The Arab-Israeli conflict, initiated over one-hundred years ago and still continuing, has confounded both policy-makers and citizens; despite the best efforts of foreign leaders, only one substantial accord has materialized in the decades of negotiations: the Israel-Egypt peace treaty of 1979. Foreign policy can’t be viewed in a vacuum; rather, each country must be viewed as a nation with legitimate historical and political aspirations. When evaluating foreign policy, there are two methods of analysis: one is to concentrate on the output and documents produced by working backwards, deducing the intents of the various leaders from the end result; the other method is to focus on the politics of decision making, viewing foreign policy as a result of individual political aims. The first approach focuses on the primary sources, while the other concentrates on the parties themselves. In this paper, I will give a comprehensive background of Israel-Egypt relations, and utilize the two forms of analyses to deduce what the goals of each party were at the time the treaty was signed, and use the lens of hindsight to evaluate whether their goals were met.
The dispute over the territory called Palestine began relatively recently. Palestinian Arabs had lived as impoverished peasants under corrupt, continuous Ottoman rule for centuries; political identification as a Palestinian within the broad current of Arab nationalism only began at the beginning of the 20th century, as living conditions in Palestine slowly began to improve. Meanwhile, Zionists had been organizing small but steady waves of immigration into Palestine as early as 1882. Arab resentment toward the Zionists emerged due to economic and political concerns: the local Palestinian populations were justifiably afraid that the Jewish population would monopolize trade or provide unwanted economic competition, while the Arab nationalists were anxious that Zionism not interfere with their own political aspirations.
Egypt, in contrast to Palestine, was the leader of the Arab world. In the 1800s, Egypt, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali, began a campaign of “defensive modernization”; that is, an importation of military and economic principles of the West in an effort to rejuvenate the Arab world and its culture. The khedives (rulers) who succeeded Ali continued his campaign of modernization by constructing new facilities; the Suez Canal, an important position in trade between Europe and the Far East, was constructed in 1869. However, this modernization invited the imperialism that Egypt sought to avoid; in 1883, Egypt became a “veiled protectorate” (an unofficial colonial dependency), and on the eve of World War I, a formal British protectorate was established until the Egyptian Revolution of 1952.
During the War, Britain issued three conflicting statements with regard to Palestine: the McMahon letters, the Sykes-Picot agreement, and the Balfour Declaration, the various explanations of Britain’s strategic motives in the region, however, did nothing to ease Palestinian fears of renewed imperialism. Indeed, their fears were justified; Britain, acting under the authority of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, established a mandate in Palestine. The years leading up until 1948 were marked by riots and subsequent commissions of inquiry, the most notable being the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan.
Currents of Egyptian nationalism emerged as a response to the perceived disadvantages of colonialism and the widespread criticism of the inept and corrupt regime in Egypt. Some of these currents played on popular anti-Zionist tendencies; Egypt’s historically excellent relations with Palestine were ruptured by the Zionist presence. These currents resulted in a deposition of the corrupt and inept Wafd regime; on “Black Saturday”, January 26, 1952, large-scale rioting broke out in Cairo, and a