Camp David and the Treaty of Washington

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Key Developments

  • The significance of the oil crisis
  • Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy
  • The reopening of the Suez canal, 1975
  • Sadat and Begin Exchange visits 1977
  • Camp David Accords 1978
  • Treaty of Washington, 1979


The Significance of the Oil Crisis

  • The use of the ‘oil weapon’ in 1973 marked a fundamental shift in the nature of the Middle East conflict because America recognised that it would suffer for its support for Israel.
    • In response to US supply of weaponry to Israel on 15th October, OPEC (The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) raised the price of oil by 70%
    • 17th October it began an oil embargo against anyone helping Israel – i.e. the US.
    • The US economy was already suffering from inflation because of the devaluation of the dollar to pay for the Vietnam war.
    • The impact upon the US was severe.
    • The price of oil in the US quadrupled in 1974;
    • Shortages led to rationing, to strikes and to violence in the US.
    • Speed limits of 55 mph were imposed to conserve demand.
    • Western Europe began switching from pro-Israel to more pro-Arab policies.
    • This change strained the Western alliance. The US, which imported only 12% of its oil from the Middle East (compared with 80% for the Europeans and over 90% for Japan), remained staunchly committed to Israel.
    • The percentage of U.S. oil which comes from the nations bordering the Persian Gulf remained steady over the decades, with a figure of a little more than 10% in 2008.
    • The upshot of all of this was that the US could not afford to ignore conflict in the Middle East and needed to win friends.

Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, 1974

  • In the years following the 1973 war, the US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger embarked upon several rounds of ‘shuttle diplomacy’ aimed at moving, step by step, towards a political settlement.
  • Israel received further assurance of US diplomatic and financial support and Egypt saw the return of some territory, including restoration of the canal and important oilfields.
  • Israel remained in control of most of the Sinai peninsula, but UN troops were sent to Egypt to preserve the ceasefire.
  • Egypt began to receive US aid.
  • The result was the the re-opening of the Suez Canal, June 5th, 1975 – exactly 8 years after its close during the Six Day war.

Sadat/Begin Exchange Visits (1977)

  • Egypt still suffered economically from the Six Day War – in early 1977 there were food riots involving thousands of citizens in Cairo.
  • President Jimmy Carter offered aid to Egypt if it could make peace with Israel.
  • Sadat visited Israel in November 1977 – a dramatic initiative aimed at dismantling the psychological barriers that had solidified since the Khartoum conference.
  • In December Menachem Begin visited Egypt and gave a speech to the Egyptian Assembly in which he made no mention of the Palestinians nor any promises about the return of territory.
  • Nonetheless, the meetings had two effects – it showed that Sadat was prepared to prioritise Egyptian interests over that of the ‘Arab league’; another was that President Carter stepped in and invited both Its main effect though was to prioritize Egypt’s interests over those of the ‘Arab league’.
  • 1978 President Jimmy Carter mediated a separate Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement at Camp David, between the Sadat and the Prime Minister of Israel – Menachem Begin it was formally signed in March 1979.

Camp David Accords

  • Negotiations were based on the Resolution 242 as a framework.
  • Carter envisaged the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to secure and recognise its boundaries.
  • The Accords called for:
    • a formal peace treaty to be signed between Israel and Egypt within 3 months.
    • Establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries
    • Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula in stages, to be completed within three years
    • Further meetings to resolve the Palestinian question. The meeting would include Jordan and a representative of the Palestinian people
    • a five-year transitional period of Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. This transitional period would include the introduction of Palestinian self-government.          
    • an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • But did not settle the question of East Jerusalem, did not mention Palestinians living in refugee camps outside the West Bank and Gaza;
  • No mention was made of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.
  • Camp David Agreements (1978)- Sadat, Begin and Carter motives
    • Anwar Sadat –
      • Egypt was facing bankruptcy and recognised it could not win a war with Israel.
      • Sadat’s stock was high after the Yom Kippur War: he could afford to take the risk of peacemaking with Israel;
      • Four wars against Israel had yielded nothing in terms of territory and had been costly. Peace with Israel would allow economic recovery.
      • Egypt was receiving financial help from the US instead of from the USSR.
  • Menachem Begin:
    • Begin knew that peace would be popular and entrench Begin’s newly created Likud Party in the political system
    • Pragmatism: Israel was trading territory for security, and in particular, Begin wanted to turn his attention to the PLO behind Lebanese borders so needed to be sure of peace in the south.
    • The surrender of the Sinai was a major concession but the area was less strategically important than the Golan Heights and less historically significant than the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
    • Yom Kippur had taught Israel that it was not invulnerable to Arab attack and therefore could not defeat its Arab enemies outright and decided to use its capital in terms of land to win a permanent peace;
  • Jimmy Carter,
    • a Democrat, was genuinely committed to achieving peace in the Middle East.
    • Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973 the United States was more engaged in peacemaking.
    • Yom Kippur had shown how easily the Middle East could become a flashpojnt for an East-West confrontation.
    • The Arabs’ skilful use of the oil weapon in Yom Kippur War of 1973 had concentrated minds in Washington.
    • Disengagement carried too high a price for Western economies.   In January 1979, the overthrow of the Pro-American Shah brought a second Oil Shock in the same decade.
  • The Treaty of Washington, 1979
    • In March 1979 Sadat and Begin signed a peace treaty enshrining what they had agreed at Camp David.
      • Withdrawal of Israeli forces from Sinai,
      • Egypt to recover all of Sinai within three years,
      • Free passage of Israeli shipping through the Suez canal and the Straits of Tiran;
      • Both states agreed to recognise ‘each other’s right to live in peace within their secure and recognised boundaries.’
      • Egypt became the first Arab state to recognise Israel’s right to exist. N.B. Camp David was the first watershed in Arab-Israeli relations.
      • However, it left the Palestinian question unresolved.

Change and continuity

The Camp David Accords and the Treaty that followed were important because it was the first time that an Arab State had given official recognition to the state of Israel. This secured peace for Israel on its sourthern frontier (and allowing it to concentrate on its northern frontier with Lebanon. For Egypt it allowed for the re-opening of the Suez canal and economic recovery with American help. It also led to its expulsion from the Arab League. For Palestinians it felt like a betrayal.

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