Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Insider's View of Peace Negotiations: Principles Sometimes Change

Last week we published a collection of documents pertaining to Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, which eventually led to the signing of a peace accord between Egypt and Israel. Serious students of international diplomacy as well as anyone who wishes to understand the dynamics of such negotiations are urged to read the entire publication, and to read as many of the documents as possible (many are in Hebrew, but some are in English).

We're assuming, however, that the readers of this blog may not all be eager to spend many hours on one single topic, preferring smaller bites of history. Which is why we've already offered two smaller packages, and here's a third.

Begin and the Likud party won the election in May 1977, and entered government in June. President Carter invited Begin to the White House almost immediately, and thus began a whirlwind of diplomacy at the highest levels towards convening an international peace conference in Geneva. Ultimately nothing came of this, since Egypt and Israel instead set out on their own bilateral negotiations, but of course the contemporary actors couldn't have known this. One of the last documents we've published regarding these preliminary negotiations is a letter from Israeli foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to American Secretary of state Cyrus Vance on September 2nd 1977. In his letter, Dayan spelled out the principles which would guide Israel in the upcoming negotiations. (It's in English, of course.)
(a) Any settlement should take fully into account the need to ensure Israel's security.

(b) The right of Israel to unimpeded freedom of navigation and overflight through and over the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba should be ensured. For this purpose Israel will retain territorial control over Sharm-el Sheikh and the Tiran Straits, including territorial continuity to Eilat

(c) In order to maintain the security of its southern areas, the outer limits of Israel's territorial control from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba should run west of the previous international boundary, in such a manner as to incorporate an area on the Mediterranean Coast south of the Gaza Strip.
(d) West of the area under Israeli control there shall be as part of the security arrangements, continuous buffer zones, demilitarized zones, and areas of limited armamament and forces.

(e) Subject to these principles, and bearing in mind the means of implementation outlined above, Israel would be prepared in the context of a Peace Treaty, for substantial withdrawal of its forces from the existing line in the Sinai Peninsula.
What happened in the end? Not what Dayan had said. Egypt demanded a full withdrawal from the entire Sinai, with no border adjustments whatsoever and certainly no territorial strips hundreds of miles long to be transferred to Israel; on the other hand, the Egyptians offered a more comprehensive peace than Israel had apparently been expecting, including guarantees of unimpeded Israeli shipping to Eilat and, more significantly, Israeli use of the Suez Canal which effectively lessened the need for the port in Eilat at all, since Haifa and Ashdod could receive ships from Asia. Egypt also agreed to a separate peace with Israel. Given these structural modifications of the reality, Israel changed its fundamental assumptions, the principles of its negotiating stance, and agreement became possible.


  1. Keep up the great work! Thank you for your efforts.

  2. One of the biggest errors was not defining autonomy, making it much easier to define it later to our disadvantage (and with our complicity).