From Peace with Egypt to the Palestinian Intifada (1979–1990)

From Peace with Egypt to the Palestinian Intifada (1979–1990)

Autonomy Negotiations

On May 25, 1979, in keeping with the previously agreed timetable, Egypt and Israel opened negotiations in Beersheba, Israel, to discuss the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The goal was full autonomy for the people in the West Bank and Gaza under a freely elected self-governing authority that would serve for a transitional period of not more than five years. The final status was reserved for a second stage of negotiations to begin as soon as possible but not later than three years after the self-governing authority was inaugurated.

In 1980, representatives of the parties met at several locations to continue the discussions. The issues were complex, and there were constant breakdowns. Despite some progress, President Sadat suspended Egyptian participation in the talks in mid-May 1980, ostensibly because an Israeli parliamentary resolution declared that Jerusalem was the eternal capital of the Jewish state.

After some U.S. efforts, the negotiations were resumed in mid-July, but on August 3, Sadat informed Begin that the talks would be postponed. The stated reason was the final passage by Israel’s parliament of a law confirming Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s “complete and united” capital.

The bill had been proposed by Geula Cohen, a right-wing member of the Knesset seeking to undermine the Camp David process and to embarrass Begin. Despite strong criticism of the bill as unnecessary, meaningless, and harmful, no real opposition to it could be expected, and the Basic Law was passed by a vote of 69 to 15 on July 30. The failure to reach agreement by the May 1980 deadline and the May and August suspensions reflected the complex nature of the issues and the widely divergent positions of the two states.

The autonomy talks resumed in Washington, D.C., in mid-October 1980. Although the initial rounds indicated that stubborn issues remained, the talks augured well for the future. The earlier suspension had been followed by a period of tension and recriminations. The Egyptian media launched personal attacks on Begin, and Israel was accused of putting obstacles in the way of peace.

But for the three involved parties, the resumption represented a more important policy objective: Egypt and Israel clearly saw the value of the peace effort and were motivated by their respective needs for peace, although their visions of its content and of their own requirements were dissimilar. For Carter, suspension of the talks called into question his Middle East policy and his image as peacemaker.

The Lebanese Missile Crisis The Lebanese missile crisis developed in late April 1981 but had a long and complex background. The Lebanese civil war between Muslims and Christians had erupted in 1975, and Syria had become involved as early as 1976. In performing its “peacekeeping” role, with Arab League sanction, Syria was subject to limitations, among them that it would not deploy ground-to-air missiles in Lebanon.

Israel provided support for Christian forces, especially those of Major Saad haddad in the south, flew reconnaissance missions over Lebanon, and periodically attacked Palestinian positions in retaliation for strikes in Israel. The relatively quiescent situation began to collapse early in 1981 when Phalangist (a Lebanese Christian political party) militia clashed with Syrian and Palestinian elements.

In the escalated conflict, Syria used helicopters against the Phalangists, and Israeli Phantom jets eventually shot down two of them on April 28, 1981. Syria subsequently moved SAM-3 and SAM-6 missiles into the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, and Israel warned that the missiles should be removed, or its air force would eliminate them. Syria’s response was to increase its missile and troop concentrations in Lebanon. Tensions rose.

Israel accepted a mediation effort by U.S. special envoy Philip habib. Begin was willing to give diplomacy a chance but indicated that Israel would not indefinitely tolerate the missiles in Lebanon. The LebaneseSyrian missile crisis became a theme in Israel’s ongoing election campaign. The opposition charged that Begin sought to use it for political advantage, and the matter was debated both in the Knesset and at election rallies.

Begin sought to focus on the security factor and on Israel’s need for unimpeded access to Lebanon’s skies for surveillance and for air strikes against Palestinians in Lebanon. The Likud complained that the opposition acted irresponsibly in attacking Begin on this issue at a time when Israel should present a united front to the enemy.