Egyptian-Israeli Peace: 45 Years On

Today, the 27th of October, marks forty-five years since Menachem Begin and Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat were awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for having negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel, this article shall look to understand what was negotiated as part of the Egyptian-Israeli peace and why they were/are important, then looking into the effects of the peace agreement, as to how successful it has been, and finally I shall attempt to look at what relevance it has to today with the current conflict across Israel, but more specifically the Gaza Strip and the role of Hamas.

Before the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, the two countries had been in an almost continuous state of warfare since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the severity of the warfare of course ebbed and flowed, and significant acts of war can be seen from the ‘six-day war’ in 1967 involving the Israeli capture of the Sinai Peninsula, therefore the peace agreements main targets were to stop this continuous state of warfare and how to manage the area of the Sinai Peninsular as a minimum, however, the peace negotiations also looked towards the two countries mutual progression, economically and socially to advance both of their respective countries.

To this end, the mutual advancement of both Egypt and Israel can be seen in the repealing of the Boycott laws, these were a policy taken by the Arab league to boycott economic relationships quite literally with Israel, this repeal allowed for the passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal greatly increasing Israel’s trade possibilities and allowing for significant economic advancement. Concerning the Israeli takeover of the Sinai Peninsula, the two countries agreed on a demilitarisation of the area, with it returning under the original sovereignty of Egypt, this was not overseen by the UN as the President of the United Nations Security Council indicated the threat of veto by the Soviet Union, instead, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), oversaw and observed the peace agreements.

Now to look at how successful this peace agreement was, in the broadest sense it has maintained its main aim of peace, albeit a “cold peace” between Egypt and Israel. However, arguably throughout the time of the Egypt-Israeli peace agreement, the terms of the agreement have been adhered to less and less up to such a point where I would argue the original terms of the agreement do not exist at all. This is through the Agreed Activities Mechanism which was a mutual agreement to violate the demilitarisation of the Sinai Peninsula by Egypt due to concerns of the presence of Jihadi militant groups. This we may argue is not too significant a breach seeing as there was mutual agreement between Israel and Egypt, however, this demilitarisation was further violated in 2011 by Egypt without the consent of Israel, calling for Israel to ask the US to mediate the dispute.

This came about due to the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 which involved mass anti-government protests across Egypt, where we see leading Egyptian opposition figures like Ayman Nour calling for the peace treaty to be ‘reassessed’. Even government figures like the Prime Minister, Essam Saraf were stating “A peace deal with Israel was not sacred”. Similarly, Rashed Al-Bayoumi, the deputy chief of Egypt’s largest political party, the Muslim Brotherhood argued that the people “had their right to review the peace deal” and that they were “yet to speak their mind”.  

One might see a reason for this, throughout the period of the peace treaty as it had made Egypt very unpopular in the Middle East, they were suspended from the Arab League for ten years from 1979 to 1989. Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat was assassinated in 1981. Even the Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad severed all relations with Egypt. This damage to Egypt’s respectability in the Middle East required it to be subsidised by the US from which it has received $38bn worth of aid, roughly $1.3bn per annum. From this, we cannot see there to be a simple breach of the demilitarisation zone as from 2018 to 2019 the number of Egyptian troops in the Sinai increased from 25,000 to 42,000. This has to do with concerns about the smuggling of terrorists from the peninsula and even mainland Egypt into Gaza to join the infamous Hamas organisation.

Ehud Yaari, a Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute, argued in an article in 2014 that “stabilizing and pacifying Sinai would remove the danger of terrorist operations … such an outcome would loosen Hamas’ grip on Gaza.” However, looking at the contemporary issue of the besieged people stranded in Gaza, we can see Egypt is reluctant to open the Rafah crossing to Gaza, due to these long-held security concerns with jihadist activity in the Sinai Peninsula, or more cynically to prevent the mass arrival of Palestinians from Gaza. Therefore, looking at what has been discussed and the provenance of peace between Egypt and Israel for the past forty-five years, should they be doing more to help with the current Gaza crisis?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel