On this date in 1979, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty at the White House, after many months of diplomacy by Jimmy Carter. The treaty ended the state of war that had existed between Israel and Egypt since 1948, brought mutual recognition of each (Egypt was the first Arab country to recognize Israel formally), returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and assured unhindered passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal while recognizing certain other waterways as international. “Side letters” of understanding between Israel and Egypt concerning Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza were largely ignored or interpreted differently by the three countries. Another “side letter” committed the U.S. to billions of dollars worth of annual subsidies and military aid to both Egypt and Israel. Begin and Sadat shared the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for the Camp David Accords, which preceded the formal treaty by seven months. (Carter would be awarded the Peace Prize in 2002.) Sadat’s openness to peace with Israel brought enmity and condemnation from the Arab world, which suspended Egypt from the Arab League for ten years, and led to Sadat’s assassination in 1981.
“Today, as we seek to expand the circle of peace among Arabs and Israelis, we take inspiration from what Israel and Egypt achieved three decades ago, knowing that the destination is worthy of the struggle.” —Barack Obama, March 26, 2009