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Egypt Opens Embassy in Tel Aviv, 1980

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

On This Day in Jewish History: February 21, 1980

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On this day, 1980, diplomats arrived in Tel Aviv to open the first Egyptian embassy in Israel. This marked a substantial development in relations between Israel and the rest of the nations in the Middle East, and it had been years in the making. In 1978, Egypt became the first Arab nation to sign an official agreement with Israel. That agreement was negotiated in secret at Camp David (the country retreat designated for the president of the United States), and hence became known as the Camp David Accords. The goal of the Accords was to create a framework for stabilizing Israeli-Arab relations, and they were moderately successful at doing so. Israel agreed to turn over control of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and to negotiate with Palestinians in the West Bank, while Egypt agreed to officially recognize Israel. However, more contentious issues related to control of Jerusalem were left out of the dealings. Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s President at the time the Camp David Accords were negotiated, had a history of making antisemitic remarks and actions which was not limited to spying for the Germans in World War II. This made his desire for peace surprising. (Of course, his peaceful intentions were likely buffered by a realization that it would be easier for Egypt to regain the territory lost in the Six Day War through diplomacy than through launching another attack. Additionally, in 1977, Israel had informed Sadat of a planned assassination attempt led by Libyan dictator Mu'ammar Al-Qadhdhāfī.) Likewise, in Israel, the Likud party—which was generally less willing to make territorial concessions—was in power at the time of the negotiations, making their success even more surprising. Eventually, on February 19, 1980, the first Israeli embassy located in an Arab state formally opened in Cairo. Normalization of relations continued from there, though scholars have described the calm as a “cold peace,” rather than the two nations being close allies. Israeli ambassadors were eventually temporarily recalled from their Cairo embassy after a group of protestors attempted to break into the embassy in 2011. Since President Sadat was assassinated in 1981, which was not long after Egyptian-Israeli relations warmed, there were concerns among Israelis that tensions with Egypt would rise again. Fortunately, Hosni Mubarak (Sadat’s successor) upheld the treaties, and when Mubarak was ousted from presidency in 2011, his successors also indicated that they would maintain relations with Israel. In 2020, following Egypt’s precedent, four Arab nations - Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco - also agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

Sources:

https://mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/mfadocuments/yearbook4/pages/highlights%20of%20main%20events%201979-1980.aspx?ViewMode=Print https://www.jstor.org/stable/41857678?seq=1 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14603812 https://www.history.com/topics/middle-east/camp-david-accords https://www.npr.org/2020/12/10/945033413/morocco-becomes-latest-arab-country-to-normalize-ties-with-israel

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