Egypt's Road to Jerusalem: A Diplomat's Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East

By L, Shawn | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Egypt's Road to Jerusalem: A Diplomat's Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East


L, Shawn, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Egypt's Road to Jerusalem: A Diplomat's Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East

Egypt's Road To Jerusalem is an insider's view of the first Arab-Israeli "peace process" from the perspective of a participant in those historic negotiations. Written by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who later became secretary-general of the United Nations, it begins with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's decision in October 1977 to deliver a speech before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem. Sadat's controversial initiative started Egypt's rapprochement with Israel that culminated eventually with the signing of the first Arab-Israeli peace agreement -- the Camp David accords. Egypt's Road to Jerusalem continues through the tumultuous four years that followed Sadat's speech, ending with his assassination on Oct. 6, 1981 by Egyptian militants opposed to Arab-Israeli peace.

From an academic post at Cairo University, Boutros-Ghali entered the maelstrom of international politics as a minister of state just prior to the most difficult period of international diplomacy in the history of modern Egypt. Based on more than a thousand diary pages written by Boutros-Ghali during the four years that followed, Egypt's Road to Jerusalem sheds light on Sadat's motives for the Camp David accords and illustrates the way in which international reaction to Camp David from the Arab world, members of the Non-Aligned Movement, the Western powers and the Soviet Union complicated Egyptian-Israeli peace efforts. It also provides valuable insights into Israel's negotiating tactics with the Arabs as relevant today as they were during the Camp David negotiations.

Sadat's motives for negotiating with Israel are clear from Boutros-Ghali's descriptions of numerous encounters with the Egyptian president. Sadat wanted Sinai returned to Egypt. His concern for Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza, at the time occupied by Israel for a decade, was clearly secondary. By entering into negotiations with Israel to fulfil his primary objective, Sadat broke ranks with the Arab League policy forbidding bilateral negotiations with Israel and set the stage for an Egyptian crisis with the Arab world.

In Sadat's opinion, however, none of that mattered. Following a briefing by an exasperated Boutros-Ghali, Sadat opined: "I do not wish to underestimate the magnitude of the problems and the worries that Egyptian diplomacy is facing. But all these problems and the worries pale in comparison with this land we have regained. They are not worth one square meter of this land, which we have regained without spilling the blood of my children. Boutros, I don't want to belittle the efforts you are making, but I assure you that a square meter of this Egyptian land is far more important than your diplomatic difficulties. I am not afraid of condemnations. I am not afraid of countries severing diplomatic relations with us. And I am not afraid of the provocation and trivia of the Arab countries" (pg. 282). After hearing President Sadat's remarks the ever-skeptical Boutros-Ghali admitted that "when the meeting was over, I was fully convinced by Sadat's argument [that] the political isolation would end after a while, but the regained land would remain forever ours" (pg. 282).

Egypt's negotiations with Israel, however, did not progress rapidly or easily. Boutros-Ghali describes several difficult rounds of negotiations in Egypt, Israel and the United States. During each session it was clear that only Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had real authority to make decisions. …

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