On today’s date, March 26 in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty ending over thirty years of unremitting hostility and warfare between those two nations. The treaty was the first ever between an Arab state and the Jewish state – each state extending full diplomatic relations with the other. And there has been nothing like it since. While Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, the whole problem of how to recognize the Palestinian people remains as difficult now as it ever was. But still it is worth remembering that time when peace in that part of the world seemed to be real possibility.
Sadat Visits Israel and Things Change
Things really changed in November of 1977 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (below) made a state visit to Jerusalem, and spoke before a
session of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. It had been a huge surprise for the world when Sadat announced he was going to do this. He had spoken of the idea, and on Nov. 16 of 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin invited him to Jerusalem. Sadat was determined to go through with the idea, despite intense criticism in the Arab world: “‘I intend to go to the Israelis’ den to tell them the truth,’ Sadat told a group of visiting U.S. congressmen. ‘I consider this trip as a sacred duty and this vicious circle we are turning around in . . . has to be broken.'” So in a fast moving chain of events the Egyptian president was in Jerusalem a few days later on Nov. 19.
Eventually Sadat and Begin Meet at Camp David
Still it took many months of negotiation between the two leaders to make it happen. United States President Jimmy Carter threw himself into the process time and again to keep the momentum for peace going. He invited the two leaders to the Presidential retreat at Camp David,
Maryland for intense secret negotiations on a framework to address the many outstanding issues between the two governments in September of 1978. Due in large part to President Carter’s personal commitment to the process, the negotiations which frequently seemed on the point of demise were successful, resulting in the Camp David Accords which the two men signed on September 17, 1978 (above). This agreement led directly to the final Peace Treaty which was signed on today’s date.
Israel and Egypt End Their 30 Year War
“Israel and Egypt formally ended a generation of warfare Monday in a solemn ceremony beneath the winter-striped, age-gnarled trees on the north lawn of the White House.” went the front page article of the Cincinnati Enquirer the next morning by Warren D. Wheat beneath a headline reading: “Hope, Hostility Surround Signing Of Treaty” The article continued, emphasizing the risks the two men were taking; “Carillons chimed softly in the background in mystic contrast to shouts of protest from angry Arab students corralled by police in Lafayette Park across Pennsylvania Avenue. A bright, early spring sun provided a warm relief from a chill March wind blowing in from the northeast.”
This very colorful account was interspersed with reports of angry reaction to what was viewed in much of the Arab world as a sell-out by Sadat to the ultimate mortal enemy, Israel. Reports from Beirut, Cairo, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere detailing the violent reaction to this treaty punctuated the account of the Treaty ceremony itself. Clearly those who would move so boldly to make this peace treaty work faced violent opposition.
“Peace has come…”
The words of President Carter emphasized this danger, and the strength of those willing to take such bold risk as these two men were taking to counter the anger of those who opposed them: “Peace has come… Let those who would shatter peace, who would callously spill blood, be ware that we three and all others who may join us will vigorously wage peace.” These word sound highly idealistic to us now with so much of the violence that has come since. They are indeed idealistic. But the treaty’s main points of normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel, and Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula were indeed kept. And the two countries remain at peace. But Anwar Sadat would be assassinated by fundamentalist Muslim army officers while reviewing a military parade on Oct. 6, 1981. And the peace process which the three leaders tried to begin has long since become hopelessly bogged down. But I felt that it was worth a few minutes of our time to remember this moment when everything seemed possible.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, March 27, 1979