PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST — FOR A WHILE?
The 13-day Camp David Mideast Summit ended late Sunday evening, September 17, with a dramatic and largely unexpected announcement of the signing of two important agreements by Israel and Egypt. The first agreement, called "A Framework For Peace in the Middle East at Camp David," sets forth an interim arrangement for limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and partial Israeli military withdrawal from those areas over the next five years. It is viewed as a potential basis for long-sought peace treaties between Israel and her Arab neighbors.
The second Camp David agreement provides for the signing of a formal bilateral peace treaty between Egypt and Israel within three months, along with Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai within a year. Once these two terms are met, this second agreement calls for the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two principal Mideast protagonists.
At a White House news conference immediately following the conclusion of the summit, President Carter declared that the negotiations had been successful "far beyond any expectations," representing a "substantial achievement" toward Mideast peace. One commentator termed the outcome "a minor miracle." Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin likened the Camp David settlement to the Congress of Vienna which redrew the map of Europe in 1815 after the Napoleanic Wars and lasted until the eve of World War I. Both Mr. Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt praised Mr. Carter for his tireless mediary role in the talks — an effort which, as had been hoped, should serve to boost his sagging popularity among the American populace.
Observers caution, however, that the fate of the Middle East will not be decided solely on the strength of the optimistic declarations and euphoria of Camp David. As Carter himself admitted: "The questions that have brought warfare and bitterness to the Mideast for the last 30 years will not be settled overnight."
The question of Israeli settlements in the Sinai, for example, was not fully resolved at Camp David. Egypt asserts they must be dismantled and removed as a prerequisite to the bilateral peace treaty; Israel states that the issue should be resolved during the peace negotiations. Begin faces a tough time selling the dismantling of the Sinai settlements to the Israeli Knesset.
Even more difficult to resolve, however, will be the issue of the ultimate fate of the West Bank. The two key issues here involve the political future of the Palestinians and what is to become of over sixty Israeli settlements located there after the 5-year transition period.
Observers are hopeful that Sadat will be able to enlist the support (at least tacitly) of the moderate states of Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Camp David deals — though even their backing is by no means certain. A major effort will be made by both sides to bring the government of Jordan into full negotiations over the future of the West Bank. Jordan's participation is deemed so critical to the entire West Bank transition period that the first treaty specifically states, as one of its objectives: "To conclude a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan by the end of the transitional period."
An even bigger problem will be convincing more radical states such as Syria and Iraq to participate in the plan. They view any separate Israeli-Egyptian peace pact as a "betrayal", of the Arab cause by Sadat, and the transitional West Bank agreement as totally unacceptable.
It goes without saying that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was insensed by the Camp David deals. Months ago, following Sadat's Jerusalem visit, Palestinian radicals declared that the signing of any such deals by Sadat would, in effect, be the signing of his own death warrant. Security around the Egyptian president is certain to be tighter than ever in the wake of Camp David.
The Camp David documents, which are only now being released in detail, will be studied and analyzed for weeks to come. What is obvious at first glance is the determined effort on the part of Israel and Egypt to continue, despite their differences, the historic initiative launched 10 months ago with President Sadat's visit to Israel.
The agreements are also careful to avoid raising obstacles on other matters which obviously could not have even been approached at this time. For example, there is no specific reference to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights region, or to the future of East (formerly Jordanian) Jerusalem.
The agreements also do not mention what may have been the major American contribution to the Israeli willingness to agree to cede control of the Sinai back to Egypt. On this point, Mr. Begin told reporters the day after the Camp David conference ended that the United States agreed to build two new air bases for Israel in the Negev Desert to compensate for the bases it will give up in the Sinai under the Camp David Middle East agreement. Mr. Begin said the Negev air bases would be located just a few miles from the international border line marking Israel's original frontier and will be of equivalent strategic value to the bases being surrendered in the Sinai.
According to former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who made numerous trips to the Middle East in search of a peace agreement during the Nixon and Ford administrations, the Camp David advances are so great that the situation in the region has changed for the better, no matter what happens in the corning months.
"Everything in the Middle East has a fragile quality, but this is a major achievement," Kissinger said on NBC's "Today" program. He said Carter "deserves the gratitude of the American people and the gratitude of the world."
What is clear now is this: if both Israel and Egypt are able to live up to the terms of the agreement, if Mr. Begin is supported by his own parliament, especially over the volatile Sinai settlements issue, if Jordan supports the new initiative, if Saudi Arabia lends its tacit support, and if President Sadat miraculously escapes an assassin's bullet, we could see peace — or rather. a state of "non-war" (except for bloody guerrilla attacks) — in the Mideast for the next five years at least.
A key factor, unseen by all the parties involved — Egypt, Israel and the United States — is the Work that God may yet want to accomplish in Israel and the Middle East!
But in the meantime it would also pay us well to note the admonition given in I Thessalonians 5:3 — "For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them."
— Gene Hogberg, News Bureau