In September 1978, Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin signed the Camp David Accords, following four Arab-Israeli wars in which Egypt had provided the overwhelming military force that threatened the existence of Israel.
The Egyptian Parliament and the Israeli Knesset overwhelmingly approved the agreement, which called for honouring all aspects of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. One of its key provisions was the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security.” The accords called for the withdrawal of Israeli military and political forces from the occupied territories and the granting of “full autonomy” to the Palestinians.
Six months later, a peace treaty between the two nations was adopted, which provided for Israeli withdrawal from the Egyptian Sinai, Israel’s use of the Suez Canal and full diplomatic relations.
Since then, the terms of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel have prevailed, but the key provisions of the Camp David Accords have been ignored. Following the death of Sadat, President Hosni Mubarak did not press for Palestinian rights, though most of the Egyptian people have continued to insist that Israel honor these commitments. The primary subject of concern is the continued occupation by Israel of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the building of Israeli settlements on confiscated Palestinian land.
President Barack Obama acknowledged the centrality of this issue in a major speech in Cairo in March 2009, when he called for a freeze on all settlement activity. Later, in May 2009, President Obama declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war – adjusted to account for some Israeli settlements near Jerusalem – should be the basis of a peace agreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected both proposals, continued building settlements, and raised unacceptable new demands for a permanent military presence in the Jordan River valley and recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” (about 25 percent of Israeli citizens are non-Jewish).
The US has basically withdrawn from active participation in the peace process. The Palestinians and other Arabs have interpreted US policy as acquiescing on the occupation and biased against them.
Declaring that they are left with no alternative, Palestinians plan to request recognition of a Palestinian state later this month in the UN Security Council and General Assembly. In Egypt, militants have overrun the Israeli embassy and forced the evacuation of the ambassador.
With the reasonable assumptions that Palestinian statehood is widely recognised despite a US veto in the Security Council, what are the options for the future?
With leadership from Europe, there will be an opportunity for the United States and other members of the International Quartet (Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) to put forward a comprehensive peace proposal based on the fully compatible US official policy, previous UN resolutions and the Quartet’s previous demands. There is little doubt that the Arab Peace Proposal could be modified to comply.
This can be followed by the full engagement of the United States and/or the United Nations in a mediation effort with direct or indirect talks – whichever is more effective – between Israel and the Palestinians. Subsequently, the same approach can be taken to resolve the issue of the Golan Heights with Syria.
The Palestinians will have to refrain from violence, accept Israel’s right to exist in peace within the 1967 borders (modified through negotiations with land swaps), a long-term presence of either UN or NATO peacekeeping forces within Palestine, and the right of return of its people to its own lands (with perhaps a token number to Israel). Israelis would, in the process, accept the same borders and peacekeeping presence.
The result can lead to peace for Israel and all its neighbours. The United States would regain its leadership role in the region, based on its commitment to freedom, democracy and justice, and a major cause of widespread animosity toward America within the Arab world would be eliminated.
The alternative to this new international effort will be an expansion of hopelessness, animosity, and probable violence.
Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States, is founder of the Carter Center, which works to advance peace and health worldwide.