The Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed on March 26, 1979. In late 1977, the relations between Israel and Egypt took a rather drastic turn, as covert negotiations between Jerusalem and Cairo officials eventually led to then-Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat announcing he would be willing to come to Jerusalem and address the Knesset.
The historic visit took place on November 19, 1977 and marked the official beginning of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process. "You want to live with us, in this part of the world… In all sincerity I tell you we welcome you among us with full security and safety. This in itself is a tremendous turning point, one of the landmarks of a decisive historical change," Sadat told the Israeli House.
The talks soon met an impasse which prompted then-US President Jimmy Carter to invite Sadat and Then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Camp David, Maryland. Just prior to leaving for Camp David, Begin was quoted as saying "if they tell us it is our last chance to strike peace we will not agree. There are no 'last chances' in life and there are always new opportunities."
Signing the accords on the White House lawn (Archives: AP)
On September 17, 1978, after troublesome negotiations spreading 12 days, Begin and Sadat signed the Camp David Agreement at a festive ceremony held on the White House lawn.
The agreement stated that the two former enemies would sign a formal peace treaty within three months time; and was essentially made of two parts:
- The first part called for Israel to fully withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, for both counties to limit the military deployment on either side of the border and for mutual free access to the waters of the Suez Canal and the Eilat Bay.
- The second part was based on UN resolutions 242 and 338 and called for the creation of a framework meant to eventually lead to the formation of an autonomous authority in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The future of the area, stated the agreement, was to be determined by Israel, Egypt and Jordan within five years.
Israel and Egypt signed the official peace treaty in Washington on March 26, 1979. Both countries agreed to establish full diplomatic relations and to avoid any acts of aggression. Israel pledged to evacuate all Israeli communities in Sinai and Egypt pledged to ensure the oil supply from the peninsula's oil fields to Israel remained unchanged.
- To read the full text of the Camp David Agreement click here
Soon after Cairo struck peace with Israel, it was shunned by the Arab League and many of the latter's members severed their ties with it altogether. The US then pledged several billion dollars worth of subsidies to the both Israel and Egypt and assisted the two in forming a multinational force to guard the joint border.
The agreement met harsh criticism in Israel, mainly because it called for the uprooting of Israeli settlements in Sinai. Nevertheless, with 85% of public supporting a peace treaty with Egypt, the Knesset voted in favor of the accord. Israel completed the evacuation of Sinai in April of 1982.
Menachem Begin and Anwar al-Sadat were awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Price for their efforts.