The Camp David Summit was referred to by Sadat as a last chance for a peaceful settlement. No time limit was set for the duration of the meetings, and it was agreed that the three leaders, along with a small number of aides and advisers, would be isolated from the rest of the world (especially the press), to prevent the political posturing from interfering with the negotiation process.
Therefore, only brief, general statements noting some progress, some disagreement, and the need for greater flexibility in negotiating positions was all the information the world was given on the progress of the summit.
on September 17, 1978, after 13 days at the summit, the three leaders appeared at the White House to announce the conclusion of two agreements. President Carter, President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin signed a Framework for Peace in the Middle East Agreed at Camp David and a Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty Between Egypt and Israel.
Taken together, the two documents provided the basis for continuing negotiations leading to agreements between Israel and the Arab states. The Middle East framework set forth general principles and some specifics that would govern a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Although Israel agreed to withdraw from all of the Sinai Peninsula, the ultimate fate of Israeli settlements in the Sinai was not determined. It was agreed that the matter would be submitted to the Knesset, where it voted to remove Israeli settlers from Sinai. All peace plans prior to this had envisaged Israel keeping a strip of land, at minimum, along the east coast of the Sinai, connecting Eilat and Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Camp David Accords, although supported by an overwhelming majority in both Egypt and Israel, were not greeted with the euphoria that had greeted Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem 10 months before, but rather with a more cautious optimism and some skepticism.
In Egypt, although internal opposition was not significant, the positive official reaction was tempered by the reaction of the Arab world, which was initially overwhelmingly negative. (oman was the only Arab state to provide a positive comment.) Arab opposition to Sadat, which had begun during his trip to Jerusalem, intensified as a result of the Camp David Accords.
Begin began to face growing internal opposition to the Camp David Accords, mostly from members of his own party and from within his ruling coalition. Nevertheless, on September 24, 1978, the Israeli cabinet endorsed the Camp David Accords, and four days later the Knesset approved it by an 84-19 vote, with 17 abstentions, after a 17-hour debate. The dissenting votes and abstentions were mostly from members of Begin’s coalition.
The Camp David Accords provided frameworks for peace between Israel and Egypt and for a comprehensive settlement of the broader issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The focal point of post–Camp David activity was therefore to convert these documents into peace treaties through a process of continuing and broadened negotiations.
After substantial negotiation, a draft treaty was devised. Despite agreement on this draft document, however, various points remained contentious between Egypt and Israel. As regional events began to have an effect on the negotiations, additional demands, especially by President Sadat, further complicated the process.
Generally, Egypt sought to achieve the maximum connection between the bilateral Egypt-Israel peace process and the overall, comprehensive peace process. Israel sought to reach agreement with Egypt on bilateral questions while reducing the connection between that agreement and the overall settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
For Sadat, movement toward Palestinian autonomy was crucial, for it would serve to reduce Arab criticism that he had made a separate peace with Israel. For Begin, any movement toward Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank and Gaza would draw additional opposition from right-wing elements of his party and the religious parties, which were important elements of support for his government.
Israel also feared that if the peace treaty were linked to a timetable for Palestinian autonomy, it could give the Palestinians an effective veto over an Egypt-Israel peace treaty merely by refusing to participate in any autonomy discussions and arrangements, thereby preventing the timetable from being met.
The Egyptian demand for linkage between the two Camp David Accords, including a detailed timetable for Israel’s relinquishing of its military rule over the West Bank and Gaza and a fixed date for the election of a Palestinian parliamentary council, was rejected by the Israeli cabinet.
Along with these controversial issues, two other factors directly affected the negotiating process, although they were only indirectly related to it. one was the periodic Israeli announcements concerning the expansion of existing Israeli settlements on the West Bank and/or setting up new settlements in the area. These pronouncements were obviously made by the government as an attempt to soothe right-wing and religious opposition to the draft treaty.
Nevertheless, they placed both Sadat and the United States in an awkward position and raised questions as to Israel’s sincerity in regard to the proposed negotiations on Palestinian autonomy. The other factor was the continuing strain in relations between the United States and Israel, in no small part caused by Israeli settlement policies.
Israel perceived the United States as siding with Egypt on all major disputes and felt the United States was being one sided and unjust in its criticism of Israel’s negotiating position. While the first of these factors tended to foster a harder Egyptian line in negotiations over the remaining issues, the latter had the same effect on Israel.
The areas of controversy and discord promoted substantial recrimination between the drafting of the treaty in the fall of 1978 and its signature in March 1979. The December 17, 1978 deadline for conclusion of the Egypt-Israel treaty was not met despite a last-minute effort at shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Israel’s cabinet rejected the terms Vance brought from Cairo in mid-December and blamed the failure to reach agreement on Egypt. The United States labeled this a “deliberate distortion” since it regarded the terms as fair and reasonable.
Discussions continued, and in late February 1979, Carter decided to reconvene a variation of the Camp David Summit; this time Sadat would remain in Egypt and be represented by his prime minister, Mustafa Khalil. Sadat had noted that he had made all the compromises he intended to make, and the Israeli cabinet vetoed Prime Minister Begin’s participation, partly because of the anticipation that the only purpose such a meeting could serve would be to focus pressure on Israel for further concessions.
Carter then invited Begin for private talks without Khalil, and Begin accepted. Disagreements over the treaty’s content were accompanied by differences in perspective concerning the issues in dispute. Carter believed that the differences that required reconciliation were insignificant. Begin demurred; he characterized the differences as great issues relating to Israel’s future and security.
on March 4, Carter submitted a new set of compromise proposals to Begin, who characterized them as “interesting,” and the next day the Israeli cabinet approved them. Carter decided to go to Cairo, hoping that the weight of his office would convince Sadat to accept these suggestions.
Carter arrived in Cairo on March 8, and after Sadat accepted some of the new proposals and rejected or modified others, Carter flew to Israel on March 10 to secure Israeli cabinet acceptance of these changes. In Israel, Carter met with Begin and the Israeli cabinet to pressure them to make the last few concessions needed for an agreement. Carter found Begin initially unwilling to do so, but just when it appeared that the negotiations would stall, Begin made a few final concessions.
With these in hand, Carter returned to Cairo. At a meeting on March 13, Carter informed Sadat of Begin’s concessions and was able to get modifications in Sadat’s position, which were conveyed to Begin. Carter returned to the United States with an agreement essentially in hand. The next day, Begin telephoned and informed Carter that the Israeli cabinet had approved the concessions made by both Begin and Sadat. The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was thus concluded.
The peace treaty, signed at the White House on March 26, 1979, ended the state of war between Egypt and Israel and was a significant step toward achieving a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt, by entering into a treaty with Israel, acknowledged the fact that Israel was a state; both parties agreed to recognize and respect each other’s sovereignty over their respective territories.
For the first time in history, an Arab state had accepted Israel as a legitimate state in the Middle East. President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their accomplishments.
Ultimately, the two states exchanged territory for peace. Israel withdrew from all of the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt; and Israel and Egypt established diplomatic relations and began a process of normalization of their ties. They also agreed to discuss the question of autonomy for Palestinians.
The process of normalization of relations moved ahead on schedule and without major disturbances. “Normal relations” between Egypt and Israel began officially on January 26, 1980. By that date Israel had completed its withdrawal from two-thirds of Sinai, as called for in the peace treaty, and land, air, and sea borders between the two states were opened.
Holders of valid visas were able to travel from one country to the other through air and sea ports as well as at the Sinai crossing point at El Arish. Direct communication links by telephone, telex, and post were inaugurated. Embassies were opened in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and on February 26, 1980, Ambassadors Eliahu Ben-Elisar of Israel and Saad Mortada of Egypt presented their credentials.
The peace treaty with Egypt eliminated the threat from Israel’s primary Arab adversary with the largest military capacity. It also led to increased U.S. economic and military assistance to both Israel and Egypt. Despite this peace treaty with Egypt and its implementation, a comprehensive peace was not achieved, and Israel’s other borders remained tense. The Arab League condemned Egypt for its separate peace with Israel, and Egypt was suspended from the Arab League. Their successes were not followed by additional achievements of consequence.