The Endurance of Cold Peace

That the Camp David Accords never created peace between peoples but only between governments can be seen as a huge failure or as lesson on how to make peace with the Palestinians.

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In another week, it will be 35 years since the signing of Camp David Accords. Time flies, it turns out, even when you’re not having fun. It’s hard to start counting the number of obstacles and crises that have threatened to destroy these agreements over the past three and a half decades. The curses and threats sounded by the person who was once the foreign minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman, and his gang, against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. When Egyptian ambassadors were recalled from Tel Aviv during periods of crisis. The first and second Lebanon wars. The first and second Intifada. The battle against Hamas. Mubarak's refusal to visit Israel - except for his arrival for Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. The terror attacks at Taba and the firing of rockets at Eilat. The storming and takeover of the Israeli embassy in Cairo during the revolution against Mubarak. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. These are but a sampling of troubles that have plagued the Camp David Accords. The accords have, like a reed, bent, flexed and remained standing.

The many upheavals in the region have, by contrast, turned the accords into a symbol of durability of agreements between countries that are still not free from mutual enmity. A broad cross section in both countries regards these agreements with hostility, including voices sometimes calling to annul them.

These agreements generated a new reality. Even though they never created peace between peoples but only between governments, they laid the groundwork for the Oslo Accords, which will mark its the twentieth anniversary this week. They also opened up the possibility for a peace treaty with Jordan and gave legitimacy to the Arab League peace plan. During the Mubarak period these agreements were a national asset that no one was allowed to undermine. During the short rule of the Muslim Brotherhood their firm devotion to the accords associated them with the Pro-Western axis. Now, when the military is ruling Egypt, these agreements are serving as the basis for joint military cooperation against terror in Sinai. Who could have imagined that Israel would allow Egypt to operate Apache attack helicopters and deploy such a large numbers of troops on the "holy ground" of Sinai, which has was demilitarized at Camp David. Who could have predicted Egypt would play the role of Israel, treating Hamas as if it were its biggest enemy and imprisoning the Gaza Strip with a brutal blockade.

But an annual, or periodic, review of the accords, especially after such a long time, would show they missed the target of lowering suspicion and heightening mutual trust. They are no doubt looked at with distrust and skepticism. But how many more years are needed to prove their validity and importance? More correctly, how much time is needed for Israelis to believe that living within a framework of peace agreements, even if they are not perfect, is a not bad option.

The question is not whether it is impossible to believe the Egyptians (or Jordanians) but whether we are ready to free ourselves from the conception that every peace deal is just a prologue to war. How much satisfaction have we drawn from the collapse of the Oslo Accords which "proved" this conception. It seems that the Camp David Accords - and also the peace treaty with Jordan - which are like a spoke in the wheel of such thinking, have taught us a cynical diplomatic lesson: An agreement with the Palestinians must have what Camp David doesn’t: perfection and immortality.

In other words, an agreement that is impossible to keep; a peace sown with the seeds of war. The paradox in the Camp David Accords, in which their very violation testifies to their strength - as when Israel recently let the Egyptian army enter Sinai - cannot be allowed to happen a second time. The danger in agreements such as Camp David is how they diminish the security threats and negate the Israel ideology of victimization. How could we leverage this ideology anymore, if we sign a agreement of “cold peace” with not only Egypt and Jordan, but also with the Palestinians?

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

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