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Modifying the Egypt-Israel peace treaty

January 25, 2014 at 12:25 am

The question of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was raised after the Eilat incident and its aftermath when six Egyptian border police were killed by Israel. In response to public opinion, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces had to consider whether or not to cancel the treaty, or amend it in the light of the events on the border between the two countries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also announced that his country was ready to discuss amending the treaty.

Generally opposed to any amendments in the past, when Israel needed to increase the number of its troops in areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip it sought separate agreement not amendment. Appendix I of the treaty concerns the “protocol on the withdrawal of Israel and security arrangements”.

So it was on this occasion that the issue of the treaty and a possible amendment was raised but didn’t really get any further than the demonstrators’ slogans and commentators’ articles. It was not discussed seriously by the Egyptian and Israeli authorities.

Statements by Israeli officials about being ready to discuss amendments to the treaty push researchers to discuss the options, and perhaps submit proposals to guide officials in negotiations. That is natural, as parties to discussions seek to get the best deal for themselves.

It is therefore worth exploring the motives of each party to amend the treaty, and understand the rules and bases upon which to build amendments; the potential demands of each party and how to achieve them; and the possibility of amendments being made.

Motives for requesting treaty amendments

Both parties have motives parties to amend the treaty, although the Egyptians’ are stronger than the Israelis’. The treaty, after all, was weighted in Israel’s favour in the first place.

Israeli motives might include the desire to absorb the fury of the Egyptian public who want the treaty cancelled. That would be a great loss for Israel because it has been through the treaty that Egypt has more or less been taken out of the equation in the Arab-Israel conflict, at least militarily. Any acceptance by Israel that the treaty could be amended reduces public pressure, as does the fact that negotiations would be protracted. In any case, Israel would not agree to anything that does not serve its own interests; it would end negotiations if necessary.

A change to the terms of the treaty could help the Egyptian authorities to control the Sinai Peninsula and prevent smuggling through the tunnels from Sinai to Gaza. The authorities would also have more control over Egypt’s border with Israel to prevent infiltration by Egyptians or Palestinians and increasing numbers of illegal immigrants from Africa seeking a better life in the Zionist state.

By approving an increase in Egyptian forces in Sinai, Israel could transform the conflict between itself and Egypt to a struggle between the Egyptian people and their government, or between Palestinians and Egyptian soldiers. In other words, if it agrees to a calculated increase in Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula, Israel can turn the conflict into an all-Arab affair.

Egyptian motives to amend the treaty with Israel are obvious; any objective reading of the treaty’s text will reveal the current imbalance and pro-Israel bias. The treaty limits Egypt in time and space; it takes priority over all other treaties; and it ensures that no future treaty can affect it any way. Thus, the amendment of the treaty can either correct this imbalance or at least reduce the disparity so as to improve Egypt’s strategic position.

Rules for modifying the treaty

The rules for amending Egypt’s treaty with Israel are found in the provisions of the treaty itself. Article VIII states that any disputes arising from the application or interpretation of the treaty are to be resolved through negotiations; what cannot be settled by negotiation is to be resolved through conciliation or arbitration. Article IX, meanwhile, stipulates the formation of a committee to settle problems for financial demands.

Here it must be noted that the text speaks of a dispute arising from the application and interpretation of the text, and not the text itself, in the sense that Israel can argue that the amendments should not affect the provisions of the treaty but address its application and interpretation only. That would limit the possibilities for any amendments. Any response from Israel is therefore likely to come after long negotiations within very narrow limits.

Conciliation and arbitration would require the consent of both parties but advance planning is required to ensure that Israel will be put under pressure to comply with the results, even if it does so reluctantly.

Potential requests of the parties

It is expected that the Israelis would demand greater police numbers and an increase in its options in the border region, notably the use of helicopters. Perhaps there would be calls for security cooperation between Israeli officers and their Egyptian counterparts, possibly with US involvement. Israel could also propose the establishment of a tripartite Egyptian-Israeli-American committee for cooperation on security in Sinai with, in return, the Egyptian authorities undertaking to prevent smuggling to and from the Gaza Strip.

Potential demands by the Egyptians range from a change in the content of Annex I regarding the withdrawal of Israeli forces and security arrangements to changing the underlying philosophy of the treaty which allows only Israel to be able to return at any time to conditions as they existed prior to the signing of the treaty. This is code for Israel’s reoccupation of the Sinai before Egyptian troops can get into position. The treaty as it stands also ensures that Egypt is dependent on Israel and the United States making it unlikely that Cairo will contemplate any proactive steps.

Egypt’s demands would also be likely to include the amendment of Article II of the treaty, paragraph (a) concerning respect for territorial sovereignty and integrity and political independence of the other party. An amendment could stipulate that Israel’s borders are defined and recognised (they aren’t at the moment) in agreement with all of its neighbours.

It is important for the treaty to be given a time limit of, say, 25 years, and not be timeless, leaving both parties with the right to extend or terminate it. This would bring it in line with other international treaties so that the choice for each party won’t rest between continuing with what they may feel are extremely unfair conditions, or war.

Article IV needs to be amended as it concerns security arrangements; it provides for areas wherein Egypt and Israel will have limited armed forces as per Annex I and Annex II to the map. In reality the treaty identified three security zones in Egypt and one, misleadingly, inside the occupied Palestine territories, which has no tactical or strategic impact for Egypt. Changes must redress that imbalance in terms of the number of forces and the geographical and topographical situation.

The underlying philosophy of the treaty necessitates the abolition of Article VI, especially the fifth paragraph, which as it stands means that Egypt has to stand idly by in any dispute between Israel and countries of strategic importance to Cairo, such as other Arab countries or those in the Nile basin. This article is arguably the most damaging for Egypt as it means that in the event of any conflict of interests the obligations arising from the treaty are binding and have precedence over all others.

Finally, Article IX of the Treaty provides that all protocols, annexes and maps attached are an integral part of the treaty, except the letters annexed to the treaty referring to peace with other Arab countries, especially the Palestinians. This must be amended.

Towards an Arab and Egyptian strategy

If the above are general demands without any details at present, then all aspects must be looked into as from now, without waiting for any formal Israeli response, so that the flesh can be put on the arguments and discussions. This will place Egypt in a more commanding position but it will take time, hence the urgency about starting the process from now. The need to discuss the increase in Egyptian forces in Sinai, although a partial aspect of the overall treaty amendment talks, would not be compromised by such a move. It is a case of giving priority where necessary and desirable while maintaining an overview that has a long-term strategic value.

*The author is a retired Egyptian army officer and security expert. This article was translated from the Arabic version published by Al Jazeera, 12 October 2011

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.