Camp David: The Agreement That Ripped Up the Rule Book

The anniversary of the Camp David Accords, which shattered the consensus and served as a basis to the agreements that followed, passed without mention by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
From left: Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin clasping hands after signing the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979.
From left: Former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin clasping hands after signing the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979.Credit: AP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Last week, the 36th anniversary of the signing of the Camp David Accords – which led to the peace agreement with Egypt – passed without any ceremonies or festivities. Fifteen years after they were signed, the Oslo Accords were signed on September 13, 1993. The former agreement is alive and kicking, and there is almost no fear that it will crumble, as though it has always been with us. The latter, though, crashed thunderously and turned its signatories into “criminals.”

Egypt did not bother to mark the anniversary of the signing either, and occasionally there are even voices there that call for the agreement to be cancelled. But still, it’s important to remember that even former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, promised to honor all the agreements signed by Egypt, specifically mentioning the Camp David Accords.

Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who ousted Morsi and took over the government, had no doubts from the start. He considers the Camp David Accords crucial for Egypt’s security, especially after Israel agreed to turn a blind eye to its specific wording and allows armored Egyptian forces to enter the area defined as a demilitarized zone. It turns out that agreements can be bent for the sake of common interests, and violations are in the eye of the beholder.

Israel actually seems very pleased by the violation of the agreement by Egypt, since this violation enabled, among other things, the destruction of the Hamas tunnels connecting Gaza and Sinai. It helps Egypt to fight more effectively the radical terrorist organizations operating in Sinai, and yields productive military and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries, as was also reflected in Operation Protective Edge this summer.

Paradoxically, two years ago Hamas also turned out to be a supporter of the Camp David Accords, when Moussa Abu Marzouk – the deputy of Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal – said in a newspaper interview, “Gaza is included in the Camp David Accords, and there was an opportunity at the time to liberate it together with Sinai. Had that happened, Gaza would now be liberated and under Egyptian administration, as it was in the past.”

Stretching the boundaries

Abu Marzouk was mistaken, however. There is no mention in the agreements that Gaza – as part of a solution to the Palestinian problem – would once again be under Egyptian administration. But the fact that he seized the Camp David Accords as a source of diplomatic authority is fascinating in itself. He turned the agreement that other Arab countries saw as the height of abomination into a ray of light that could have changed the fate of Gaza’s Palestinians.

Abu Marzouk, who hopes one day to replace Meshal and return to the leadership position he held in the past, sometimes stretches the boundaries publicly supported by Hamas. About a week ago, he said that there is no religious (Sharia) law preventing the conduct of direct negotiations with Israel. He even anticipates that if circumstances remain unchanged, the organization will be forced to conduct direct negotiations. His words – which were described as a “heavy bomb” – aroused stormy reactions. But, as expected, they rolled off Israel’s ears as though they had not been uttered.

Abu Marzouk’s expression of regret for the loss of the “historic opportunity” to restore Gaza to Egyptian administrative control within the context of the withdrawal from Sinai is now being joined by politicians and spokespeople from the Israeli right, who are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explain why he is ignoring the “Egyptian proposal.”

This is a proposal that Sissi ostensibly made to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to the effect that the area of Gaza would be enlarged by another 1,600 square kilometers (618 square miles) of Sinai territory, in exchange for Abbas’ agreement to give up the demand for a state within the 1967 borders, or to consider the enlargement as part of the land swap he is demanding as part of any peace agreement.

There’s only one minor problem: there is no such proposal on the table. Sissi denied that he had raised it, whereas the Egyptian Foreign Ministry published a stinging clarification two or so weeks ago, in which it wrote, “This proposal was raised during the era of Mohammed Morsi, who offered the Palestinians to establish a Palestinian state in Sinai as part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to harm the sacred land of Egypt.”

A similar denial was also made by Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, who emphasized that “We will not accept any proposal that would undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with its capital in Jerusalem.”

Incidentally, it is doubtful whether Abu Marzouk would now repeat his words of two years ago, in light of the difficult relations between Hamas and Egypt. But all that doesn’t stop the Israeli right from attacking Netanyahu for rejecting the proposal that never existed.

The Camp David Accords shattered the entire consensus that maintained there was no chance of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and the Arab countries. It took a further 16 for the treaty with Jordan, another treaty that succeeded in standing fast in the face of stormy reactions all around: The Arab attack against Egypt that followed Camp David; the Second Lebanon War; and the two intifadas. Egypt received the entire territory that was captured from it, and Jordan exchanged a few territories with Israel.

Even the Oslo Accords, which led to a massacre a few years after they were signed, continue to serve as the basis for any negotiations with the Palestinians – mainly because they include mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition. Without the Camp David Accords, the two agreements that followed would not have been signed. It would have behooved the Netanyahu government and Knesset to take the trouble at least to mention this anniversary. After all, we’re a peace-loving nation, right?

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