The Egyptian-Israeli peace process offers a model for a Middle East peace process that has a better chance at succeeding. Such a process requires motivated leaders, direct bilateral negotiations, and negotiators who possess sufficient authority to speak for their leaders. Unless all three elements are present, it could be more difficult for the parties to accommodate one another's core interests. Without such accommodation, agreement is not possible.
The experience from the negotiations that followed the Camp David Accords of 1978 provides some important lessons that are relevant to any successful peace process concerning the longstanding Arab-Israeli dispute. The leaders' motivations, their negotiating tactics, and the authority of their negotiators are essential to accommodating a successful outcome. Throughout the process, various risks or emergent issues would need to be addressed if a successful outcome is to be realized.
On September 17, 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, with mediation from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, agreed to a framework that provided upon completion of a peace treaty, "normal relations will be established between Egypt and Israel, including full recognition, including diplomatic, economic and cultural relations; termination of economic boycotts and barriers to the free movement of goods and people; and mutual protection of citizens by the due process of law." Separately, the parties committed themselves to completing the peace treaty by December 17, 1978. Following a period of sometimes difficult negotiations and a breakdown in the process, a treaty was signed on March 26, 1979.
Three factors played an important role in ensuring the successful completion of the Egyptian-Israeli peace process. First, the Egyptian and Israeli leaders were sufficiently motivated to allow them to sustain their efforts even during periods of great difficulty. Second, the negotiations were conducted in a direct and bilateral fashion. Third, the negotiators had the capacity to speak for their respective leaders.
Following his unexpected electoral victory, Israel's Prime Minister Begin expressed his aspiration to be a peacemaker. Upon taking office, he explained to confidants, "I must bring peace to my people." It did not matter that his predecessors had failed in this quest. He was determined to somehow bring about peace. He believed that he could if the opportunity were available.
His Egyptian counterpart was at least as determined to pursue peace. Although Egypt had regained a measure of pride following the 1973 War, the demands of maintaining a wartime footing was breeding worsening poverty in Egypt. By 1977, large-scale riots were occurring in parts of Egypt. President Sadat also came to believe that his Presidency could not last without Egypt's regaining the Sinai Peninsula and, following the 1973 War, he understood that only peace could bring about that outcome.
Once the two men undertook the peace process and had concluded the Camp David Accords, the pressure on them to succeed had grown. They had "developed an ultimate personal stake in what had became their joint venture," The New York Times explained, adding that having established such a stake, failure "would have destroyed the future of them all." The combination of personal aspirations, a personal stake in the outcome of the negotiations, and the realization of vital national goals provided the foundation of the kind of motivation that was essential to breeding and sustaining the flexibility and commitment necessary to overcome the challenges that arose on the path to peace.
Early on, both leaders chose to conduct direct bilateral negotiations as opposed to an international conference or some other internationally-created approach. "Direct confrontation is the nearest and most successful method to reach a clear objective," Sadat told the Knesset in his historic November 1977 address that kicked off the start of the peace process. Sadat rejected the idea of a Geneva conference that would have brought a larger number of players and issues into the mix and thereby made the possibility of achieving peace more complex and more unlikely. In other words, the larger the number of parties and the larger the number of issues, the more likely it is that something could go wrong.
"[M]odern diplomatic history contains no successes in the settlement of long-term political conflicts by mediation that seeks to replace direct discourse," Israel's former Foreign Minister Abba Eban explained. Later, as it turned out, the world received a glimpse of what might have resulted from an international approach as the United Nations General Assembly repeatedly ignored the progress made in the Camp David Accords and often denounced Egypt's pursuit of negotiations with Israel. There, the environment grew so hostile that Andrew Young, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations complained that the UN was only hindering the pursuit of peace.
In the days leading up to President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, President Sadat appointed Hassan el-Tohamy, his closest ally, to represent him in laying the groundwork for the visit, while Prime Minister Begin appointed his foreign minister Moshe Dayan. Both men had the authority to speak for their leaders. This capacity facilitated the process, as their agreement on issues was all but binding. Later, negotiations mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance floundered precisely because the Egyptian and Israeli representatives lacked the necessary negotiating authority to conclude an agreement. In addition, it is sometimes necessary for the parties to negotiate at the highest levels.
The same principle also holds true for those playing a mediation role. The final breakthrough that led to the historic peace agreement occurred on account of President Carter's personal diplomacy. He traveled to the Middle East to break a negotiating impasse, stressed the importance of compromise on the sticking points, and told both President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin that he would leave region if the necessary concessions were not made. With the finality of the President's decision setting in, both parties gave ground and reached agreement. That agreement still holds today.