Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed a peace deal in 1979. The agreement, marked by a handshake, has resulted in more than 40 years of peace between Middle East neighbors Israel and Egypt.
That peace agreement has held up through two Palestinian uprisings and several wars between Israel and Hamas. But the Egyptian government is threatening to suspend the agreement as Israel plans to send troops into Rafah, a city in Gaza on the border with Egypt.
Israel-Egypt peace treaty
In 1977, Begin, Israel’s new prime minister was opposed to giving back any land captured by Israel 10 years earlier in the 1967 war. Those lands included Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt and Israel had fought four major wars, most recently in 1973. However, Egypt’s Sadat broke with other Arab leaders and decided to talk with the Israelis. The talks resulted in the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and a peace treaty the following year.
Under the peace treaty, Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai, which Egypt would leave demilitarized. Israeli ships were granted passage through the Suez Canal, an important trade pathway. The countries established full diplomatic relations. It was Israel’s first peace agreement with an Arab country since the country’s establishment in 1948.
Paige Alexander is head of the Carter Center. She said, “The Camp David Accords were led by three brave men who took a bold stance because they knew the lasting effects for peace and security, both then and for the future. We need the same kind of leadership today, and that is currently lacking.”
What is Egypt’s position?
On Sunday, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat told The Associated Press that Egypt might suspend the peace treaty if Israeli troops enter Rafah.
Last October, Hamas launched a surprise attack from the Palestinian territory of Gaza into southern Israel. The terrorist group killed more than 1,200 people and took more than 150 hostages including Americans.
Israel answered with airstrikes and ground attacks in Gaza. The Palestinian-controlled health ministry reported in February that 28,000 people have been killed in more than four months of fighting. The number, which is not confirmed, includes both civilians and militants.
Israel says Rafah is the last area under Hamas control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said sending ground troops into Rafah is needed to defeat the group.
However, Egypt opposes any move that could send desperate Palestinians fleeing across the border into its territory. Rafah serves as the main entry point into Gaza for humanitarian aid. An Israeli attack could prevent deliveries of supplies to Palestinians in Gaza.
Rafah’s population has expanded from 280,000 people to an estimated 1.4 million as Palestinians flee fighting in other parts of Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of those evacuees are now living in tents.
Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli military to prepare a plan to evacuate all Palestinian civilians before the offensive starts. But it is unclear where they will go.
Netanyahu said Sunday that Palestinians would be able to return to open spaces in northern Gaza. But those areas have been badly damaged by the Israeli offensive.
What happens if the peace treaty ends?
The treaty between Egypt and Israel limits the number of troops on both sides of the border. The countries, however, have agreed in the past to make changes to deal with security threats.
In addition to Gaza, Israel has engaged in regular exchanges of weapons fire with the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon. Israeli forces are also deployed in the occupied West Bank.
If Egypt were to end the agreement, Israel would have to deploy more troops to protect its southern border with Egypt.
Such a move, however, would affect Egypt as well.
Since the peace agreement, Egypt has received billions of dollars in military assistance from the U.S. If the agreement is ended, it could threaten that aid while Egypt’s economy is struggling.
The war between Hamas and Israel has already spread to the Red Sea where Yemen’s Houthi rebels regularly attack commercial shipping.
In Jordan, militants, supported by Iran, struck an American position with a drone last month killing three U.S. service members. The U.S. answered with several major strikes against militants in Iraq and Syria.
Alexander from the Carter Center said any step that could draw Egypt into the hostilities “would be catastrophic for the entire region.”
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Julia Frankel reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
bold –adj. unafraid, willing to do something that is difficult
delivery –n. the act of taking something to a person or group that requested it
evacuee –n. a person who has been evacuated from a place, meaning they have been moved for their safety because of a dangerous situation
engage –v. to be involved in a process that requires action and attention
commercial –adj. related to trade and business activity with an aim to make a profit
drone –n. a vehicle that operates without a human pilot onboard often an aircraft or boat
catastrophic –adj. disastrous, something that is extremely bad
region –n. an area of the Earth that is know for certain qualities such as its geological, geographical, or political boundaries