The signature of the peace treaty
On 8 November, Egypt and Israel formally announced an amendment to the peace treaty they signed on 26 March 1979. It is the first time the treaty has been amended. “In a coordinating meeting, a joint [Egyptian and Israeli] military committee succeeded in amending the security agreement to increase the number and capacities of the border guards in the border area in Rafah,” said Egyptian Armed Forces Spokesman Colonel Gharib Abdel-Hafez. He explained that the development was part of Egypt’s efforts to safeguard national security which necessitated tightening security along the northeastern border.
The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty comprises eight articles. Paragraph 4 of the Article 4 states “the security arrangements provided for in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this article may at the request of either Party be reviewed and amended by mutual agreement of the Parties”, a provision that reflects the acceptance at the time that the agreement needed to allow a degree of flexibility in the face of changing circumstances.
Egypt has succeeded in undermining the terrorist environment in Sinai and controlling the borders by destroying cross-border tunnels. This required exceptional troop deployments, measures that Israel questioned under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The agreement sanctioning a larger Egyptian troop presence in Rafah signals greater Israeli understanding of Egypt’s security requirements under Netanyahu’s successor, Naftali Bennett. This understanding is reflected not just in the provision allowing for higher troop levels in the area, but in the provision pertaining to the equipment permitted. Previously, the Israeli government had opposed qualitative improvements to the capacities of the forces deployed there, which could only carry personal weapons.
The changes underline the importance of the agreement as a mechanism for maintaining the Egyptian-Israeli peace. As the agreement states, amending it requires agreement by both sides.
The amendment highlights Egypt’s ability to interact effectively with Israel within a framework that serves the interests of both sides. The treaty was signed in 1979, when Menachem Begin, a staunch hardliner, was prime minister of Israel. President Anwar Al-Sadat, nonetheless, succeeded in securing Egypt’s interests through the accord which provided for Israeli withdrawal from the rest of Sinai and the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the peninsula, strategically changing the situation in favour of Egypt.
The same applies today. The Bennet government could well be the most right-wing government Israel has ever had. Yet Egypt has once again negotiated from a position of strength and won a strategic victory. Egypt has mounted a successful counter-terrorist operation in Sinai and is simultaneously pursuing major development projects in the peninsula. Further strengthening Cairo’s hand is Egypt’s ability to communicate effectively with Israel and the Palestinian factions, giving it a unique mediating capacity that allowed Cairo to negotiate an end to the fourth Gaza war earlier this year.
The amendment has set a precedent for an approach that could be developed further if necessary. Although Egyptian forces in the border strip have been increased before (by 750 troops: 250 active, 250 on leave rotations, 250 in the camps), this occurred under the Salaheddin Passage, or Philadelphi Corridor, agreement. Israel had long refused to amend the original peace treaty itself.
The signing of the amendment to the Camp David accord coincides with two critical events. The first is the lifting of the state of emergency in Egypt. The spread of terrorism in Sinai was one of the main reasons for imposing the state of emergency. Lifting it is a gauge of the success in restoring security in Sinai in general, and in Rafah and the border area in particular. The new arrangements will help safeguard this progress. For years the area had seen the infiltration of terrorist elements from Gaza into Sinai through the border tunnels which at one point numbered close to 3,000 as cross-border infiltration and smuggling operations increased sharply under Islamist rule in Egypt.
The second event was the Egyptian-US Strategic Dialogue that took place in Washington last week, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken heading their countries’ delegations. One achievement of the dialogue is that it reaffirmed Washington’s crucial role in the peace treaty.
The stability of the treaty not only reflects the relationship between its parties, it encompasses much of the Palestinian question. The Egyptian mediated ceasefire to the fourth Gaza war opened the doors to the reconstruction drive in Gaza which could, in turn, provide greater leverage to press for a long-term truce between Israel and Palestine.
Egypt has also been closely involved in successful prisoner exchange negotiations, and mediated the prisoner exchange deal that secured the release of the Israeli POW Gilad Shalit. The added value of all these developments is that they combine to bolster Egypt’s role in propelling — with Washington’s help — the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume the peace process.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly