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Cold Peace
The history of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accords of 1979 and their legacy today.
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2009 12:22

Thirty years ago, on March 26, 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to officially recognise Israel by signing a peace treaty.

In two special hour-long documentaries Al Jazeera charts the history of this accord, the controversy it sparked at the time and its continued viability in the light of events such as the recent war in Gaza.

Going it Alone

Watch part two                                  Watch part three                                     Watch part four

History was made in Washington DC on March 29, 1979 when, in the presence of the US president Jimmy Carter, president Anwar Sadat of Egypt and prime minister Menachem Begin of Israel signed a peace treaty - the first ever between an Arab country and the state of Israel.

But despite two sworn enemies making peace after 30 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, the deal signed in the garden of the White House was far from perfect.

"It left a lot of things unresolved," says William Quandt, a member of the US National Security Council, who was involved closely in the negotiations.

"Had it been possible to get a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement at that time I would have felt much happier and I would have been able to say 30 years later I am proud of what was achieved."

With the bilateral treaty Egypt recovered its land occupied by Israel, but many felt it had betrayed the Arab cause.

"We were trying to involve the Palestinians and Jordanians and other countries in the peace process," says Boutros Ghali, the former Egyptian foreign minister.

"Because we know quite well that there will not be real peace between Egypt and Israel without a solution of the Palestinian problem."

Agreeing to peace proved a long and difficult process. A process that at times broke down over some of the region's most sensitive issues, which remain unresolved to this day.

Testing Times

Watch part two                                   Watch part three                                Watch part four  

In March 1979, Anwar Sadat, the then Egyptian president, and Menachem Begin, the then Israeli prime minister, ended over 30 years of war between their two countries by signing a peace treaty.

The treaty they signed still holds to this day but sustaining peace between the two countries has proved as difficult as the arduous negotiations that preceded it.

Sadat paid the ultimate price - on October 6, 1981 he was assassinated by Islamists who, during their trial, claimed they had killed their president because of his role in the peace deal.

Begin attended the Cairo funeral of his partner in peace, as did three former US presidents and numerous other leaders and dignitaries from the West.

In contrast, there were hardly any Arab leaders in attendance and the Soviet Union did not send a delegation.

The event highlighted Egypt's new political orientation - close to the West but distanced from the Arab world.

With Sadat dead, questions arose over whether the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty would expire with him.

This episode of Cold Peace, Testing Times, recounts how the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty has been put to the test in the years since its signing in March 1979.

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