Thirty years ago, on March 26, 1979, the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed at the White House in Washington D.C.
Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat shook the hand of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and, under the patronage of US President Jimmy Carter, a new era began in the Middle East. Even today, the peace treaty is considered a watershed event in the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, opening the gateway to peace between Israel and the Arab world, and ushering in a new agenda of diplomatic relations in the region.
The signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was a result of the courage shown by two leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stretched out his hand in peace, and Egyptian President Sadat accepted it in a gesture that put the years of war behind him. President Sadat visited Israel on November 19, 1977, and addressed the Knesset. The open-armed reception and hearty applause by both the Israeli government and public were harbingers of a relationship that has known more years of peace than of conflict and strife. Both countries have benefited from their ability to cooperate and to engage in open dialogue.
Today, thanks to the vision of the Israeli and Egyptian leaders, the two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues, meeting in joint committees on various matters. The Joint Military Committee holds regular meetings to coordinate military-defense issues, thus ensuring continual communication between the armies. The Joint Economic Committee meets to promote economic-trade cooperation between the two countries. Especially productive is the field of agricultural cooperation under the Joint Agricultural Committee which meets twice a year. Since its inception in 1981, it has been responsible for the initiation of hundreds of agricultural projects, with the goal of continuously improving the agricultural knowledge and capabilities of the two countries. To date, this cooperation has produced dozens of joint agricultural farms and joint agricultural training programs, for which thousands of Egyptian agricultural trainees have come to Israel. In 2007, approximately 200 Egyptian farmers underwent training on various subjects in Israel.
The Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) agreement plays an important role in the bilateral relationship of the two countries. Signed in 2004, the agreement permits Egyptian companies using Israeli agricultural products tax-free exports to the United States. This advanced form of cooperation constitutes a successful model for emulation within the framework of the bilateral relationship. The mutual trade between the two countries in 2008 amounted to 271 million dollars, as opposed to only 59 million dollars in 2004, the year prior to the signing of the agreement - an increase of over 450%.
Another important and central element in the bilateral economic relationship is the Gas Agreement. Valued at US$ 2.5 billion over a 15-year period, this huge contract was signed in 2005 between the Israel Electric Company and the Egyptian East Mediterranean Gas Co. (EMG)
Other areas of bilateral cooperation, albeit somewhat limited, are the areas of tourism, transportation, communications and health.
The Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty has proven its value in political issues as well, on both the bilateral and the regional levels. Despite some difficulties, the peace between Israel and Egypt has proved to be solid and stable, demonstrating the preeminence of the desire for peace which exists in both peoples, as well as the strategic value for both countries. The current peaceful relations constitute the basic reality for all regional political developments, and represent a supportive and contributory factor in the continuation of the Middle East peace process in general and with the Palestinians in particular. Within the framework of the bilateral relations, there is an ongoing dialogue between Egypt and Israel on various issues, including problematical and sensitive matters. The regularity of meetings between the leaders of the two nations is high, and the discussions focus on both bilateral relations and the promotion of the Middle East peace process.
Despite the solid foundations of Israeli-Egyptian relations, there are still many goals to be achieved. The primary objective is building stronger bonds of mutual understanding and tolerance between the two peoples, fostering a broader cultural dialogue, and the development of a culture of peace.
Israel yearns to see the peace with Egypt become a vibrant, prolific peace in all fields. It is our hope that the two nations will dedicate the coming years to achieving that goal.
* * * *
A conference entitled "Thirty Years Since the Peace Treaty Between Israel and Egypt" - sponsored by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs - will be held on Wednesday, March 25, on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among those addressing the conference are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and U.S Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham.
Dan Pattir, media advisor to former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a member of the Israeli team that negotiated with Egypt, who will speak on "Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, 1979: Peace Makers and the Public Dimension," and Meier Rosenne, former legal advisor to the Israel Foreign Ministry and former ambassador to the U.S. and France, who will speak on "Camp David From a Personal Perspective."
Moshe Arad, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Yasser Reda, Egyptian ambassador to Israel, and Shalom Cohen, Israeli ambassador to Egypt will address the subject of "The Israeli-Egyptian Peace: From Theory to Practice."
Prof. Eli Podeh of the Truman Institute will speak on "Normal Relations Without Normalization" and Prof. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, head of the program for conflict resolution at the Hebrew University, will speak on "Israeli-Egyptian Peace: Stable Peace?"
* * * *
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem has opened a new exhibition, Echoes of Egypt, offering a rare glimpse into a time and place where the Western world first began to discover the magnificence of Egypt. This is the first exhibition of its kind to be displayed in Israel.
The exhibition Echoes of Egypt sheds light on the first accurate images to be captured and disseminated to the west of this and many other of Egypt's unforgettable monuments. The exhibition presents the works of leading artists, cartographers and photographers and their impressions of the great monuments and daily life from the mid-16th to the 19th centuries.
Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs