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Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty Signed, 1979

On This Day in Jewish History: March 26, 1979

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Two fierce warriors, sworn enemies to the bitter end, shake hands and forge lasting peace that would change the Middle East forever. Of course we’re talking about the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty which was signed on this day in 1979. The two warriors being Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, who was the infamous leader of the Irgun and was wanted by the British government dead or alive, whose own parents and brother were murdered in the Holocaust, and Anwar Sadat the President of Egypt who launched the Yom Kippur War against Israel, supported Yasser Arafat and the PLO and once even referred to Hitler as an inspiring role model. The two couldn’t be more polar opposites and both were so extreme that no one expected them to suddenly make a 180 degree turn and sign a peace treaty that would set a precedent for future peace deals between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries today. Who would have known, that Egypt and Israel, two arch enemies literally since Biblical times, would be working together today to mediate negotiations with the Palestinian community, fighting terrorism together. But the historic miracle didn’t simply happen over night, it took years of intense, and often frustrating negotiations between Sadat and Begin, mediated by then US President Jimmy Carter. Since Israel was reborn in 1948, then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser vowed to drive the Jews into the sea, he tried twice both in 1948 and in 1967, and failed miserably. When he suddenly died in 1970, his general Anwar Sadat became the new president of Egypt, doing everything he could to shelter and support Yasser Arafat and the PLO and launching a coordinated surprise attack with Syria against Israel, which started the the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel on the other hand, ended up claiming territory during the Six Day War from the Golan Heights in the north to the entire Sinai peninsula in the south. Begin, who had sworn not to give up an inch of land to the Arabs, shocked the world when he agreed to sacrifice the Sinai in exchange for a peace treaty with Israel. The two rivals, however, shared a lot in common that most people tend to overlook. Sadat was a devout Muslim and Begin was a devout Jew, both men were devoted to their religions. Both men had been fighting soldiers and leaders of their respective underground resistance forces against the same occupational colonial power that was the British Empire. During the late 1940s, about the time Begin and the Irgun were busy trying to oust the British from Eretz Tzion (Land of Zion), Sadat was heading his own resistance in Egypt going as far as conspiring with the Nazis to undermine British colonial rule in Egypt. Sadat, together with Gamal Abdel Nasser established the Underground Free Officers movement using brutal terror tactics against British targets. Begin was, after all, a lawyer by trade, and had a reputation as a tough negotiator examining the fine print and every detail before signing his name to anything. Sadat was more straightforward and to the point, thinking Begin was stalling the later negotiations for some ulterior motive. The year 1977 was full of pleasant surprises, it was the year Israel’s founding Labor Party lost control of the Knesset and Menachem Begin and the Likud won. Many people were stunned by the dramatic shift from a left to right wing government, but imagine the more dramatic surprise when Begin announced an invitation for peaceful negotiations with all Arab countries? Sadat, who used the Yom Kippur War as a means of strengthening Egypt’s political power regardless of winning or losing, shocked his audience, among whom was PLO Chairman Yaser Arafat himself, when Sadat announced he would be willing to visit Jerusalem for peace talks with Begin. Begin extended a reply of invitation. On November 19, 1977, Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel, even speaking about peace in a televised speech in the Knesset. Israelis were full of hope and joy, this was a truly historic moment for both them and the people of Egypt. Meanwhile in the United States, President Jimmy Carter was eager to mediate between the two powers and work out a lucrative solution. The negotiations went on for over 2 years, and the process wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Begin the negotiator was extremely detail oriented, trying to make Carter and Sadat understand Israel’s security concerns. Sadat wanted the Sinai back in Egypt’s control, but Begin was concerned due to Egypt’s repeated history of attacking Israel from the peninsula. After much deliberation and sacrificing Israeli settlements in the Sinai, Begin decided that peace was worth it. Sadat agreed to accept the Sinai and in exchange he would not push Israel regarding the Palestinian issue in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank). The two sides finally came to a mutual agreement. Many in the Arab world, especially Palestinians, felt Sadat had sold them out for his own national agenda. It was in this critical moment that the Arab-Israeli conflict became known as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The transition wasn’t easy either, many Israelis had to be forcefully evicted from their properties and as a result, Begin lost much of his political support. There were televised scenes of intense clashes between civilians and the IDF. In an address to his nation, Menachem Begin attempted to comfort his people, speaking perhaps the most eloquent words the controversial leader ever spoke. “We are fighting for peace today, and we are blessed to have reached this point. Indeed there are victims of peace, there is pain and there are victims in peace, but they are all preferable to victims of war.” Both leaders were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and in 1979 they met on the White House lawns where Jimmy Carter sat between Sadat and Begin as they shook hands and signed the peace treaty. In a moving ceremony Begin and Sadat met in El-Arish in the Sinai peninsula as Israeli and Egyptian troops saluted each other in peace, lowering the Israeli flag and raising the Egyptian flag. It was a game changing moment in Middle East and world history, and Egypt would sadly pay the price. Just two years later in October of 1981, Anwar Sadat was sadly assassinated while attending a military parade, gunned down by one of his own soldiers. Egypt itself had been expelled from the Arab League, which ironically it helped establish in the first place. Although the country rejoined the League in 1981, the damage had been done, and the country had lost a leader who was willing to sacrifice everything to make peace with an arch rival. Even so, the Egyptian government maintains peaceful relations with Israel to this day, mediating negotiations between Israel and Palestinian factions, and even helping Israel fight ISIS and other terror threats in the Sinai Peninsula. There is another story behind the scenes, about the Egyptian spy who made these negotiations possible, Ashraf Marwan, whose story was turned into a hit film that can be seen on Netflix, titled, “The Angel.” The Egypt Israel Peace Treaty paved the way for the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty in 1994, and the historic Abraham Accords in 2020.

Resources:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Abraham+Accords&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKEwjtjPaLsanvAhUOtlMKHRpZC6sQ2-cCegQIABAA&oq=Abraham+Accords&gs_lcp=CgNpbWcQAzICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgIIADICCAAyAggAMgQIABAYMgQIABAYOgQIABBDOgUIABCxAzoHCAAQsQMQQ1D6-AJYnZUDYLiWA2gAcAB4AIAB2AGIAesJkgEGMTQuMC4xmAEAoAEBqgELZ3dzLXdpei1pbWfAAQE&sclient=img&ei=ZaZKYK3GC47szgKasq3YCg&bih=789&biw=1440&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS914US914#imgrc=gpxjyKEoo3jiBM&imgdii=NwS4wvbZSfox5M My Sources: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We6FLWq86Jk&t=28s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egypt%E2%80%93Israel_peace_treaty https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/israel-and-egypt-make-peace Trivia Questions: In what year did Egypt and Israel sign the peace treaty? What did Israel give up in exchange for peace?

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