March 17-18, 1981

The Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Research Project on Peace. Tel Aviv University. Reprinted with permission of the Dayan Center, successor institution to the Shiloah Center

The Second anniversary of the signing of a treaty of peace between Egypt and Israel recently offered an occasion for fresh assessments of the agreement and its effects. The Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies of Tel Aviv University, and the Tel Aviv University Research Project on Peace, are pleased to make available to the English reader the summarized proceedings of a colloquium held under their joint auspices in March 1981, on “The Peace Treaty with Egypt: Achievements and Setbacks.”



List of Participants

  1. Regional Politics
  2. The partners to the Camp David Agreements: Interests, Considerations, Aims
  3. The Autonomy Plan: Approaches and Problems
  4. Problematic Features of the Sinai Withdrawal
  5. Normalization
  6. Continuing the Peace process – How?


On March 16 and 17, the Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and the Research project on Peace at Tel Aviv University conducted a colloquium to mark the second anniversary of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of March 1979.

The purpose of the colloquium was to provide an interim assessment of the progress made (or not made) during the past two years. As reflected in the program, an attempt was made to examine the expectations, interests and achievements of all the parties involved and to look at all the aspects of the peace process, who wrote about it, who studied academically and, finally, those who now seek to affect its future course through their political activity.

Israeli participants in the colloquium did not present written papers, but their remarks were recorded in full. On this basis, Martin Kramer of the Shiloah Center has prepared the following summary. We wish to take this opportunity to thank him for the excellent work he has done. Many other individuals at Tel Aviv University invested time, talent and goodwill in the organization of this colloquium, and we wish to thank them all, particularly the staffs of the Research Project and the Shiloah Center for their devotion and efforts. Finally, we wish to take this opportunity to thank the Bronfman family, whose support has facilitated the study of Arab-Jewish understanding at Tel Aviv University.

Prof. David Horn, Vice-Rector and Director, Research Project on Peace

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, Head, The Shiloah Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies


Prof. Shlomo Aharonson, Department of Political Science, Hebrew University

Mr. Aharon Amir, Tel Aviv

M.K. Moshe Arens

Prof. Shlomo Avineri, Department of Political Science, Hebrew University

Mr. Aharon Barnea, Voice of Israel, Tel Aviv

Prof. Haim Ben Shahar, President, Tel Aviv University

Dr. Avraham Ben-Zvi, Department of Political Science, Tel Aviv University

Col. (Res.) David Bnaya, Interdisciplinary Center for Technological Analysis and Forecasting, Tel Aviv


Prof. Amnon Cohen, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Hebrew University

Prof. Uriel Dann, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

M.K. Moshe Dayan

Mr. Simcha Dinitz, Vice-President, Hebrew University

Mr. Daniel Dishon, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Yehuda Eisenberg, Department of Physics, Tel Aviv University

Mr. Amos Eran, Director, Mivtahim, Tel Aviv

Mr. Oded Eran, Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem

Dr. Yair Evron, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University

Mr. Binyamin Gaon, Koor, Tel Aviv

Dr. Gad Gilbar, Department of Middle Eastern History, Haifa University

Dr. Yaacov Goldberg, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Gen. (Res.) Mordechai Gur, Koor, Tel Aviv

Dr. Mark Heller, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Se’ev Hirsch, School of Business Administration, Tel Aviv University

Mr. Eilan Kafir, Ma’ariv, Tel Aviv

Mr. Martin Kramer, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Walter Laqueur, School of History, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Nehemia Levtzion, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Hebrew University

Mr. David Menashri, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Raphael Moses, Department of Social Work, Hebrew University

Dr. Nimrod Novik, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Baruch Raz, Interdisciplinary Center for Technological Analysis and Forecasting,

Tel Aviv University

Mr. Elie Rekhess, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Mr. Eliahu Salpeter, Ha’aretz, Tel Aviv

M.K. Yosef Sarid

Mr. Shmuel Segev, Ma’ariv, Tel Aviv

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Aryeh Shalev, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Shimon Shamir, Shiloah Center, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Amos Shapira, Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University

Prof. Sasson Somekh, Department of Arabic Language and Literature, Tel Aviv University

Mr. Yosef Vardi, Former Director of Office of Energy, Jerusalem

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Aharon Yariv, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University

Maj. Gen (Res.) Zvi Zamir, Director, Oil Refineries Ltd., Haifa

Dr. Shimshon Zelniker, Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University


Itamar Rabinovich opened the first session of the colloquium with a survey of inter-Arab politics, the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, internal conflict in the Arab states, and the constraints which each of these imposed on Israeli-Egyptian relations. In his discussion of the inter-Arab dimension, he paid special attention to Egypt’s Arab policy. The conflicting objectives of Egyptian primacy among the Arabs and the return of Egyptian territory held by Israel – aims in obvious tension – provided the two poles between which Sadat moved between 1973 and 1977, a period marked by shifts in emphasis as circumstances required. With his trip to Jerusalem, Sadat made what appears to be a clear choice between these priorities, and the most significant consequence was the treaty of peace with Israel and Egypt’s withdrawal from the Arab consensus. The choice was not a final one, and it was never Sadat’s intention that the break be a clean one; he may have anticipated that time would heal the rift. But it has not, and we are now witnesses to an Egyptian return to her broader claim to Arab primacy, an Egyptian quest for rehabilitation in the Arab family.

Poised opposite this theme of Egypt’s reintegration was the acceleration of the atomization of an Arab system which had been divided into such clearly defined blocs in the early 1960s. Recent attempts to create durable axes had failed, both after the 1973 war, and following the Sadat initiative. The current alignment of Syria, Libya, and Iran opposite Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia – with Egypt on the sideline – was no more than the latest formation in a rapidly shifting pattern of alliances. To the extent that a durable alliance was a prerequisite of war, this atomization bore directly upon the durability of the Egyptian-Israeli peace.

As for the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, Rabinovich noted a number of significant changes. The first was a discernable trend toward moderation, not only in the obvious case of Egypt, but wherever the 1973 war had left a legacy of political and economic exhaustion. Yet beyond the region in which the conflict itself had had a moderating effect, there was an evident movement toward radicalization, prompted by the sense of power conferred by oil wealth and the reassertion of Islamic identity. The paradoxical consequence: Camp david led not to an immediate moderation of the conflict, but to a radialization, in which the Palestinian issue became central. All that can be said is that, over the long term the moderating effects of Camp David will probably be felt. Normalization has made Israel more acceptable to some in the Arab world, and Israelis and non-Egyptian Arabs do meet in Egypt. And most important, Camp David gave evidence to the willingness of Israel to return territory through negotiation.

On the final point of internal change in the involved Arab states, Rabinovich enumerated the latent forces for destabilization: oil wealth, the rapid pace of change and its opponents, and the comparatively advanced age of most of the regimes. These problems may have been brought to the surface by the Iranian revolution, which has had an effect on both Saudi Arabia and Iraq. If this opened a period of renewed internal conflict, its repercussions were bound to be felt in the Egyptian-Israeli arena.

Zvi Zamir turned the discussion to the Persian Gulf. Sadat’s initiative in 1977 coincided with the emergence of an Egyptian-Pahlavi Iranian axis, around which it was hoped that other states would organize. Thus American and Western interests would be maintained with a minimum of outside interference. With the Iranian revolution, this vision of a regional order was lost, and the Iran-Iraq war opened a new chapter.

Iraq’s aims in resorting to arms were threefold. It was first hoped to bring down Khumayni’s regime and so end the ideological and religious threat which Baghdad thought that Islamic Iran posed to Iraq’s internal stability; second, Iraq planned to seize strategic points controlling access to the Gulf; and third, Iraq developed a strategy to absorb Khuzistan province. Had these three aims been achieved, Iraq would have earned a geopolitical stature of the first rank. That Iraq failed to achieve these goals was a result of the qualitative equality of Iraqi and Iranian forces, and a military decision was now nowhere in sight. Zamir suggested that the manner in which internal conflicts were resolved in Tehran and Baghdad, not on the front, would determine the outcome, and while the outlines of those conflicts within Iran were clear, he suggested that similar dissensions of importance were brewing in the disappointed and demoralized Iraqi army.

In any case, the effect of the war was to draw attention away from the Arab-Israeli arena, and represented an eastward shift in the center of gravity of regional conflict. The impact upon Arab politics was readily apparent: the Arab states had failed to unify ranks around an Arab state in a struggle with a non-Arab rival. The Rejection Front was split as a consequence, the PLO lost much of its support, and evidence of Egyptian arms transfers to Iraq suggested a possible end to the stigma attached to an Arab state at peace with Israel.

On the other side of the balance sheet was the opportunity offered by disorder in the Gulf to the Soviet Union. Gains in South Yemen, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan put the Soviet Union in a position which allowed it to bring considerable pressure to bear on the Gulf. But Zamir expressed the opinion that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had cost the Soviets much in the Gulf itself, and the provision of arms to the inflamed corner of the region was an attempt to repair damage already done. The United States, for its part, could be expected to remain dependent on Gulf oil through the coming decade, and would act to protect its supply. The current American interest in military bases would probably be supplanted by  renewed attempt to rely upon local partners, in coordination with an American Rapid Deployment Force; but were the United States to establish a presence in Egypt and Israel, the prospects for the stability of their immediate region were bound to be enhanced.

A more detailed picture of Soviet policy in the region was offered by Nimrod Novik. The Soviet Union had been led in the past to invest its efforts on the fringes of the Arab world, as a consequence of American gains at the center. But in the intervening years, the Soviets had developed the capacity to project conventional forces into the heart of the region by sea and air. This furthermore coincided with an erosion of Soviet patience, a patience in such clear evidence at the time of the expulsion of Soviet advisors from Egypt and Somalia. Recent complicity in the North/South Yemen assassinations, the high Soviet profile in Angola, the airlift of Cubans to the Horn of Africa, and the invasion of Afghanistan, were all signs of short temperament. There was certainly room for debate on Soviet perceptions and Soviet motives – whether defensive of part of a carefully conceived plan – but the effects of this new Soviet impatience was self-evident. Now the USSR has directed its attentions to the core areas of the Middle East, a regional increasingly important to the USSR in economic and military terms.

Novik contrasted this Soviet forwardness with the American position. The fallout from Watergate, the failure in Vietnam, and the emasculation of the Central Intelligence Agency after Chile, all led the United States to seek alternatives to an active defense of the region, through the build-up of “new influential” – a series of regional partners. Yet even in support of such surrogates, the United States proved far too unreliable, as in Iran, while the Soviet Union acted vigorously in support of its clients. Acceptance of Soviet patronage seemed the wave of the future, and conservation states began to make separate peaces with radical forces. Whether the same would hold true in the future was uncertain: the new American administration was sensitive to the dilemmas posed for its clients by the Carter legacy of unreliability, and seemed to realize the need for a thorough reassessment.

In the discussion which followed, Yair Evron expressed the view that, beyond the influence of regional politics on the conflict, one had to take into account the effects of the conflict upon regional politics. To his mind, the peace treaty itself had done much to advance the fragmentation mentioned by Rabinovich. The fact that Israel was now in a position to influence regional dynamics, and to play a role in inter-Arab alliance formation, had meant the transformation of the regional system from homogeneous to heterogeneous, from ideological to pragmatic. In the case of the Great Powers, these had little direct influence: rather, internal developments within the region were critical in opening opportunities for outside intervention.

Yaacov Goldberg focused attention on the policy of Saudi Arabia. Before 1977, Saudi Arabia was committed to a policy which pointed to an Arab-Israeli settlement, but this was no longer the case for a number of reasons. First, the end of the pro-Western regime in Iran broke the delicate balance in the Gulf, and posed an immediate threat to oil-producing al-Hasa province, home to a quarter-million Shi’is. Second, there was a clear erosion of faith in the protective umbrella of the United States prompted by America’s apparent abandonment of Taiwan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Third, Iraq’s regional influence increased dramatically and offered a threatening alternative to Saudi Arabia’s monarchical system of government. Fourth, the old Geneva-style consensus, in which Saudi Arabia felt so comfortable, had been shattered. The same consensus, including Jordan and Syria, now opposed a settlement. In these circumstances, for Saudi Arabia to have supported Egypt would have been to violate a cardinal principle of Saudi policy: to swim with the tide.

Now, however, there were signs that Saudi Arabia may have reached a turning point. First, Reagan’s vision of America as a patrimonial power had given rise to hopeful expectation in Saudi Arabia. The way to U.S. bases was still a long one, but Saudi fears would perhaps soon be eased by a more supportive American policy. Second, the Iran-Iraq was diminished the threat from both and their stalemate had reduced Saudi fear of the hegemony of either. And third, the depth of the divide between Syria and Iraq had weakened the anti-settlement consensus. All these changes offered hope for a change in Saudi policy; and all now seemed to hinge on whether the United States was willing to protect Saudi Arabia against all of these now-diminished threats.

The impact of the Iranian revolution was analysed at length by David Menashri, who pointed out that Iran was both unstable and destabilizing. The only institutionalization to have taken place was, to borrow a phrase, one of anarchy. Iran’s internal conflicts had a radicalizing effect, and Khumayni himself had accelerated this process yet further. At the same time, the message of Islamic revolution disseminated from Iran, not only to Shi’i Muslims, had a destabilizing effect elsewhere in the region.

Ideology notwithstanding, Menashri noted that Iranian foreign policy continued to follow the past pattern, and was determined by national interests in a rather narrow sense. There had been no Iranian aid to the rising of Muslims in Afghanistan yet Iran had been adamant about retention of the three contested Gulf island, claimed by other Muslims across the Gulf. And while Iran preached a universal message, she still remained isolated, and the much-discussed Iranian-Libyan alliance was marked by serious fissures. Then, too, there was every indication that the Iran-Iraq dispute would remain a permanent feature of Middle Eastern political topography, even if the war itself should draw to a close. Iran was furthermore estranged from her northern neighbor: Iran now seemed fully sensitive to what it regarded as Soviet imperialism. Menashri concluded that recent changes in this region meant that the scene at Camp David, in which Carter, Begin and Sadat deliberated without interruption while the Shah fell, was not likely to be repeated. Attention was now on the Gulf.

In the concluding discussion, Daniel Dishon challenged the view that the peace process had led to regional atomization. The Baghdad-based Rejection front had been brought down by three entirely autonomous developments: Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, and the conflict between the Ba’th parties of Syria and Iraq.


In his opening remarks Aharon Yariv offered a number of quotations from President Sadat which evidenced a disparity between Egyptian and Israeli views of normalization. Yariv’s point was that the treaty was no more than the first crack in a wall of hostility, and that it was in the very nature of a “process” that it require time. In that process, we now stood at the stage of abstention from war; normalization, then regional integration, were yet to come. Complicating the process further were two “asymmetries”: the first, that while tangible assets were being exchanged by Israel for normalization, the normalization process could conceivably be ended unilaterally without resort to war; and second, the whole process was linked to the Palestinian question, so that the process was not strictly a bilateral one.

Among the advantages of the agreement was certainly the recognition of Israel by an Arab state of great importance, and the establishment of official relations. This improved Israel’s position, not only in the eyes of the world, but from the vantage point of the United States in particular. It certainly meant an improvement in Israel’s strategic position, for only the Eastern front remained open. On another level, the beginnings of contacts between the peoples of Egypt and Israel offered the hope for an understanding, even if these contacts were now modest, for the process they set in play was a dynamic one. Finally, the involvement of the United States in the treaty increased the chances that difficulties could be resolved amicably within its framework.

Yariv then passed to the disadvantages. An unfortunate precedent was set in a territorial withdrawal for which Israel received too little in the way of normalization. One could not overlook the considerable economic cost. Another consideration was that the agreement allowed the Jerusalem issue to rise to the top of the agenda, and the autonomy schedule had now become uncomfortable, with the imminent (April 1982) final withdrawal from Sinai preceeding the successful conclusion of an agreement. American obligations undertaken at Camp David were not being pressed by Israel with enough force, and there was a worrisome asymmetry between Israeli-American and Egyptian-American relations. Finally, the security arrangement in the Sinai itself was not satisfactory.

Yariv did not intend to weigh advantages against disadvantages, but he counted himself among those who saw the agreement as a positive step. At least it could be said that there was now an alternative, a change to guarantee the existence of Israel through the political tools of diplomacy rather than sheer military strength. But to advance the process, progress was essential on the Palestinian issue: this was important not only to Israel’s relations with her immediate neighboring states, but to the well-being of Israel herself.

In discussing the Israeli view, Shlomo Avineri pointed out that before 1977, it seemed to Israel that her problem was the failure to secure peace with even one Arab state. Once this breakthrough was achieved, it was thought that the rest would fall into place, and Israel would shed her status as international pariah. Paradoxically, the signing of a formal peace treaty with the largest Arab state had not only failed to enhance Israel’s international standing, but had even led to a marked deterioration. Since 1977, Israel’s relations with the United States, Western Europe, and Latin America, had all cooled; in not a single instance did the signing of the agreement bring about an improvement in Israel’s relations with another state, with the obvious exception of Egypt. Despite Israel’s great concessions, Israel’s position in bilateral and multilateral forums had been eroded.

Avineri noted how the extent of Israel’s concessions in the Sinai surprised everyone, including Israelis, for in 1977 even the doves among them did not propose to return the entire territory. Yet at the same time, Israel’s stand toward the Palestinian issue hardened, so that her grip on the West Bank and Gaza became firmer. This dual process was an indication of the priorities of Israel’s government at the time the treaty was signed, in line with the following implicit logic: in return for Sinai concessions, Israel expected to gain an opportunity to strengthen her position in the West Bank and Gaza. Now this second part of the equation has nonetheless been rejected by Egypt and the United States, but the concessions made over Sinai cannot be reversed. Here was the cause of the present government’s disappointment.

One could go further: because the withdrawal was irreversible, attention had been directed away from these broad Israeli concessions, to Israel’s attempt to establish herself on the West Bank. The treaty thus had yielded no international dividend, and left Israel publicly shackled to the Palestinian issue. The logic of Sinai in exchange for the West Bank was faulty: first, because it represented a concession made for something unattainable: and second, because it did serious damage to our international position, and especially our relations with the United States, for until now, there had never been a dispute with the Americans over basic issues. The emphasis on the West Bank in preference to the Sinai was an instance in which historical considerations overtook strategic ones, an ordering of priorities which, it was not clear, has served Israel poorly.

Various interpretations of the Egyptian rationale in pursuing the peace process were enumerated by Gad Gilbar. The first impression among many was that the initiative was a deception of some sort, that Egypt concealed hostile intentions. A somewhat less cynical view conceded that Egypt would be interested, from 1977 to 1982, in the Israeli evacuation of the Sinai, but that beyond the final withdrawal, Egypt would see her options as open. Others saw in the initial steps an Egyptian attempt to preclude what Cairo feared was an imminent Israeli military act. Another interpretation put the initiative in the framework of Egypt’s growing concern over other Middle Eastern threats – in Libya, the Horn of Africa, etc. Then there was the view that Egypt had made the move to assure her Arab primacy, through taking up the responsibility for speaking for the Palestinians. Finally, there was the view that was exhaustion, economic deterioration, or a combination of the two, led Egypt to search for reconciliation with Israel.

Gilbar himself leaned toward a socio-economic interpretation. The 1950s and 1960s were a period of brewing discontent, a discontent which worsened during the 1970s as evidenced by the spectre of food riots. The prospect of American aid, a reduction in military expenditures, the reopening of the Suez Canal, securing private investment from abroad – all these interacted with the more immediate causes to produce the initiative.

The reward for Egypt had been a tangible one. Sadat received that aid, reopened the Canal, secured the Sinai oil, and brought about a substantial increase in tourism and foreign investment. Gilbar did not wish to say that Egypt was a Japan, or that serious economic problems did not persist. Yet there was cause in Egypt for optimism, for while expectations had been raised, the immediate dividends were nonetheless clear.

Daniel Dishon looked at Egypt’s foreign policy, as Nasir once did, in terms of “circles” – but the circles of Sadat’s Egypt were different. Sadat saw Egypt operating on three planes: the American, the Israeli, and the Arab. Less important were those of Europe and the non-Arab Third World. In Egypt’s relation with the United States, there had been indisputable Egyptian gains, although their long-term implications were not clear. But in bilateral relations with Israel, much Egyptian effort was being invested in improving Egypt’s standing in Arab eyes, as evidenced by Egypt’s Jerusalem Resolution and her government’s stand in the autonomy talks. For within the Arab circle, it was clear that the isolation imposed upon Egypt had been of longer duration than Sadat had anticipated, and that the treaty, rather than conferring Arab recognition upon Israel, simply associated Egypt with Israel’s pariah status. Unable to function in the existing Arab framework, Sadat had moved to create alternatives through his Muslim League proposal, the Arab parliament idea, and advocacy of a Palestinian government-in-exile. Sadat further saw Egypt, in an Arab context, as an anti-Soviet agent, whether in resisting Soviet encroachment in Chad and the Sudan, or countering Soviet arms shipments to Iran with her own transfers to Iraq. Dishon suggested that these activities pointed to a renewed Egyptian interest in the Arab circle, which was likely to become even more important to Egypt in the near future.

In viewing American considerations, Shlomo Aharonson attempted to break what he saw as the myth, widespread in Israel that the United States and Israel had ever had a common strategic interest. That they did not now have such a common interest was therefore no evidence that relations had worsened. The Brookings vision of a Middle East peace, the interest in a comprehensive settlement including a Palestinian “entity,” the view of Israel as restricted, more or less, to the borders of 1967 – all these ideas were baggage brought by Carter and Brzezinski when they first entered the White House. Even then, there was no common ground, except the Brookings provision that the Middle East peace be a true one: it was Israel’s hope to extract this element, and isolate it from the others.

This Israeli view was not Carter’s, whose approach was molded by his own personal experience. First of all, his concept of conflict resolution emerged from the background of race relations in the American South. His tactics were a mix of commonsense compromise and a technocratic, engineering view of the political process. As a politician, he recognized the strength of American Jewry; but he was much taken with the idea that he owed Black Americans a debt to be paid in the foreign policy field. This was expressed both in a tilt toward the Third World, and an attempt to “integrate” the Third World into the ordered community of nations.

These ideas, in the Middle Eastern context, were simplistic, and could not be translated into political terms without contradictions. They saw Israel and Syria, Sadat and Arafat, all under the same roof in Geneva, working toward a “resolution of the conflict” in a cooperative fashion. This approach even anticipated the active participation of the Soviet Union, after Kissinger had done so much to distance the Russians from the budding process. Sadat himself had tried this in 1975, and gave up upon discovering that the PLO, Syria, and Egypt hadn’t adequate common ground.

This did not deter the Americans. It was Carter’s naivete that led him to extract the scattered references to peace in past American policy pronouncements, and interpret them as a mandate to pursue a complete and comprehensive settlement. The Brookings vision of the Middle East’s future was his philosopher’s stone: he and his team assumed that that future was the inevitable outcome of the process, that any advance was necessarily only one step in the direction of an overall solution. This was in marked contrast to Kissinger’s approach, in which the final goal mattered less than the objective realities of the present, in formulating a mode of procedure. For the US, then, Camp Davi was one step in the inevitable direction of a comprehensive settlement; while Israel saw it as no more than a bilateral agreement with Egypt that opened options in several directions. For Sadat, too, the idea of Camp David as a step to comprehensive peace was problematic, for he had no desire to tie the process to radical states and the Soviet Union.

On the secondary point of whether the Sinai concession was irreversible, Aharonson offered that it was not. The heart of the Sinai was demilitarized, and were there a deterioration in relations, Israel had the option to fill what was essentially a vacuum.

In his commentary on American policy, Simcha Dinitz offered yet another view of Egypt’s motives: her desire to replace Israel and the principal protégé and partner of the United States in the Middle East. In this, the Egyptians had had notable success, for the response of the Americans was positive. One manifestation of this new partnership was the lack of American pressure upon Egypt to accelerate normalization, and the American emphasis upon the Palestinian issue. Israel became a secondary partner, and the focus of American interest shifted to Saudi Arabia.

Only very recently were there signs that the United States was reconsidering this approach. The resurgence of Soviet interest in the region, the threat implicit in Iran and Islam, the decline of the PLO, and Husayn’s inability to act independently, had led the United States to a series of new conclusions. Among them was the decision to brake the Russians through the creation of a Rapid Deployment Force; the plan to strengthen regional partners; the realization that the PLO was of secondary importance in the overall context; and recognition of the need for an Egyptian-Saudi axis upon which Husayn could depend, leaving him more flexible.

As for braking the Russians, there was nothing new about this feature of American policy; it was simply sublimated by Carter in his pursuit of a better world. So far, Reagan seemed intent on returning to a more defense-minded policy, involving greater military expenditure, and part of this was the theme of anti-terrorism, with all its implications for the PLO. The tough stand toward the Third World which we could anticipate from Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the United Nations, was another indicator. The Americans now wished to make themselves reliable and to project an image of strength.

Israel could therefore expect that a new American approach would bypass the PLO. This offered us an important respite, during which Israel should be careful not to push her own problem to the forefront of American attention. This would further allow the Americans time to strengthen their own physical presence in the area, which Dinitz believed was in the interest of Israel as well.

Dinitz passed to the Jordanian “option.” To continue negotiations with Egypt on the Palestinian issue was to do so with the wrong partner. Concessions made by Israel were likely to be pocketed by the Egyptians, and three months later Israel would be no better off for having been forthcoming. It was far preferable to have Egypt aid in brining Jordan into the talks. This could perhaps be done by offering Jordan an invitation, involving the Jordanians in policy functions during the autonomy transition period, and promising Jordan a decisive role in determining final borders. It was this that Israel had agreed to at Camp David; and while Jordan was not a signatory, she did accept United Nations resolution 242, a document which urges negotiation yet does not require that Israel return to the 1967 borders. To negotiate with Israel was thus not a Jordanian “option” but a Jordanian obligation. And signs did point to the possibility of an American-Israeli-Egyptian-Saudi-Jordanian settlement which could circumvent the PLO. This explained both the PLO’s diplomatic offensive in Europe, and the organization’s fear of the coming elections in Israel. The Camp David agreement included the elements upon which such an agreement could rest; all that was needed was the correct emphasis.

In the discussion which followed, two speakers were less optimistic about the new American administration. Amos Eran said that there was a place for Israel in the current strategic thinking of the Reagan Administration, and it was important now to define such a place. But if Reagan could not fulfill domestic American expectations, particularly on the economic front, the identification of American interests with those of Saudi Arabia was likely to increase. If so, four years from now, Israel was liable to face an administration similar to Carter’s. Zvi Rafiah said that the Saudis had no intention of postponing action for six months before and after the Israeli elections, and were brining pressure to bear on Washington now, pressure liable to be felt soon by Israel. For central to the new administration’s planning was a renewed credibility, particularly in the Persian Gulf.


The question of autonomy was inseparable from that of the treaty with Egypt, noted Uriel Dann, in a brief introductory remark. Autonomy was furthermore the most difficult issue: it involved parties who were not signatories to the treaty; it was troubled within Israel by opposition among those who demanded the establishment of Israeli sovereignty over the territories; and its feasibility was doubted even within the Israeli consensus which supported it.

Aryeh Shalev began by outlining the autonomy provisions of the Camp David agreement, stressing that these were originally conceived as a framework, and thus left much room for diplomatic maneuver. No progress had been made for several reasons. Among them were Jordan’s abstention from participation in the negotiations; the dispute over the extent of the autonomy; and the issue of deciding upon the ultimate source of authority in the autonomous region. Yet to Shalev’s mind, a settlement of the autonomy question was essential: autonomy would directly affect the Israeli-Egyptian peace; it was central to relations with the United States; and it was, despite its problematic character, the least difficult issue on the agenda of peace. In the next stage, it was likely that the process would be advanced by compromise proposals suggested by the United States, following the elections in Israel.

Shalev then offered his own plan for the autonomy transition period, the major principles of which were these: autonomy would apply not only to persons, but to the territory itself; the ultimate source of authority in the autonomous territory would not be Israel alone; wide powers would be conferred upon the self-governing authority; Israel would be responsible for border security, but the preservation of internal security would be surrendered gradually to the self-governing authority, with Israel retaining the right to act if real terrorism should develop; borders would remain open between Israel and the autonomous territory; state lands would be divided between the self-governing authority, the Israeli Defense Forces, and the supervising Israeli-Egyptian-Jordanian authority; no further Jewish settlements would be constructed, except in security areas; a committee on water rights would be established; and East Jerusalem residents would be allowed to participate in elections for the self-governing authority, without obligating Israel on the question of Jerusalem

Shalev did not wish to speculate on what would happen beyond such a transition period, although he did suggest that a different arrangement might prevail in Gaza, given the relative lack of Israeli settlement and the Egyptian presence. And he suggested that is the United States took an active role, the plan which he proposed could succeed.

Amnon Cohen passed to the perspective of the inhabitants of the territories. For them, the Sadat initiative was a wholly external development, to which they could do no more than react. Probably the most important result of the return of Sinai was the conclusion, in the territories, that the initiative offered the possibility that Israel might retreat from those territories. This has even had an effect in the Golan, manifested in the refusal of Druze to accept Israeli identity cards.

On the West Bank, the subject of Cohen’s other remarks, the initiative had led to two important changes. First, Jordan was no longer seen as an unimportant factor, and had gained new weight. Second, the pro-PLO camp was no longer as monolithic as in the past. To begin with the second point, Cohen noted that although the initial reaction of the pro-PLO faction to Sadat appeared negative, even in 1977 there were some who spoke against him in more subdued tones. Alongside those who were absolutely negative, there were others among supporters of the PLO who were less categorical. Even among the PLO mayors, there were divisions, e.g. over the question of resigning. So there were now two PLO groups; and if one could say in the past that the PLO was the moderate thread in the Palestinian movement, then one could now say that there was an even more moderate trend within the PLO.

As for the first point, concerning the new ascent of Jordan’s star, Cohen noted that the pro-Hashimite camp on the West Bank had reacted positively, with certain reservations, to the treaty, for they believed that the chances for a return of territory to Jordan had increased. This had not been affected by King Husayn’s identification with the Rejection Front, for other signs received from Amman had indicated to the pro-Hashimite camp that Husayn had not given up on the West Bank.

Cohen concluded that the result was a certain overlapping of the pro-PLO and pro-Hashimite camps, accelerated by the cooperation between the King and the PLO on the East Bank, and the process of moderation within the PLO faction on the West Bank. Only very recently were there signs of renewed polarization, a consequence of a growing sense of impotence and the belief that there was no chance for change in the Israeli position.

Elie Rekhess directed his remarks to the Gaza strip and the reactions of its inhabitants. He stressed first that Gaza was a political system dominated by outside influences. There had been, of course, a pro-Egyptian Camp which received the Sadat initiative enthusiastically, sent delegations to Cairo, and said it would join negotiations if the PLO would not. This camp had since collapsed, in part because of a wave of assassinations which claimed some of its most prominent adherents.

Then there was a camp which could be described as pro-PLO and pro-Egyptian. Many of these were young people and professionals educated in Egypt; they surrounded and acted through Gaza’s Red Crescent Society. Their dilemma was posed by the opposite attraction of the PLO and Egypt, and was expressed in the fact that, while they rejected autonomy, they did not attack Sadat personally. But the latest development concerning this faction was a certain coalescence of the Gaza and West Bank leadership: these leaders had started to speak of a common purpose and a shared fate.

Third was the pro-Hashimite camp, bound by economic and other ties to Jordan. Their activities centered around Rashad Sha’wa and his charitable activities (an answer to the Red Crescent Society). These were best described as fence-sitters, who originally supported the “Gaza first” approach to autonomy. Two forces were working on this faction. One was the attempt by Egypt to assert its presence: Egypt in the decade following 1967 had not done nearly as much in Gaza as Jordan had done on the West Bank to maintain a high profile, but now a series of Egyptian delegations and even talk of retroactive payment of salaries to Gaza public employees had changed that picture. Then there was the other pull: in May 1979, Sha’wa went on a trip through the Arab world, meeting, among others, King Husayn and Yasir Arafat. These led him to modify the “Gaza first” approach, to make PLO approval a preliminary condition. Sha’wa had thus taken a tougher line of late, and had clashed with the military government more often.

Finally, there was the unabashedly pro-PLO camp, whose purpose was to eradicate Egyptian influence by carrot and stick: a campaign of terror against pro-Egyptian individuals, and a series of Arab-financed economic projects, such as housing construction, organized under PLO auspices. Lately this faction, as on the West Bank, had begun to overlap the pro-Hashimite group, and together these had left the pro-Egyptian camp desolate.

In the discussion that followed, Mark Heller noted that it was in the nature of politics in the territories that, before a local partner for autonomy could arise, there would have to be outside Arab approval from some quarter. Yet as long as there was no sign of where autonomy was leading, such approval would not be forthcoming.

Also raised was the question of local leadership aligned with neither the PLO nor Jordan. Amnon Cohen replied that this phenomenon was a piece of history and no more; no such “local option” existed. What was important now was to discern the different strands within the pro-PLO camp, to recognize, for example, that a Kawasma was more moderate than a Shak’a, and to make the best use of those differences.


Mordechai Gur opened with a consideration of the strategic consequences for Israel of the Sinai withdrawal. The central issue was whether the Sinai, in an era of highly technological warfare dominated by high-speed aircraft and missiles, had retained strategic value; Gur maintained that in fact the Sinai’s strategic importance had increased as a consequence of technological advances. For example, the effect of withdrawal was to reduce Israel’s strategic air depth to mere seconds. In low flight patterns designed to avoid detection, high-speed enemy aircraft would leave little opportunity for advance warning.

Gur believed nonetheless that the outcome of military confrontation would still be determined by land forces and the territory which they held, again increasing Sinai’s strategic importance. It was true that there had been many technological advances in this field, e.g. the improved range of tanks, but these too had increased, not diminished, the strategic value of Sinai – for the greater the ease with which the Sinai could be crossed, the tighter the warning schedule would be for Israel and the more restricted her ability to pre-empt. Thus, in the field of ground warfare, too, the concession made in the Sinai was becoming a costlier one with the passage of time and the improvement of technology. Finally, while it was true that the closure of Bab al-Mandab had proved that the possession of Sharm al-Shaykh was not sufficient to keep Israel’s sea connection open, it had still been useful to bring pressure to bear on Jordan, Egypt, the Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. The loss of this strategic threat was significant.

Gur cited other advantages to the Israeli possession of the Sinai. It had allowed Israel to reduce constantly maintained levels of military strength. Had the redeployment been placed west of the Suez Canal – a suggestion which Gur made, without success, to Butrus Ghali and Mustafa Khalil – then something of this advantage would have been preserved. But under present circumstances, Israeli levels of preparedness could not be reduced.

Gur offered the further view that were war to break out on other fronts against the background of Israel’s failure to return other Arab territories, Egypt was liable to join in. Were such a confrontation to involve the use of nuclear weapons at some future date, Sinai’s value would again have been considerable, for it offered not only a chance for some advance warning, but an uninhabited zone in which such weapons could be used in a tactical context, away from population centers.

On the political front, there was the concession which the Sinai evacuation represented. Israel had explicitly given up on the concept of security borders, a clear feature of Resolution 242; and Israel had retreated not only from territory, but all territory, again a maximalist interpretation of Resolution 242. In all probability, Camp David would serve as a precedent for future agreements, precedents which, to the Americans, were binding ones. Thus, the Israeli evacuation of the Sinai was likely to have dire repercussions on Israel’s standing in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.

Yosef Vardi passed to the question of Sinai oil and the withdrawal. The price Israel paid in leaving Sinai was not the first and foremost an economic one, but a strategic one. Certainly the oil cost in purely economic terms was a high one, but was one Israel could bear. More serious was the cost paid in security of supply, given the reduction of Israel’s energy options which coincided with the negotiation of the peace treaty. After discussing the rapid development of the Alma fields, prompted by impending negotiations, Vardi noted that the negotiations themselves came precisely at a time when the supply problem had become acute: Israel, through early 1978, had relied primarily upon Iran for supplies, with the balance imported from Mexico and elsewhere,. In July 1978, anticipating difficulties in Iranian supply, Israel shifted to other suppliers, a fact which had great importance following the subsequent fall of the Shah. What was significant in the Egyptian-Israeli context was that Israel found herself making oil concessions at precisely the time that the Iranian source was drying up. And as it was impossible to take an uncompromising position on the oil fields, this being a sensitive issue for Egyptians on economic and political grounds, Israel was forced to involve the United States in supply guarantees. Vardi suggested that Saudi Arabia might have been brought into the process at this stage; he did not understand why the United States and Egypt had not brought pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia over the supply issue at this critical juncture.

Reviewing the current situation of supply reliability, Vardi believed that the American commitment to Israel was an important one, and it would be difficult for the Americans to back out in a time of crisis. More worrisome were the day-to-day problems of diversity in supply sources, types of oil, and method of transport. Here Israel was much more limited than in the past; Vardi went on to cite the important of coal to reopening Israel’s energy options.

In the discussion which followed David Bnaya pointed to additional dilemmas posed by the withdrawal. Israel’s large military apparatus on the southern front, once stretched over the entire Sinai, was now confined to a quarter of the space for which it had been planned, and the redeployment had caused dislocations. As for the question of nuclear warfare, it was clear that every concession had heightened the chances for the eventual resort to this option. But perhaps most important was the military image which Israel projected abroad: this had been diminished, affecting not only the Arab view, but Israel’s own self-image. Such was the case on the eve of the 1967 war; and in such a diminished appreciation of Israel’s strength perhaps lay the seeds of a future war.

Baruch Raz considered the shortcomings of Israel’s negotiating strategy over Sinai. For the economic concession, Israel should have certainly arranged for more satisfying compensation. From the United States, Israel should have insisted upon a nuclear power plant, or even a conventional plant. Raz suggested that Israel also should have insisted on a certain level of trade with Egypt as part of the package; toward the final evacuation in April 1982, linkage with the trade question was certainly worth consideration. In addition to being less certain about the American oil supply guarantees, Raz was also concerned over Egypt’s unhelpful attitude to various plans for the exploitation of the Sinai. Mention of plans for the development of agriculture, solar energy, and tourism in the Sinai were always countered by claims that Egypt was “sensitive” over the territory. This might well be the case, but Israel had interests here as well, and these could not be ignored.

In response to the question of a participant on the issue of Egypt’s willingness to go to war if hostilities commenced on another front, Gur reported what he had heard directly from Egyptians. Were such a war to break out, against a background of Israel’s failure to return territories, Egypt would feel herself obliged to act. To do otherwise was to concede what the treaty represented a separate peace, and Egyptians would rather make the case that the political failure to solve the territorial question was an Israeli violation of the treaty. Sadat and the Egyptian negotiators had emphasized this Arab dimension throughout, and it would be wise take them at their word.

Two discussants addressed Vardi’s presentation. Yaacov Goldberg pointed out that Vardi’s complaint that Saudi Arabia was not involved in the supply equation was not realistic, given Saudi Arabia’s unequivocal opposition to the Camp David agreements at that time. Asked by another participant whether Israel’s oil concession was not negligent, given the fact that Israel became convinced early in the game that the Shah would fall, Vardi replied that Israel had indeed responded, through diversification of supply. But Vardi was not sure that the various forms of compensation suggested by Raz could in fact have been extracted from Egypt or the United States.

Drawing the final remarks away from the Sinai to another central question, Annon Cohen asked Gur whether all, parts, or none of the West Bank were strategically critical. Gur replied that borders could not be determined by a strictly military calculation; by this reckoning, for instance, the best border to the south, and the most natural, was the Nile. There was unquestionably a political element involved. He simply asked that the strategic element not be ignored. During the disengagement negotiations, strategic planners were consulted; at Camp David, they were excluded. Gur was of the opinion that there were possible solutions to the West Bank problem that would leave Israel with a strategic advantage, without the burden of ruling all of the territory’s population.


Turning away from the high politics which had dominated the previous sessions, Shimon Shamir opened with remarks on the theme of the encounter between the Egyptian and Israeli peoples. Little conceptual change had occurred before 1977 in the image held by one people of the other; and if it had always been said that a real solution to the political conflict was possible only following such a conceptual change, then it was now clear that such change was possible only after the beginning of a political solution to the conflict. Egypt entered the peace treaty not from any decisive conceptual or ideological reappraisal of the nature of the Jewish state; there were, instead, a series of pragmatic economic and military considerations behind the Egyptian initiative. The scenario in which a change of mutual perceptions would lead to peace thus was not born out; as long as the political dispute had continued, so too did the mutual demonization. Indeed, a certain demonization of Israel and dehumanization of the Jew continued even now in Egypt, and one still saw a partly similar phenomenon in Israel, where some placed Sadat in the oppressive category of Antiochus, Titus, and Hitler. This was not to say that there were not certain conceptual changes before 1977 – among Egyptians after 1967 and Israelis after 1973; but these remained modest in scope. The conceptual changes in fact started after the achievement of political peace, and normalization was the field on which these changes were played out. In no other peace treaty had the question of “normal” relations been so central, because in this dispute, the very existence of Israel was at issue. This made normalization important not because economic and cultural exchanges were vital – they were not – but because normalization was interpreted as an index of fundamental conceptual reassessment.

As for the process itself, one could point to a number of positive achievements. It was important to remember that the formal provisions for normalization had been put into effect: what the Egyptians had obligated themselves to do, they had done. There was some trade; the borders were open; tourism had commended; there were some academic contacts; the terminology in the press and other media had changed; and the human encounter between Egyptians and Israelis had by and large been a pleasant one. But Egyptians had shown no enthusiasm for going beyond what they were obligated to do; few Egyptians had come to Israel (c. 1500); trade had been on the modest scale of $11-12 million, restricted to Egypt’s private sector; and there had been no genuine academic or intellectual interaction.

In comparing the promising and discouraging features of this process, it had to be remembered that the environment was hostile, given the rise of radical Islam in Egypt and elsewhere; the stalemate over the West Bank and the polarization between Israel and the Palestinians; the almost unanimous opposition to the peace process in the Arab world; the decline of the American position in the region (the peace process being essentially a pax Americana), etc. But beyond this, it was necessary to realize that Egyptians and Israelis understood peace in two different senses. For Israelis, peace did not pose a fundamental ideological problem, for it had long been a value and an aim. The problem, for it Israelis was whether the peace treaty had in fact achieved in the long term something truly beneficial to Israel in a practical sense. For Egyptians, the problem was reversed: the ideological conceptualization of peace with Israel represented a sea-change, but the treaty’s practical benefits to Egypt’s, economic and social, were self-evident, in spite of the boycott by the Arab world. If Israelis doubted the practical value of the peace, Egyptians doubted its legitimacy; and neither problem had been solved.

Shamir detailed this asymmetry. For the Egyptians, the idea of peace with Israel represented a radical change, and evoked both guilt and doubt. This had been resolved by something of a moral compromise: Egyptians were prepared to accept the notion of a state of Israel, that is, a territorial state with a governing apparatus; Egyptians were also prepared to see the Jewish people in a more humanized light. But the Zionist idea, that Jews as a nation had rights in this country, Egyptians were not prepared to accept. This permitted what was perhaps, for Egyptians, an essential measure of continuity with the past theme of distinguishing between Judaism and Zionism. The peace was presented as pragmatic and realistic; the struggle against Zionism was deferred to the judgement of history. The idea that Israel as a territorial state is legitimate represented an important Egyptian reappraisal; and to Shamir’s mind, the Egyptian tenacity in maintaining that the Zionist character of that state would be eroded in time should not evoke Israeli hostility. What was important was that Egypt no longer saw herself as the chief agent of that erosion, but was prepared to acquiesce in the verdict of history.

Israelis, for their part, asked themselves a practical question. Their perspective was fundamentally different: for Israel, the conflict with other Arab neighbors continued, so that the treaty left no sense of radical department. The Israelis were therefore much concerned with what had been practically achieved, and whether the peace would outlive Sadat.

It should be noted, however, that in Israel too there were some conceptual problems posed by the treaty, particularly for those Israelis who interpreted Jewish history as a continuum of a gentile hostility of which the Arabs were merely the latest purveyors. Others had a problem of self-image, which they either refused to face by consistently rejecting the idea of a visit to Egypt, or resolved with a blanket negation of Egypt and Egyptians as inferior.

In sum, then, the psychological barrier spoken of by Sadat had not yet been breached; it had been weakened, but still stood. In Shamir’s opinion, only, only progress in the political settlement of the Palestinian issue would create the conditions for overcoming the remaining obstacles.

Se’ev Hirsch presented the economic dimension of normalization. The Israeli hope was that commerce would represent a concrete expression of peace, and that 50,000-100,000 Egyptians would eventually make their livelihoods by providing goods and services for Israel and Israelis. If this goal now seemed distant – the trade figure stood at only $12 million – it was because all progress on the economic front was tied by Egypt to the political process. Israel, Hirsch suggested, should have done the same: commercial concessions should have been requested in exchange for the Sinai concessions and oil fields, and Israel should have pressed pay in goods for the 2 million tons of oil sold by Egypt to Israel for $400 million, Such a policy of exchanging commercial concessions for political ones might well be considered by future Israeli negotiators, urged Hirsch.

Most restrictive was the unwillingness of the Egyptian public sector to enter into any commercial agreements with Israeli firms. Once this opposition was breached, the potential market was great, far larger in scale than anything to which Israelis were accustomed. Technology, food, and agriculture, were all fields of activity in which Israel could hope to be particularly active. There were two dimensions to the opening of so vast a market. On the one hand, the development of certain branches in Egypt under Israeli impetus, and the opening of the borders to trade, would make Egypt a competitor both within Israel and abroad. On the other hand, it could be expected that Israeli textile producers and construction companies, for example would boom, and certain depressed sectors of the Israeli economy might be revitalized. There were thus evident dangers to economic interaction on a large scale, but the potential for mutual benefit was great.

Aharon Barnea then spoke of his experiences as former spokesman of the Israeli embassy in Cairo. He contended that, while Israelis envisioned peace on the model of American-Canadian relations, the Egyptian view of peace was essentially one of non-belligerency. This was reflected in Egypt’s and Israel’s choices of ambassadors: according to Barnea, the Egyptian ambassador was a career diplomat of the second rank, whereas the Israeli appointee was an intimate colleague of the Israeli prime minister.

Barnea was convinced that the most elementary decisions on the pace of normalization were made at the highest political level, whether this concerned a decision on Israel’s request to publish the hours of its embassy in the Cairo press, or the appearance of virulent and hostile references in the media. At every step along the way, the Israeli embassy found that Sadat alone had the final say; and the Egyptian position remained one which advocated a maximalist interpretation of autonomy, and a minimalist approach to normalization.

In the lengthy discussion which followed, a number of participants related their first-hand impressions of normalization. Two commentators were particularly upbeat. Sassom Somekh described the attitudes of Egyptian literati in which he found encouraging signs. Benyamin Gaon treated the business dimension and the activities of Koor Trade in Egypt, which he represented. Koor, responsible for 80% of Israel’s trade in Egypt – all conducted through the private sector – had had a excellent introductory experience to business in Egypt. And discovered a real interest among Egyptian businessmen in concluding agreements with Israeli counterparts. Koor operated an office in Cairo which employed a very able Egyptian staff, and the corporation had learned that, once the business ground rules had been mastered, trade in Egypt could be both profitable and pleasurable. In the course of the discussion, it was pointed out that Israeli trade with Nigeria, after years of cultivation, came to only $40 million annually; so that the figure of $12 million for the very first year of business in Egypt was not justifiable cause for discouragement or pessimism.


In his introductory remarks, Haim Ben Shahar noted that the purpose of this closing session was not to review but to look to the future; and that the speakers were noted members of the Knesset, individuals who, in comparison with the colloquium’s other participants, were political men of affairs. They were requested to present their own programs; each represented only himself and his own views.

Moshe Arens began by noting that throughout much of history, the aftermath of treaties saw a certain asymmetry in the satisfaction of the signatories with its provisions. One side would be insistent that the other side live according to the provisions, and the other would immediately consider how those provisions might be changed. Arens supposed that Egypt was very much concerned that Israel live by the treaty’s provisions, at least until April 1982; whereas in Israel, there was a wide range of opinion, from those enthusiastic about the terms, to those actually demanding the treaty’s revision.

To come to a balanced appreciation, it was necessary to understand the era in which we live. During a period of American withdrawal from Vietnam and global responsibilities, we ourselves were involved in a war of attrition and then all-out war; our political positions were rigid, and thus they appeared to the outside world. Now, a neo-conservative United States had reasserted itself and taken a rigid position in confrontation with the Soviet Union, while Israel negotiated with Egypt and gave up the entire Sinai, including its oil, Sharm al-shaykh, and the airbases. In both periods, Israeli policy was not coordinated with broader global trends, and it was essential to remedy this in the coming period.

What would characterize the coming period? In Arens’s opinion, Israel was headed for a violent and argumentative world, for an overcrowded world of reduced resources, a world in which states would view for those resources or perish.

First, Israel was entering an arms race. A very short time ago it was said that Israel’s position was never better: the peace treaty with Egypt, the Iran-Iraq war, the Jordanian-Syrian confrontation, seemed to indicate that Israel could now cut her defense budget. But Israelis had come to a rude awakening: Israel had entered an arms race unprecedented since the creation of the state, a race that would require vast economic and human resources.

Second, there was the question of Judaea and Samaria. We had already lost our strategic depth in the south; now we were under pressure to retreat back to the very heart of the country. Judaea and Samaria were on the municipal borders of our largest cities. The conclusion was that everything must be done to assure a continuation of Israeli control over this region. What Israel had invested in the settlements had been worthwhile, for Israel had created a situation in which it would be impossible to turn back the clock, and which would assure her the future control of Judaea and Samaria.

Third, the strategic situation in the region had changed following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of the Shah, and the Iran-Iraq war. This had made Israel the region’s most important military factor in confronting Soviet penetration. The Egyptians aspired to this position, and perhaps they would reach it in five years’ time. But today, Israel was the most important factor after Western Europe in the face of Soviet expansion. Sadat had declared Egypt part of the West: if so, it was important to pursue an agreement with Egypt allowing Israeli naval and air forces the use of Sharm al-Shaykh at least, and permitting the Israeli air force to have access to the Sinai airbases.

Fourth was the question of Lebanon. Here there had been important changes to Israel’s advantage in recent years, despite the saddening events of the last few days in South Lebanon. Arens thought that if Israel acted correctly, it would be possible to transform Lebanon into a Western state prepared to live in peace with Israel as part of the pro-Western strategic alignment in the region.

Fifth and last was the question of the Arab inhabitants of Israel, on both sides of the green line, up to the Jordanian border. It was essential to make of them equal citizens with equal rights and obligations. Israel owed this not only to them but to herself. Israeli values were Western; Israel was practically the fifty-first state; so that, while Turkey or Iraq could treat members of minorities as second-class citizens, Israel could not do so for long. The building of a pluralistic, territorial society composed of two peoples in this state would be difficult, but was essential. For this purpose, it was unimportant whether the Arabs numbered nineteen percent within the defunct green line, or thirty percent of the total population once Judea and Samaria were part of Israel.

Yosef Sarid first noted that the views which he would present remained those of the minority, not only of the people, but of his own party.

It was superfluous to point out that the peace with Egypt could not long remain a separate one. Only those who thought that Egypt had exchanged an Arab orientation for an exclusively Israeli one could so maintain; but it was clear to anyone with vision that the agreement with Egypt would deteriorate if it had no sequel.

Sarid was prepared to adopt any solution which fulfilled two requirements: first, that it have a real chance of gaining acceptance by the opposite side; and second, that it guarantee Israel’s essential security interests. These requirements did not rule out the Jordanian option, the Palestinian option, or a combination; what was important was how a given option was effected. But to Sarid’s regret, most of the solutions current in Israel failed to meet these requirements, and he proceeded to enumerate them one by one.

First, there was the autonomy plan. This had lost its original potential, for the arbitrary way in which the Israeli government had pursued it offered no advantage to the opposite side, whether Palestinian or Jordanian. Only Israel stood to benefit from this autonomy, and it could thus never serve as a basis for mutual agreement. According to the signed agreements, the autonomous administration would replace the military government, yet the single source of authority would remain the military government. This was an obvious contradiction. The autonomy plan could probably not be saved, unless two changes were made: first, the elected authority would have to receive all authority, except that relating to foreign affairs and security; and second, the military government could not serve as the final source of authority, but this subject rather would be negotiated by all the involved parties.

The Alignment proposed a territorial compromise. This had its advantages, for it would remove over a million Palestinians from Israeli control; and it would guarantee certain security zones, in the Jordan Valley, the Etzion Bloc, and Jerusalem, which would preserve Israel’s vital security interests. Unfortunately, this plan had little chance for realization, for it was based on an Israeli demand for perpetual sovereignty over a third or fourth of the West Bank. Where one would find an Arab party willing to sign an agreement which would transfer formally these areas to Israeli sovereignty for eternity?

Then there was the unilateral autonomy plan of Moshe Dayan. Dayan was prepared to drop the idea of a territorial compromise, because no Arab would accept it, but by the same logic, his unilateral autonomy plan could be rejected, for Bassam Shak’a and his like, who were to receive this unilaterally conferred authority, had unequivocally rejected it. Dayan’s plan meant that the Israeli military would remain the final source of authority, and would insists that Shak’a and Khalaf dance to the Israeli tune heard, admittedly, from a distance, but heard well.

What did these three plans share in common? They demanded eternal Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank of parts thereof, a point no Arab party could agree to. But in Sarid’s opinion Israel’s vital security interests could be maintained without any such sovereignty, and Israel could so pronounce publicly, announcing a willingness to return, in principle, to the 1967 borders. At the same time, to guarantee her security, Israel could demand an exclusive military presence on the West Bank, characterized by three features:

  1. It would be intended for advance warning, not internal security.
  2. It would be confined to specific strategic points.
  3. It would be limited in time.

If Israel concentrated her negotiating efforts on this last point, it would be possible to preserve such an Israeli military presence for twenty or twenty-five years.

The merits of this plan were two-fold. First, both sides could claim it as a victory. Palestinians could legitimately claim that Israeli plans to annex the territories had been foiled, that Israel had returned to the 1967 borders. Israelis could point out that they were still in security strongholds, and in no immediate danger. Second, such a plan would win wide support from the United states and the European community, whereas other plans had no support even among Israel’s closest friends. And it was even possible that a wide Arab coalition joining Iraq, Saudi Arabis, and Egypt, with wide international support, would bring Jordan to the negotiating table and a settlement.

At the same time, maintained Sarid, the continued military presence would be acceptable to the other side. A civilian presence by nature was permanent, but the military was here one day, there the next, all in accordance with orders. In contrast to a civilian presence, a military presence carried none of the connotations of sovereignty. Nor did the restriction of Israel’s presence to a military one damage Israel’s security interests; on the contrary, the civilian settlements represented a considerable burden on military forces which, in time of crisis, would be distracted from their principal task by the need to defend or evacuate civilian settlements.

And twenty years later? If all went well and the situation improved markedly, there would no longer be a need for an Israeli military presence. If the political situation did not evolve favorably, then Israel could decide on the future of the military presence as circumstances dictated.

If, unlike in the Camp David talks where Israel demanded all and was left with nothing, Israel attempted to assure the modest goals outline here, there was a good chance for success. For in this limited presence, one found all that was essential for the security of Israel.

Moshe Dayan began by attempting to isolate the core of the Jewish-Arab conflict. The Arab component was divisible into two parts: the first, consisting of the neighboring Arab states and the administered territories, and the second, the scattered Arab refugees. As to the second part, Dayan saw no solution for them but absorption in the various Arab states that had the territory, money, and employment opportunities necessary for the task. They could not return to their original homes, for these homes were not in Nablus or Gaza but in places which were now part of Israel proper. This was not to say that a solution to the refugee problem did not belong to a final settlement; but the solution to the problem of the refugees could only be supported on broad international shoulders, as part of an effort which included the Arab states that would have to absorb them.

As to the neighboring states, Dayan agreed with Sarid that the treaty with Egypt, without a sequel, would deteriorate; and the Egyptians, for their part, had spoken from the outset of a “comprehensive peace”. Yet this fearsome phrase could be reduced to a manageable scale. It was not essential to include Lebanon, for Lebanon was no longer independent, and in any case Israel had no territorial dispute with Lebanon. Syria was not a candidate for negotiations, and even at Camp David, when the American and Egyptians spoke about a “comprehensive peace”, they did not mean to include Syria. This left Jordan and the administered territories; but in fact there was no dispute with Jordan per so, only a dispute over the territories to the west of Jordan. What this boiled down to was that “comprehensive peace” meant a settlement of the issue of Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza.

The problem, however, was that the Palestinian Arabs in these territories were also unwilling to sign any agreement, aside from one in which Israel would evacuate those territories in return for little more than a receipt. There were no Palestinian Arabs who would settle for less, who would sign away territory for perpetuity. Not even Sadat was prepared to do that. The lesson of thirty years’ experience was that no Arab leader would put his signature to a territorial concession. Israel was thus faced with the fact that the Palestinian Arabs were unwilling to negotiate and sign. They wanted nothing short of a Palestinian state led by the PLO, a withdrawal of the IDF, and the dismantlement of the settlements. To these demands Dayan was unprepared to agree: Jerusalem, the settlements, and the Israeli military presence, were essential Israeli interests. What Dayan thus proposed was a unilateral step: the abolition of the military government, and the withdrawal of Israel from the day-to-day affairs of the territories, all the while preserving Israel’s essential interests. There was no reason why Israel should not leave education, health, and a host of other functions to the inhabitants of these areas. To those critics who asked who were the Palestinians prepared to accept such unilaterally conferred autonomy, Dayan replied that the “open bridges” policy at the Jordan River crossings was a successful example of precisely the same sort of unilateral step. Israel had seen the need for open bridges, but negotiations on this question had not been possible. This being the case, Israel acted alone, and as the step answered a real need, it met with cooperation on the other side. From his own conversations with leading Palestinian Arabs in the territories, Dayan was convinced that they wanted to conduct their own affairs while maintaining ties with Israel, ties unencumbered by barriers. It was thus his belief that there existed a reservoir of support for his plan, and unilateral autonomy had the advantage that its Arab supporters did not have to come forward and sign a written agreement. Dayan’s vision of the future of the territories was one in which autonomous Jewish settlements would look to Israel and autonomous Arab settlements to whomsoever they wished, a strictly pragmatic and feasible arrangement.

Dayan turned to the criticism directed at the peace treaty with Egypt, an agreement in the conclusion of which he had played a part. It had been said that the Likud government had conducted negotiations incompetently. But had any government before it conducted any negotiation with an Arab party successfully? Dayan knew, from his own experience, that all such attempts had failed, and revealed that the late Yigal Allon, as foreign minister, had in fact talked with Jordanian representatives about the possibility of an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Jericho, with the idea that such a concession would lead to wider agreement between the two states. The initiative failed. Then came the opportunity to negotiate with Egypt for peace. Dayan had been criticized for once having said that Sharm al-Shaykh without peace was preferable to peace without Sharm al-Shaykh, and then having turned around and negotiated the return of Sharm al-Shaykh and Yamit, his own creation. But Dayan reminded the audience that immediately following the Six Day War, he had called for the return of all territories for a negotiated peace. That peace had posed a choice to Israel: it would have been preferable to keep the settlements, but at Camp David it became clear that their retention would have prevented any agreement. And the choice which was finally made received the approval of the Alignment as well, on the floor of the Knesset.