Egypt, Israel, and the Cold Peace

As some Israeli Jews fret over the future of Egyptian-Israeli relations post-Mubarak, I find myself intrigued by the apparent lamenting of a golden era. For it was during Mubarak’s rule that some (many?) Israeli Jews expressed disappointment with the cold peace.
Israel Egypt “cold peace” yields over 100,000 google hits (see screen shot). So one explanation I have often heard for the cold peace is that the Egyptian people hated Israel so they never wanted normal relations. Only Anwar Sadat (assassinated by Islamists!) and Hosni Mubarak wanted that …and the Egyptian armed forces too as long as the US was willing to fork over $2+ bn in aid per year to Egypt. (See the CRS report – great resources, by the way, on any US bilateral relationship)

But I think that view ignores two other factors that contributed to the Egyptian position. And they both demonstrate that the nature of Israeli policy matters for how Israel is received by others.

1. The Camp David Accords (Sept 1978) had TWO parts. The first part was focused on an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and that succeeded with the March 1979 treaty signing. The other part addressed the Palestinian question and that was never implemented; the autonomy talks collapsed. Post-Camp David summit, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made pretty clear that he was not interested in advancing the Palestinian cause – see the extended Lewis comments at the end of this post. (If you want to look on the bright side, the framework from Camp David did provide many of the ideas for the Oslo agreement in September 1993. Of course, the Oslo Process eventually failed too…)

2. Israel completed its withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula in April 1982. So that would have been the natural time for a ramping up or deepening of relations. Egypt had just learned that Israel would fulfill its treaty obligation of full withdrawal – 100%. But in early June, Israel invaded Lebanon, undermining any Egyptians who thought that it was the right time for more ties. Amb. Samuel Lewis’s comments address this point. He was US Amb. to Israel, 1977-1985:

Once Israeli withdrawal from Sinai was completed, there was a brief final flowering between the end of April and the beginning of June, 1982. There were many normalization agreements which had been signed back in 1980 which finally began to come to life. There were exchanges of delegations planned and the beginnings of new trade agreements. All of this withered and died in the bright, pitiless sun of the Israeli movement into Lebanon in early June, 1982.

More from Amb. Lewis:

Otherwise, the evacuation of the Sinai went very smoothly. The pullback was executed on schedule; all the detailed agreements were followed to the letter. Parenthetically, at about this time, Begin took a couple of demonstrative steps which in fact said that Israel had withdrawn this time, but would never do it again. For example, he gave a speech in the Knesset on May 3 in which he said that after the interim period specified by the Camp David agreements, Israel would assert its claims for sovereignty to other territories as authorized by the agreements. He was putting all on notice that Sinai was not a precedent for other occupied territories. The Knesset voted 58-54 in favor of a Begin proposal which opposed any dismantling of settlements which might result from future peace negotiations. The Knesset also approved Begin’s proposal that after the interim period Israeli sovereignty should be extended to the occupied territories. That just a demonstration of Begin’s defiance and bitterness about the Sinai withdrawal; the action had an effect on the Egyptians and other Arabs. The Cabinet passed a resolution which rejected any efforts not to hold future autonomy talks in Jerusalem–the Israeli position being that if they were to be held in Cairo, they should also be held in Jerusalem, not in Herzliyya or other cities. That just increased the difficulties of having autonomy talks in the future.

These actions were just part of a large Israeli campaign to minimize the Sinai withdrawal and harden the Israeli position on other matters. It was driven by the bitterness and frustration felt by the Israeli leaders. It certainly made it clear to Egypt that the chances of completing the Camp David accords were very slim, if at all. Egypt got the Sinai back, but the Israelis were making it clear that it was not a precedent for the West Bank or the Golan. That was the tacit statement being sent by these statements.



2 Comments to “Egypt, Israel, and the Cold Peace”

  1. Great policy brief – I’d love to hear analysis of #1: how was the timing received (ie Egypt go; Palestine no), was it a precedent or how did it figure for further co-articulations (or lack thereof) of Israel/Egypt:Israel/Palestine.

  2. There is a famous moment of timing. At Camp David, Carter thought he had an extended Israeli settlement freeze (for the length of the Palestinian autonomy talks). Israel was supposed to get the US the letter of agreement. The US held the public announcement of the whole deal (the accords). THEN the US gets the side letter from Israel and it says only 3 mos – the expected length of the talks on the Egypt-Israel treaty. So the US has lost a lot of leverage. Carter decided NOT to get in a huge battle with Israel over the freeze.

    More generally, in the aftermath of Camp David (CD), the US was disappointed at Begin hedging as to what he agreed to at Camp David vis a vis the Palestinians. Maybe the reality (or his domestic allies) hit Begin when he got home and out of the pressure cooker summit environment with the US. Remember that at CD, Begin was more hawkish than others like Dayan, Ezer Weizman, and Aharon Barak in his delegation. The Egyptians were the reverse: Sadat was most willing to concede and the others like Mohammed Kamel, Egypt’s foreign minister, were more hawkish. (Kamel resigned near the end of Camp David in protest).

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