Lions or Lambs?


Beneath the radar screen, amidst the horrific news coming out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where suicide bombers have struck with unprecedented fury, JTA reported that President Barack Obama commemorated the 15th anniversary of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Earlier this year, the 30th anniversary of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was marked in a similarly low-key fashion.


While the acts of murderous Al Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah grab most of the headlines, the achievements of peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors get scant attention.

In marking the Jordan-Israel peace treaty anniversary, Obama said, “As we honor this historic event, we remember that peace is always possible despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The courage of King Hussein and Prime Minister (Yitzhak) Rabin demonstrated that a commitment to communication, cooperation and genuine reconciliation can help change the course of history. Today we honor the foresight of these leaders who stared down the past’s doubters and stood together in the interest of common progress.”

Obama’s words are on target, and we can use the examples of the Egypt-Israel and Jordan-Israel treaties as a model for attaining peace among Israel, Palestinians and other Middle East nations. What the Egyptian and Jordanian pacts had in common were two key elements: Arab leaders with the courage to make concessions to achieve peace, and involvement by American Presidents — Jimmy Carter in the case of the 1979 Egypt pact and Bill Clinton in the case of the 1994 Jordan treaty.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who succeeded the fiery nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser as president, decided in 1977 to offer to go to Jerusalem and address the Israeli Knesset as a first step toward peace. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a founder of the “hard-line” Likud Party, immediately offered a formal invitation, and Sadat did indeed travel to Israel. Carter then took on the daunting challenge of meeting non-stop with both leaders at Camp David to hammer out the final text of the treaty. Thanks to Carter’s persistence and the willingness of Sadat and Begin to be true statesmen, the treaty was achieved.

Similarly, in the case of Jordan, King Hussein, who had met in secret many times with Israeli leaders, had the courage to embrace peace with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on the heels of the Oslo Accords the year before. Clinton played a key role in bringing the two leaders together to finalize the treaty, which was signed on the Israel-Jordan border on Oct. 26, 1994.

Clinton attempted to repeat history in July 2000, when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to Camp David for marathon talks aimed at an Israeli-Palestinian treaty. Despite the best efforts of both Clinton and Barak, and a plan which would recognized an independent Palestinian state with shared administration of Jerusalem, Arafat not only stormed out of the talks, but went back to Ramallah and organized, funded and fomented the infamous “Second Intifada” in which 1,000 Israelis and 2,500 Palestinians died over a four-year period.

To be sure, the Egypt-Israel and Jordan-Israel treaties have been denounced by hardline detractors as examples of a “Cold Peace.” While the two treaties have not achieve the kind of peace that exists between the United States and Canada or even that between France and Germany, a “Cold Peace” in which there have been no combat deaths among the treaty signers since they came into effect is far preferable to a “Hot War.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Begin’s Likud Party, affirmed the role of strong leadership in the quest for peace. “If we can have a Palestinian equivalent to Sadat or Hussein, we can reach an agreement. If we have another Arafat, we will not.” Arafat’s successor as Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, may or may not have the political strength to achieve peace, but he at least must consider which face he brings to the table: Will he emulate Sadat and Hussein and seek compromise to achieve an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, or will he passively allow the continuation of terrorism and bloodshed?

It will take the courage, leadership and persistence of Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama and their supporting casts to find threads of hope and discard past failed efforts. Will they succeed? We will have to await the judgment of history.