Thu, 18 Sep 2003

What Camp David accords did for peace in the Middle East

Marianna Belenkaya, RIA Novosti, Moscow

On Sept. 17, the world commemorated the 25th anniversary of the historic Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. These accords laid the foundation for the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty signed in 1979.

Since then, the name Camp David, a countryside residence of American presidents, has become symbolic, especially for the Middle East. For some, Camp David means a hope for peace between the Arabs and the Jews; For others, it is associated with compromise and betrayal. To some, it reminds of lost hopes, to others -- of a chance for success.

Egyptian president Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, who signed the Camp David Accords, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978. The then U.S. president Jimmy Carter received the same award in 2002 for his role as an intermediary in the peace process.

The position of all proponents of these accords, regardless of their citizenship and nationality, is unanimous -- the 1978 talks in Camp David showed that peace between Israel and an Arab country is possible, and that war is not the only method of solving existing disputes.

The critics accuse both Begin and Sadat of excessive acquiescence. Arab critics cannot forgive the Egyptian president his "betrayal of common Arab interests" for the sake of bilateral agreements with Israel.

Israeli critics rail Begin, using the formula "peace in exchange for land" for the first time in history, showed the Arabs that Israel could be forced to make territorial concessions. Begin also became the first Israeli politician who officially recognized in the Accords "the legal rights and just demands of the Palestinian people."

The implementation of the first of two parts of the Accords, "the Framework for Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel," did not cause any problems. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, dismantling all Israeli settlements on its territory and withdrawing all Israeli troops. The Israelis left the Sinai Peninsula in tears, but they received Egyptian guarantees of non-aggression in exchange.

The peace treaty with Egypt ensured safety of the Israeli southern borders and eliminated the possibility of a new Middle East conflict. After 1978, only Syria and some groups of Palestinian extremists based on the territory of Lebanon posed a real threat to Israel.

Certainly, the relations between Israel and Egypt are not as smooth as it would be desirable. Most Egyptians still regard Israel as the enemy. The Egyptian TV channels often show movies and cartoons that openly bear an anti-Israeli character. Therefore, peace between these two countries is quite different from peace established in Europe after World War II.

Nevertheless, regardless of the degree of tension between Egypt and Israel, which sometimes came to recalls of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel-Aviv, the non-aggression guarantees have been working successfully for 25 years, and the diplomatic relations and constant contacts between Israeli and Egyptian politicians and secret services still continue.

As to the second part of the Accords, "the Framework for Peace in the Middle East," it has simply remained on paper. And it is this part of the accords that causes the most heated debates.

The document provided the conditions for talks between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian representatives aimed at the establishment of the Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from those territories.

After a transitional period Israel was supposed to be ready to discuss with Egypt and Jordan the permanent status of those territories. The solution of the Palestinian problem should have become the foundation for universal settlement of the Arab- Israeli conflict. All participants of the settlement process were invited to join the framework agreement, developed by Egypt and Israel.

The second part of the document was unrealistic for the time and was introduced in the Accords mainly to allow Egypt to conclude bilateral agreements with Israel. The Palestinian problem was and still remains the symbol of the Arab war against the Israeli state. Sadat hoped that the perspective of the settlement of the Palestinian problem would placate Arab countries enraged by his peace treaty with Israel. However, it did not happen.

After Camp David, all Arab countries, except Oman, broke diplomatic ties with Cairo. Egypt was thrown out from the Arab League. Arab countries and the Soviet Union, whose relations with Cairo had significantly cooled down by that time, denounced the Camp David Accords as a "separate deal."

Notice that before 1978, none of the Arab countries had recognized Israel as a legitimate state. Therefore, Sadat, who had concluded a peace agreement with the starch enemy of the Arab world, inevitably became a traitor in the eyes of all Arabs. Even in his own country the Egyptian president did not gain a wide support for his initiative. The peace agreement was one of the reasons for his assassination in 1981 by members of the pro- Islamic Al-Jihad organization.

Fifteen years after Camp David, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord, which outlined the procedure for the establishment of an interim Palestinian authority in the West Bank and Gaza and gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from those territories. The only difference between the Oslo and the Camp David Accords is that the former laid the responsibility for the successful implementation of its provisions upon Israel and Palestine, and the latter included Egypt and Jordan as well. Oslo agreements are criticized in the same manner as the Camp David Accords.

The Palestinian authority has, indeed, been created, but talks about the permanent status of the West Bank and Gaza territories, or about the sovereignty of the Palestinian state, have never materialized.

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and head of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat met in Camp David to discuss the conditions for division of Israel and Palestine. However, the second Camp David summit was a fiasco.

We can argue forever trying to find who indeed was responsible for the failure of the talks. It is much more difficult to reach an agreement between Israel and Palestine than between Israel and Egypt. Maybe it is not possible at all.

Unfortunately, the only alternative to a peaceful solution is the Palestinian intifada, which has been unleashed for almost three years, and the growing number of Palestinian and Israeli victims of the conflict. As to Palestinian and Israeli politicians, for 25 years they have not been able to find the courage displayed by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in 1978 to put an end to this terrible conflict.