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Egypt - Israel Relations

The Book of Exodus describes in detail the conditions of slavery of the Jews in Egypt and their escape from bondage. The Exodus episode is a pivotal event in Jewish history. Some time late in the sixteenth or early in the fifteenth century BC, Jacob's family—numbering about 150 people—migrated to Egypt to escape the drought and famine in Canaan. Beginning in the third millennium B.C. large numbers of western Semites had migrated to Egypt, usually drawn by the richness of the Nile Valley. They came seeking trade, work, or escape from hunger, and sometimes they came as slaves.

The period of Egyptian oppression that drove the Israelites to revolt and escape probably occurred during the reign of Ramses II (1304-1237 BC). Most scholars believe that the Exodus itself took place under his successor Merneptah. The liberation of a slave people from a powerful pharaoh—the first such successful revolt in recorded antiquity—through divine intervention tied successive generations of Hebrews (Jews) to Yahweh. The scale of the revolt and the subsequent sojourn in Sinai created a self-awareness among the Hebrews that they were a separate people sharing a common destiny.

The establishment of the State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, and Arab military forces began invading the territory the following day. By January 1949, Israel had gained more territory than had been allotted by the partition; East Jerusalem and the West Bank of the Jordan River remained in Jordanian hands as a result of fighting by the Arab Legion of Transjordan, and the Gaza area remained in Egyptian hands. Israel held armistice talks with the Arab states concerned in the first half of 1949 and armistice lines were agreed upon, but no formal peace treaties ensued.

Tensions continued to exist between Israel and its neighbors, and as a result a series of wars occurred: in 1956 in the Suez Canal area; in June 1967, during which Israel captured the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, adding about 800,000 Palestinian Arabs to its population; and in October 1973, a war that destroyed Israel's image of its invincibility.

In 1977 the outlook for peace between Israel and Egypt was not good. Israel still held most of Sinai, and negotiations had been at a stalemate since the second disengagement agreement in 1975. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin was a hard-liner and a supporter of Israeli expansion. He approved the development ofsettlements on the occupied West Bank and reprisal raids into southern Lebanon. He also refused to approve any negotiation with the PLO. After the food riots ofJanuary 1977, Sadat decided that something dramatic had to be done, and so on November 19, 1977, in response to an invitation from Begin, Sadat journeyed to Jerusalem. The world was amazed by this courageous move. The reaction in Egypt was generally favorable. Many Egyptians accepted peace with Israel if it meant regaining Egyptian territories. They were tired of bearing the major burden of the confrontation and, considering the sacrifices Egypt had already made, felt that the Palestinians were ungrateful.

In 1978 President Jimmy Carter hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at a U.S. presidential retreat, Camp David, in rural Maryland. Modern Egyptians and Israelis continue to reap the benefits of the progress made there. After 12 days of negotiations between Sadat and Begin with Carter serving as mediator, the two leaders signed the Camp David Accords on September 17, 1978. That earned Sadat and Begin a shared Nobel Peace Prize, and also led to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. It’s easy to take the Accords’ benefits for granted now, but when negotiations were underway at Camp David, the outcome was far from certain. Carter, however, was determined that the two parties should reach an agreement. So he took a personal approach to the often-tense discussions. He inquired about Begin’s grandchildren, moving the Israeli leader to reflect on the need to improve conditions for the future. Carter even took Sadat and Begin to visit the Gettysburg National Military Park, using the American Civil War as a simile for Egypt’s and Israel’s struggles.

Although the Accords didn’t suddenly erase Arab-Israeli discord, the agreement created a foundation that 21st-century diplomats can build on. The Camp David Accords embody a model for peacemaking that remains highly relevant today — determined leadership combined with an ability to see beyond narrow issues on the table and envision the benefits that peace and stability would bring. The Accords “teach us that diplomacy can bring not only an end to war, but greater prosperity and opportunity for all involved.

The Camp David Accords marked a vital transition for Egypt and Israel and the broader region, from a state of near-constant conflict to an era of peacemaking. While the region still has serious problems, the Accords helped to usher in greater prosperity for people on all sides and eliminated a major threat to regional peace and stability. In the years before Camp David, four major wars erupted between Egypt and Israel. In the decades since, the two countries have remained at peace — saving countless lives.

The Accords ensured that both Egypt and Israel achieved their primary goals: Egypt regained the Sinai Peninsula that Israel had captured during the Six-Day War in 1967, while Israel received its first formal recognition from an Arab state. The Accords also created stronger security and economic relationships between the United States and the parties to the agreements.

Egypt and Israel have established important trade ties with each other in agricultural technology, tourism and energy development, as well as military and intelligence cooperation. In 1989 Egypt began to play an increasingly prominent role as mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, particularly as reflected in President Husni Mubarak's ten-point peace proposals in July. The PLO accepted the points in principle, and the Israel Labor Party considered them a viable basis for negotiations.

Israeli Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Egyptian Oil Minister Sameh Fahmi publicly signed 30 June 2005 in Cairo a memorandum of understanding for Egyptian gas sales to Israel. Negotiations on this agreement have dragged out over 10 years largely because of political concerns in Egypt. In an effort to distance itself from the political implications, the GOE encouraged the formation in 2000 of the Egyptian Eastern Mediterranean Gas joint venture company, owned by Israeli businessman Yossi Mieman's Merhav Group (25%), Egyptian businessman Hussein Salem (65%), and the GOE's Egyptian Gas Holding Company (10%). Having a private company negotiate with the Israel Electric Corporation made the arrangement more palatable for the GOE. The parties concluded an agreement in principle in early summer 2004 and concluded a framework agreement in February 2005.

Gaza is a small piece of land between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Conditions there have worsened since Hamas militants seized the area in 2007. The militants took away control from the Palestinian Authority. Israel and Egypt set up a blockade in an attempt to weaken Hamas. Israel and Egypt blocked land, sea and air paths around Gaza when Hamas took power. Gaza and Israel have also fought three wars in that time.

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Page last modified: 22-03-2019 03:59:50 ZULU