The death of Camp David? On the real world consequences of “Land for Peace”

A guest post by Gidon Ben-Zvi, who blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind

Terrorist in Sinai with RPG

Does “land for peace” work?

Recent developments in the Sinai Peninsula, where the ‘Red Sea Riviera’ has spiraled into anarchy and violence, have put into sharp focus the serious consequences of Israel’s initial decision to embrace retreat as a guiding diplomatic philosophy.

The outbreak of hope that erupted following the signing of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was palpable.

Based on 1978’s Camp David Accords, this first attempt at a comprehensive peace between Israel and one of its neighbors was a valiant attempt to end 30 years of relentless hostility and costly wars.

Did the Israelis truly desire peace?

Well, by withdrawing from Sinai, Israel gave up:

Furthermore, Israel relinquished Taba — a resort built by Israel in what had been a barren desert area near Eilat — to Egypt in 1988. Taba’s status had not been resolved by the Camp David Accords.

In return, what was Egypt’s contribution to peace? A promise to end belligerence and military aggression.

While the Jewish State sacrificed much for the sake of peace, including an opportunity to become energy independent, the Middle East’s most powerful Arab nation reciprocated with a cold, if non-belligerent, shoulder.

While this frigid yet tolerable status quo defined relations between Jerusalem and Cairo for three decades, the 18 months since the Egyptian revolution forced out President Hosni Mubarak – ushering in a Muslim Brotherhood-led government – has transformed the Sinai into a vortex of chaos and violence. And the deteriorating security situation across its southern border has shocked Israel into coherence.

With Egypt firing missiles in the Sinai Peninsula for the first time since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, following an upsurge in Islamist attacks in the region, both Israel and Egypt must come to terms with the phantom peace of 1979 and consider seriously revising the terms of the treaty – for the sake of both countries.

It may well be time for Israel and Egypt to revisit the negotiating table with the aim of developing an action plan to confront and quell the Islamist insurgency that has swept over the Sinai Peninsula.

While Sinai’s spiraling out of control is due in part to such “imports” as global jihadist groups infiltrating the peninsula, the local population has also joined in on the festivities. In her latest Guardian report, Harriet Sherwood asserts that the vast desert peninsula is inhabited largely by Bedouin tribes, who for decades have been marginalised, neglected and impoverished.

Choosing a compelling narrative over facts on the ground, Ms Sherwood significantly downplays the Sinai Bedouins’ contribution to the reign of anarchy that has taken hold of the peninsula.

In truth, the Bedouins of the Sinai have rather cashed in on the lawless state of affairs. Tribesmen have been smuggling in Eritrean and Sudanese fortune seekers who are, along with drugs and weapons, smuggled into Israel.

And post-peace Sinai has inflicted a body blow to Israel’s security in another way. For it is through the peninsula that most of the weapons Hamas has succeeded in stockpiling in Gaza were smuggled in through the tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with Sinai.

What a difference a peace makes, no? Israel’s original capitulation spawned many others. The pullout from Sinai set the stage for later expulsions and launched a three-decade long period rife with Israeli retreat.

And have all these retreats – Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, and Gush Katif- brought Israel one moment of peace? The grandchild of the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Oslo process, brought only a dramatic escalation in violence and bloodshed.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Israel must take a cold, hard look at the failed promises, dashed hopes and lives lost as the direct result of the strange calculus known as ‘land-for-peace’. Going forward, a new diplomatic paradigm, based on mutual respect, trade, tourism, investment and collaborative efforts in the fields of technology and medicine should be developed. In other words, scrap land-for-peace and replace it with peace-for-peace.

Until then, Israel and its neighbors are destined to wallow in a state of low-level bellicosity, with occasional flare ups as we’ve seen over the last several days in the Sinai Peninsula.

10 replies »

  1. Replacing “land for peace” with “peace for peace” – right on, brother! “I’ll give you cake and ice-cream if you don’t punch me in the face” isn’t a long-term strategy – there are always more potential face-punches, and so there is no end to the cake and ice-cream you’re going to have to dish out to avoid them. “Don’t punch me in the face and I won’t beat the living purple shit out of you” on the other hand……

  2. Of all the failed peace effort mistakes that Israel ever made the biggest one was to give up the Sinai.The Egyptians got the Sinai on a silver platter,and the only thing that Israel got in return from the Egyptians was the finger.

    The sad thing is that Israel will be pressured to give up more and more land and again all for nothing.

    I wonder if all these generous Israelis who keep telling us that we should give up more and more land..Do these people have dual passports just in case……….

    • What an odd world you, and Gidon Ben-Zvi, live in.

      The Camp David Agreement was a milestone in Israel- Arab relations. For the first time, Egypt, the most important Arab state, conducted face-to-face negotiations, from which emerged a Peace Treaty, exchange of ambassadors, the abolition of Egyptian boycott regulations, the institution of direct flights between the countries, trade, commerce and tourism. True, with a few exceptions, the intellectual elite and the unions clung to their outmoded beliefs and shied away from establishing relations with their Israeli counterparts, but this did not impede development in other spheres. Today, even with all the difficulties of an unstable Egyptian political scene and a Sinai over-run with lawless gangs, Israeli exports to Egypt last year totalled $236 milion, up by 60% compared with the previous year. Despite all the rumblings and predictions of doom, Egypt has maintained a correct if lukewarm stance towards us, even when under pressure from other Arab States to renege on Camp David at times of crisis( The First Lebanon War 1982, Cast Lead 2008-9).

      “Peace for peace” has a nice ring to it, but is an empty slogan in the real world of the volatile Middle East, where even an apparently rock-solid regime like Assad’s Syria can disintegrate under certain pressures. “Land for Peace” accurately reflects the main desires of the protagonists in the Israel- Palestinian equation and any settlement not recognizing this is doomed to failure.

      • Israel and Egypt exist in a state of what can be called a cold peace because relations between the two peoples have not significantly improved and, in the wake of the Arab Spring national uprising in 2011, have even slightly deteriorated.

        Trade and tourism are primarily in one direction – from Israel to Egypt. Under former president Hosni Mubarak, the government-controlled press and the intellectual elite remained hostile toward Israel and anti-Semitic articles and cartoons were widely published in newspapers and magazines. While Mubarak was an active participant in the peace process, he more often than not he contributed to the hardening of Arab positions toward Israel. He has also refused to visit Israel with the lone exception being to attend the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

        Thank you for reading and responding to my essay.


        • Gidi, why won’t you write about how we were getting our arses kicked during the war of attrition.
          The fact Egypt had a tiny fraction of its army in Sinai until now prevented many israeli deaths by allowing us to boost the filaments and lebanese border.

  3. Israel gave this up, Israel gave that up. Kinda sounds like they did someone a favour. Can we not say that Israel returned this and that to its rightful owners ?

    • Truth be told, the Sinai, like the rest of Egypt, was occupied by first the Ottoman Empire and then the British Empire until 1956. Why did Israel occupy the Sinai in 1967? It may have had something to do with Egypt’s decision to expell UN peacekeepers stationed in the Sinai Peninsula (one of the preconditions for ending the 1956 Suez conflict) and the country’s decision to impose a blockade of Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Such a warlike act certainly justified an Israeli response. Israel only true offence was defeating Nasser’s Egypt, which had loudly boasted in the days leading up to the Six-Day War that the country would drive every last Jew living in Israel into the sea…