The 43rd anniversary of the Camp David Accords signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978 went unnoticed without anyone briefly touching upon it. That’s why I opted to put pen to paper in a modest attempt to highlight the endeavors that Egypt made four decades ago to offer fair settlement for the Palestinian cause and how such endeavors could have given rise to an obvious solution to this core issue, given the courage and strong political will that characterized Egypt’s moves at that time aimed at changing the extremely difficult and complex political landscape that has been the outcome of the Israeli occupation of Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights following the Six-Day War of 1967.
Before delving into the substance of the Camp David Accords, their objectives, consequences, I’d like to point out that this article will mainly focus on the so-called “Framework for Peace in the Middle East” being the agreement pertaining to the Palestinian cause that defined the most important principles of a comprehensive political settlement between Israel and its neighbors.
To begin with, there are two main remarks to be noted about the Camp David Accords:
- Egypt’s move towards peace with Israel and President Al-Sadat’s historical visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 weren’t made lightly. Rather, they were governed by the logic of force as this drive towards peace came in the wake of Egypt’s glorious victory in the October War of 1973, the subsequent Geneva Conference held in December 1973, signing of the Sinai Separation of Forces Agreement (Sinai I agreement) in January 1974, reopening of the Suez Canal, and signing of the Interim Agreement between Israel and Egypt (Sinai II) in 1975.
- In its peace-oriented action, Egypt sought bringing comprehensive peace to the region. In view of its historical role, Egypt focused first on reaching an agreement that would solve the Palestinian Cause. To that end, on 17 September 1978, it signed with Israel and the United States what came to be known as “Framework for Peace in the Middle East” pertaining to the Palestinian cause and laying foundations of comprehensive peace in the Middle East. Then, six months later, on 26 March 1979, it signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Although I tried, in this article, to touch on the positive sides of the Comprehensive Framework for Peace, an inherent right of the then political leadership that worked hard at this time to put this agreement into being, it is fair to point out that this agreement was not full-fledged, comprehensive, or optimal. It had some weaknesses which, I think, may have stemmed from the fact that Egypt – unfortunately – went into this political battle separately after the unjustified rejection of the Arab countries that materialized following President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977. Nevertheless, Egypt managed to obtain the maximum concessions Israel and the United States could have made at that time, driving the Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and US President Jimmy Carter to sign it agreeing to comply with many obligations that counted in the Palestinian cause favor.
While the Camp David agreement is confined to the annals of history now, the seven decade old Palestinian cause is worthy to carefully consider all relevant resolutions and conventions that addressed it over the previous decades since 1948 (and not only since 1967). Whether we accept it or not, history will remember all of these historical agreements and drawing lessons from the past will remain our paramount goal in the hope that a fair political settlement could be reached in the near future, though all dynamics tell otherwise.
Any attentive reader of the details contained in the Framework for Peace may ask themselves: What would have happened if Arabs and Palestinians responded positively to President Sadat’s initiative 43 years ago and engaged in the negotiating process building on the Peace Framework with all the obligations, principles, strengths, and weaknesses it included? Could these negotiations –however long they might have taken– have given rise to a Palestinian State particularly if a strong unified position was possible similar to the unique Arab solidarity showed during the Ramadan War of 1973 and the Arab countries’ military, political, and economic support for Egypt?
I may have the right to ask whoever reads the agreement to thoroughly examine it – not as a supporter or an opponent – and take an impartial look at the current situation at the Arab, Palestinian, regional and international levels to see how difficult the current situation is, the magnitude of the problems raised in Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq, the Palestinian division, the successive extremist Israeli governments, the settlement and Judaization policies adopted, the return of terrorism and extremism, the decline of the Palestinian cause, and the weakening US role, and make a comparison between the current status quo and the status quo ante that existed four decades ago to figure out how the Palestinian cause get into this extremely complex situation and imagine what the case would have been if serious negotiations had been initiated four decades ago based on a driving force that may not come again.
In this article, I will try to spell out Egypt’s moves in the Palestinian cause during Camp David’s period categorizing them into two phases:
- Phase 1: Moves that preceded President Al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 and the signing of the Egypt –Israel Peace Treaty.
- Phase II: Moves that came in conjunction with Egypt’s signing of the peace treaty with Israel in March 1979.
Phase I – Agreements Prior to Treaty
The Framework for Peace in the Middle East
- “The agreed basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in all their parts.
- Peace requires respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
- Parties can, on the basis of reciprocity, agree to special security arrangements such as demilitarized zones, limited armaments areas, early warning stations, the presence of international forces, liaison, agreed measures for monitoring, and other arrangements that they agree are useful.
- This framework as appropriate is intended by them to constitute a basis for peace not only between Egypt and Israel, but also between Israel and each of its other neighbors
- Egypt, Israel, and representatives of the Palestinian people should participate in negotiations relating to the West Bank.”
- “Egypt and Israel agree that, in order to ensure a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority, and taking into account the security concerns of all the parties, there should be transitional arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza for a period not exceeding five years.
- The Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing military government.
- Egypt, Israel, and Jordan will agree on the modalities for establishing the elected self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza. The delegations of Egypt and Jordan may include Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza or other Palestinians as mutually agreed.
- The parties will negotiate an agreement which will define the powers and responsibilities of the self-governing authority to be exercised in the West Bank and Gaza.
- A withdrawal of Israeli armed forces will take place and there will be a redeployment of the remaining Israeli forces into specified security locations.
- A strong local police force will be established which may include Jordanian citizens. In addition, Israeli and Jordanian forces will participate in joint patrols and in the manning of control posts to assure the security of the borders.”
The Transitional Period
- “When the self-governing authority (administrative council) in the West Bank and Gaza is established and inaugurated, the transitional period of five years will begin. [Menachem Begin insisted that the word “administrative council” be added after the word “self-governing authority”]
- As soon as possible, but not later than the third year after the beginning of the transitional period, negotiations will take place to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza and its relationship with its neighbors.
- These negotiations will be conducted among Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.
- Two separate but related committees will be convened: one committee, consisting of representatives of the four parties which will negotiate and agree on the final status of the West Bank and Gaza, and its relationship with its neighbors, and the second committee, consisting of representatives of Israel and representatives of Jordan to be joined by the elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, to negotiate the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
- The negotiations shall be based on all the provisions and principles of UN Security Council resolution 242. The negotiations will resolve, among other matters, the location of the boundaries and the nature of the security arrangements.
- The solution from the negotiations must also recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and their just requirements.
- To assist in providing such security, a strong local police force will be constituted by the self-governing authority. The police will maintain continuing liaison on internal security matters with the designated Israeli, Jordanian, and Egyptian officers.”
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
- “Representatives of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the self-governing authority will constitute a continuing committee to decide by agreement on the modalities of admission of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.”
- “Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt, just and permanent implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem.”
Comprehensive Peace Principles
- “Egypt and Israel state that the principles and provisions described below should apply to peace treaties between Israel and each of its neighbors—Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
- Signatories shall establish among themselves relationships normal to states at peace with one another (full recognition and abolishing economic boycotts).
- Signatories should explore possibilities for economic development in the context of final peace treaties, with the objective of contributing to the atmosphere of peace, cooperation and friendship which is their common goal.
- Claims Commissions may be established for the mutual settlement of all financial claims.
- The United States shall be invited to participate in the talks on matters related to the modalities of the implementation of the agreements and working out the timetable for the carrying out of the obligations of the parties.
- The United Nations Security Council shall be requested to endorse the peace treaties and ensure that their provisions shall not be violated. The permanent members of the Security Council shall be requested to underwrite the peace treaties and ensure respect for their provisions.”
Egypt’s Peace Framework Memorandum
On 13 October 1978, Egypt submitted an implementation memorandum to the US that included procedures that should be taken by Israel toward creating an atmosphere conducive to the proper implementation of the principles contained in the Peace Framework. The memorandum outlined the following:
- Israel shall adhere to freezing the establishment of new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza during negotiations on the self-governing authority, a situation that could urge other Arab parties to participate in the negotiations. Israel shall send a letter to the United States underlining its commitment to this.
- Israel shall declare its examination of the withdrawal of the Israeli military government and its civilian administration from the West Bank and Gaza before the end of 1978.
- Israel shall state its readiness to engage with any Palestinian faction that accepts the Security Council Resolution 242.
- Freezing all Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling of a number of settlements.
- Participation of East Jerusalem Arabs in the Palestinian Authority establishment elections.
- Israel’s readiness to allow Arab banks in the West Bank and Gaza to resume their business operations and enable the return of forfeited or frozen assets.
- Lifting the ban on political meetings and allowing freedom of expression in the West Bank and Gaza.
- Eliminating restrictions on the freedom of movement for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, internally and externally.
- Cessation of Israeli military drills in the West Bank and Gaza.
- Granting amnesty to Palestinian political prisoners.
- Enabling Palestinian families’ reunification by allowing the return of Palestinians displaced since 1967.
- Allowing the immediate return of several displaced persons to the West Bank and Gaza.
Implementation of Camp David Principles
- The United Nations or any international body shall observe the elections of the Palestinian self-governing authority.
- Some Israeli forces shall be withdrawn immediately from parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
- The remaining Israeli forces shall be redeployed to certain areas pending further redeployment.
Communications Exchanged between Parties
On 23 February 1979, the Egyptian Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mustafa Khalil, addressed a letter to the US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance regarding the Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Gaza (Israel’s establishment of new settlements and expanding the existing ones) underscoring Israel’s violation of the spirit of Camp David agreement, committing illegal acts that are inconsistent with the Israeli commitments made to the US administration (which, for its part, opposes the Israeli settlement policy).
On 23 February 1979, Dr. Mustafa Khalil addressed once again the US Secretary of State regarding the Israeli mistaken perceptions of the self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza, viewing them as a serious threat to the entire peace process. The Israeli practices completely emptied the concept of “self-government” from its content, fearing that the newly elected Palestinian Authority might affect its control over the West Bank and Gaza.
Phase II– Agreements Following the Treaty
The Complementary Agreement between Israel and Egypt
On 26 September 1979 (i.e. the same day the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed), Egypt and Israel (President Al-Sadat and Menachem Begin) signed a complementary agreement regarding the self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza. The agreement stipulated the following:
- For Egypt and Israel to reach a political settlement drawing on the previously agreed-upon principles, negotiations shall start between the two sides after one month of exchanging the Peace Treaty ratification documents.
- Negotiations shall aim at reaching an agreement on the arrangements for establishing the elected self-governing authority and defining its powers and responsibilities.
- Parties shall agree to negotiate on an ongoing basis and in good faith in order to complete the negotiations within a year (1980).
- The self-governing authority shall be established and be made functional within a month of its election and as of this date, the five-year transitional period shall start.
- Israel shall withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and be replaced by the self-governing authority and the remaining Israeli forces shall be redeployed to specific locations.
- The US government shall be fully involved at all stages of negotiations.
In view of the above, we can say that Egypt’s moves following President Al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 and what was agreed upon in Camp David helped define the core principles required for any political settlement, by laying down the following principles:
- Placing emphasis on legitimacy of the international law as a basis for a political settlement between Israel and its neighbors, particularly Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
- Any settlement reached must acknowledge the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
- Emphasizing the need to implement the confidence-building measures so as to create a positive environment for political settlement, including primarily cessation of the construction of Israeli settlements, removal of some of them, and Israel’s gradual withdrawal from the Palestinian areas.
- Stressing the need to resolve the permanent status issues, including most crucially security issues as well as border, displaced persons, refugees’ problems, putting forward possible solutions that Israel should comply with.
- Putting forward the gradual resolution of the Palestinian cause by setting a transitional period during which negotiations would take place in order to determine the final status (similar to what was provided for in the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993).
- The full, effective engagement of the United States in negotiations, while underscoring the primary role of Jordan.
- Affirming the right of East Jerusalem residents to vote in the elections.
Communications between Parties
On 26 March 1979, US President Jimmy Carter sent a letter to Prime Minister Dr. Mustafa Khalil confirming that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin assured him that he would abide by all commitments that would support confidence-building with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
On 27 March 1979, Prime Minister Dr. Mustafa Khalil sent a letter to the US President Jimmy Carter stressing the need for the US administration to intervene and compel Israel to comply with the obligations it had previously undertaken, including relocation of the Israeli military government headquarters from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s refraining from carrying out military drills in populated areas, and ending its arrest policy.
To maintain objectivity, it should be pointed out that a political settlement against the background of what was agreed upon in Camp David wasn’t within easy reach at that time and it wasn’t conceivable that it be reached smoothly as it needed tireless efforts, marathon negotiations, power tools, and a unified Arab and Palestinian position, factors that weren’t widely available, let alone the fact that Egypt was dealing with one the most strident Israeli leaders, Menachem Begin, and he wasn’t expected to honor all the obligations he had taken particularly if we know that he insisted that the Peace Framework shall include some terms that may give him grounds for escaping his obligations as has been the case with the “administrative council” term. This approach is very characteristic of Israel which still takes it till now.
That said, through a bit of a leap of logic and a substantive point of view, one could reach one conclusion: the considerable momentum generated by President Al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem 44 years ago and the subsequent agreements and communications gave rise to a powerful, unprecedented impetus that could have been capitalized on and, definitely, it had had the opportunity to change the Palestinian reality that had been in place to a much better reality.
Now, Israel has an increased control over the occupied lands and is reaping the benefits of normalization without paying any price in favor of the Palestinian cause. Further, the Palestinian situation itself is getting more complicated given the internal divide and the presence of an Israeli government that has taken peace off its agenda and an American administration that is completely different from the administration of former President Jimmy Carter.
Crying over spilled milk will benefit no one but re-reading history – with all its pros and cons– is important, in the hope that everyone will benefit from the mistakes of the past towards building a better Palestinian future, even if this would be possible through a new Camp David agreement, provided that we deal with it realistically without giving up certainties on the way to a fair settlement of the Palestinian cause.