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Israel

Still no peace, four decades after Camp David deal

US President Donald Trump alongside Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony to sign a proclamation recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
US President Donald Trump alongside Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony to sign a proclamation recognising Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Forty years ago, three presidents, Jimmy Carter of the US, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel, signed the Camp David accords, bringing decades of hostilities between Jerusalem and Cairo to an end. But regional peace remains a distant prospect.

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“Everybody is very happy because Israeli control over the Golan Heights is part of a large consensus in Israel,” says Ephraim Inbar, political scientist with Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University, commenting on US President Donald Trump’s latest diplomatic efforts.

In fact, far from everybody is happy. Saudi Arabia for once agreed with Iran in denouncing the move, while Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the move may bring the region “to the edge of a new crisis”.

Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981. The UN Security Council issued Resolution 497 after the annexation and has since refered to Israel as "the occupying power," saying that Israel's attempt to "impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect."

“It is a unilateral decision from Trump,” says an angry Maria Sadeh, a one-time member of the Syrian parliament in Damascus, who was contacted by RFI for a reaction.

“The UN Security Council decided a long time ago that the Golan is under the domination of Israel. So it is not that President Trump can decide to what country this land belongs. It’s been ours for a long time,” she says.

Bombs and rockets

The Golan issue coincided with yet another spat of violence between Israel and the Palestinians when the Israeli Defense Forces reacted with bombardments against a Palestinian rocket attack from the Palestinian territories in the Gaza Strip.

The rocket landed in the village of Mishmeret some 25 kilometers north of Tel Aviv on Monday morning.

It was the furthest distance a rocket has penetrated into Israel since the 2014 war fought between Israel and Hamas. It wounded seven people, including a 7-year-old girl.

Egyptian intervention

Interestingly, the two warring parties agreed to a ceasefire after the intervention of Egypt, which convinced the Palestinian Hamas party in Gaza to stop fighting.

Without the 1979 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, such an intervention might not have been possible.

“The importance of Camp David is that for the first time, Israel signed with a major protagonist, the biggest country in the Middle East, a peace agreement, ending the state of war,” says Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University in London.

“It achieved an end to hostilities, an end to war between the countries.

“What it didn’t achieve is a warm peace. Militarily, politically, strategically, both countries cooperate.”

“But it is not a warm peace in the sense that there is a vibrant relation between the societies, tourism, trade, culture.”

This is still waiting to happen.

But will it ever?

Innocence in politics

“Forty years later, it seems 1979 it was almost an innocence in politics,” says Mekelberg. Carter’s conviction that peace was possible made him to “almost lock up” Sadat and Begin in Camp David, and “extending the influence of the US” until an accord was signed.

Today is different. “Policies are first announced on Twitter before being signed into a presidential proclamation,” says Mekelberg, calling the process “not helpful. None of them are thoughtful, and none of them look at the long-term implications,” he says.

He points out that, in the 1990s, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad and, before him, with his father Hafez Al-Assed, in attempts to have “peace for territory” arrangements, in the spirit of the Camp David agreements with Egypt.

But today, with a divided Syria that Israel sees as a ‘vassal state’ of its arch enemy Iran, this seems to be an impossible dream.

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