On 13 September, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the historic handshake between Yasser Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the lawn of the White House, while former US president Bill Clinton was looking on.
For the first time since the bloody struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the leaders of the two people had held, in this handshake, the dreams and aspirations of untold millions of Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis for a peace that had long eluded the world.
In the same vein, last Monday, 17 September, was the 40th anniversary of the Camp David Accords, signed at the White House in 1978.
The accords were the first official “peace” documents to be signed by the president of Egypt and an Israeli prime minister since 1948, the year Israel was established.
From 1948 till the October War of 1973, Egypt and Israel had fought five wars and, at long last, the world was close to a peace treaty between the two major Middle Eastern powers.
The treaty was signed six months later on 26 March 1979, at the White House, with former US president Jimmy Carter as witness.
The world had believed that a permanent, comprehensive and just peace was at hand, driven by the United States as the “honest broker”.
Late president Anwar Al-Sadat signed for Egypt, and Menachem Begin, the former Israeli prime minister, signed on behalf of Israel.
As an Egyptian diplomat who witnessed the signing ceremony of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979, and followed closely the implementation (or rather the non-implementation of the Oslo Accords), I feel entitled, today, to question once more the founding illusions of the peace quest between the Arabs, the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Who is to blame for the non-fulfilment of the peace promises of Camp David and Oslo? Was the Arab side, including the Egyptians and the Palestinians, led step by step, in the context of an American-Israeli strategy, to recognise Israel, normalise their relations with it, without securing their national rights or the withdrawal of Israel from Arab territories occupied in the June War of 1967? It is a legitimate question today, with all the talk coming of the Trump White House of the “deal of the century” that would seal this peace, long sought after and long promised, between two people who have been fighting for the same land for a century since the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917.
The gap between the White House of Jimmy Carter (1979), a Democrat, the White House of Bill Clinton (1993), a Democrat, and the Trump White House could not be greater when it comes to the fundamentals of peace between the Arabs and the Israelis.
The two former US administrations based their peace efforts on UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967.
The preamble to this resolution speaks on the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by force, and accordingly called for the withdrawal of Israel from the territories it had usurped from the Arabs in the June War.
The resolution encapsulated the “land for peace” formula that has been the cornerstone of what has become to be known as the “peace process”, it being understood that East Jerusalem has always been considered, under international law, occupied territory.
The Madrid Conference of October 1991, the Oslo Accords, the Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty of October 1994, the “roadmap” of 2003 (under the Republican administration of former US President George W Bush), and the two-state solution that the Security Council adopted unanimously in 2003, had been not only based but inspired by this famous land-for peace formula.
Neither the Trump White House, nor the present Israeli government, described by former secretary of state John Kerry in December 2016 as the most extreme right-wing government in the history of Israel, abide by the UN terms of reference for the peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, on the one hand, and the Palestinian-Israeli question, on the other.
On the contrary, they are orchestrating the liquidation of the Palestinian cause as well as enabling Israel to annex most parts of the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights.
In other words, the Trump White House is an accomplice in the final chapter of the Zionist dream of “Greater Israel”.
For Egypt, the Palestinians and the Arabs it is the hour of reckoning instead of celebration.
I doubt if the late president Sadat could have ever imagined when he signed the Camp David Accords on 17 September 1978, and the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty on 26 March 1979, that four decades later his grand peace vision would be scuttled deliberately and viciously by the very party with whom he signed for an honourable peace for future generations of Egyptians, Palestinians, Arabs and Israelis. I dare say that his vision was not shared by the Israelis from day one.
We are witness to a new uncertain chapter in the course of the Arab-Israeli conflict with all the destabilising consequences for all parties concerned, including the Israelis, who will never succeed in imposing their “peace-for-peace” formula on the Arabs and the Palestinians. The earlier they realise this, the better for the Middle East.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: From Camp David to Oslo and now