping us almost virtual prisoners in place. Then he led the pack besmirching us as enemies of Peace and money grubbers.

    I disagree with Glick that Begin had no choice. Carter was the weakest Presiden America had ever had and everything he touched turned to shit. His popularity at home was even lower than Bushes or Nixon’s were. Israel could have waited him out as even an idiot should have known he wouldn’t be reelected. Congress then was more friendly to Israel than they are today. What happened to Begin can only be speculated. MY take is a combination of Character defect which is common to most populist Demogogues they love the accolades and the praises who only a short time before were calling him a fascist, Nazi etc. He had Dayan and Weitzman pushing him into the deal. The same duo (brother-inlaws) who were ready to concede defeat and surrender to the Egyptiuan only a short time before Sadat. and a Weitzman who not only was a corrupt crook but oncew remarked that \with the Sinai The IAF had room to train properly.)

    Those two Israeli lowlifes put a full court press on a feeble mentally unstable by that time Begin who at the time was suffering through a terminally ill wife. He latter succumbed totally to his depression after his wife died in the middle of the Lebanese war he initiated. He then suddenly quit and became a recluse till he died.

    WHILE BEGIN’S behavior during the negotiations is relatively easy to understand, Israel’s behavior since the peace with Egypt was signed is less comprehensible, and certainly less forgivable. Since Israel withdrew from the Sinai in 1981, it has been the state’s consistent policy to ignore Egypt’s bad faith. This 30- year refusal of Israel’s leadership to contend with the true nature of the deal this country achieved with Egypt has had a debilitating impact both on Israel’s internal strategic discourse as well as on its international behavior.

    Fallacious conceptions led to the tragedy of the Yom Kippur war and was compounded by the Fallacious conceptions in the attitudes towards Peace and peace with Egypt. According to excerpts from sadat’s diaries and letters, Sadat needed a superpower replacement for the Russians and would have accepted in the end losing all or most of Sinai to Israel. He never expected to get the whole thing. We are the stupid ones for agreeing in the firt place and then caving into to poker hands much weaker than our own. One the agreements were signed the fiction and justification for the stupidity, weakness of Character and outright perfidy has prevailed ever since where the lie has become popular truth. Reputations of those stupid criminals past and present must be maintained, so the lies are perpetuated. Now we will be faced with the consequences of their treachery and stupidity.

    Will we learn or compound past lies with more lies ?

  13. BlandOatmeal says:
    What Israel does in the future, cannot be judged by the events of today. The whole world is in turmoil, and Hashem is in charge of it. We know God’s salvation will come, but we don’t know from where — or when.

    Ki mitzion tetze torah, udvar Hashem mirushalayim

    Translation:
    For from Zion shall come the Torah, and the word of G-d from Jerusalem?

  14. I concur with #1 and #3, Number 2, doesn’t know what he is talking about, as usual.

    “The woman said to him [Jesus], ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for Salvation is from the Jews.’” (John 4:19-22)

  15. “We know God’s salvation will come, but we don’t know from where…”

    All I know is, “Salvation is of the Jews.”

    One must keep their eyes on Zion, ultimately. It’s where Mashiach will reign from. It is written, “On that day he will set his feet upon the Mount of Olives.” -Zechariah 14:4

  16. There’s a saying in Wisconsin: “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few days. It will change.”

    In Oregon, I say, “If you don’t like the weather, drive a few miles. It’ll be different.”

    What Israel does in the future, cannot be judged by the events of today. The whole world is in turmoil, and Hashem is in charge of it. We know God’s salvation will come, but we don’t know from where — or when.

  17. Egypt leads the international political war against Israel

    that’s why the jihadist revolution is a good thing: the truth comes out. even if war comes, we shall win with G-d’s help and then will come real peace.