Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Hollow Peace: Begin-Sadat Swap - Was the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty a Success?

by David Isaac

Netanyahu's Model "I hope to find a courageous partner as Begin found in Sadat," said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on August 30 to Likud party supporters before heading to Washington for the start of "peace talks". It's not the first time Netanyahu has invoked the Camp David accords. He seems to hold them up as a model, one which he hopes to emulate. But was the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty a success?

That Netanyahu treats it as one isn't surprising. The agreement, which was signed 32 years ago this week, was reached by a Likud government and has since entered Likud lore as the party's greatest accomplishment. Here was a land for peace deal unlike any other, different in that it worked.

A closer look shows the only real difference between that land for peace deal and any other was that the Likud bore responsibility for it. So flimsy was the peace agreement that it contains an appendix permitting Egypt to go to war with Israel if called to do so by other Arab states.

Shmuel Katz had no illusions about the agreement, which he battled before, during and after its consummation. An adviser to then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Shmuel eventually resigned his post after the prime minister's intention to abandon the Sinai became clear. When Begin then attempted to buy Shmuel off with the high prestige post of UN ambassador, Shmuel refused.

In 1981, Shmuel published "The Hollow Peace," a scathing first-hand account of Begin's collapse and his betrayal of long-held principles, (an astonishing phenomenon then, but one which we have grown accustomed to now).

In "The Hollow Peace," Shmuel wrote:

Israel has agreed to hand over to Egypt its strategic depth, its territorial security belt, and has thereby facilitated possible aggression - from Egypt, from Saudia and from the eastern front. It will thus give up the naval base on the coast of the Red Sea, eleven air fields, of which three - among the most up-to-date in the world - were built specially for strategic defence, and its only independent supply of oil. It will remove all the Jews living in Sinai, from their town of Yamit and the complex of their villages in the north and the cluster of small communities in the south near Sharm-el-Sheikh. As against all these concessions on Israel's part, Egypt has given up nothing tangible and of the commitments it has undertaken there is not a single one that could not be abrogated within 24 hours.

Even Egyptian President Anwar Sadat couldn't resist reveling in the one-sidedness of it all, bragging in an October, 1980 New York Times interview: "Poor Menachem, he has his problems S After all, I got back S the Sinai and the Alma oil fields, and what has Menachem got? A piece of paper."

According to that "piece of paper," Egypt promised to establish "normal and friendly relations" with Israel. It appeared at first that Egypt was moving in that direction. But once Israel had completed its three-year phased withdrawal from the Sinai, relations ceased. Egypt has honored virtually none of the 50 odd agreements associated with the treaty. Indeed, it has actively flouted them. Just one example is Egypt's promise to end "the teaching of contempt." So important was this to the Israeli side that it included the promise "to abstain from hostile propaganda" in the text of the treaty itself.

Today, Egypt is a world center of anti-Semitic propaganda, its newspapers, television shows and magazines are filled with Nazi-style graphics, medieval "blood libel" conspiracies and other wild charges, such as Israel introducing "most of the plagues that afflict agriculture and animal health" and of causing earthquakes in Egypt.

As Shmuel wrote in his Jerusalem Post op-ed "Where Angels Fear To Tread" (January 14, 1994):

Must the story be told once more of Egypt's failure to implement any of those agreements - except for those that could be actively violated? For example, any tourist in Egypt who reads Arabic need only pick up a Cairo newspaper or journal to discover that, where vilification of Jews is concerned, Egypt has nothing to learn from the most vicious publications of the German Nazis, adding only its own twist: vilification of the Jewish State. Thus it honors the ban on hostile propaganda proclaimed in that peace treaty.

One may argue that while Netanyahu is wrong to praise the treaty, perhaps he is right about Sadat. We have all at one point been exposed to the storyline of the brave Arab leader who took risks for peace. But the real Sadat differs markedly from the "official" portrait. As Shmuel reveals, Sadat agreed to visit Israel only after he had Begin's promise to relinquish the Sinai already in his pocket.

Much was made of Sadat's visit and his speech before the Knesset, but Shmuel writes in "The Hollow Peace":

Not in a single word did he deviate from the traditional Arab demands. Nor was he sparing in harsh phrases aimed at Israel, again in line with the accepted Arab mythology, such as Israel's being an aggressor and the source and cause of the conflict. "Between us and you," he said, "there has been a great high wall, that you have been trying to build up for twenty-five years." Such being the case, all he was demanding was unconditional surrender.

What also emerges is that Sadat was an anti-Semite in the fullest sense of the term. Shmuel quotes Sadat speaking in a Cairo mosque in 1972 ("Egyptian Intransigence", May 25, 1979):

"The Jews are a people of plotters," Sadat said "of deceivers and traitors. They were born to lie and to betrayS I promise you that we shall restore them to their previous state. As it is written in the Koran: 'they are fated to be oppressed and downtrodden'". After he had visited Jerusalem, after Israel had made her peace offer, Sadat persisted in his anti-Semitic remarks, and they were published in the weekly journal "October" - a regular fountain of vulgar anti-Semitism. His lifelong admiration of Hitler, his continued demonstrative pilgrimages to Berchtesgaden - are all of a piece.

And so here we have Netanyahu's model statesman, an anti-Semitic admirer of Hitler, and his model agreement - a sham treaty in which Israel gave up something real for promises, which proved hollow once the Arab side had obtained the one tangible asset offered by Israel, in this case 23,000 square miles of territory.

It's tempting to throw up one's hands when listening to the rubbish Israel's supposedly hard-line leader is shoveling. But one thing Shmuel never did was despair. At the very end of "The Hollow Peace," a book filled with many bitter personal and painful disappointments, Shmuel yet ends optimistically.

The crisis of leadership that now besets Israel will pass. A national leadership worthy of the name will arise. From within the people, from within the ordeal itself, there will grow - and there is surely already growing - a new generation of leaders with the integrity, the prudence and the courage to cope with Israel's problems, and who will pilot it through the perilous, tempestuous, unruly seas of the contemporary world. Netanyahu has his models. We have ours.

David Isaac

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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