For the first thirty-one years of its existence, since its inception in 1948 and until it signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, Israel was in a state of war or belligerence with all of its neighbors. It had fought numerous wars and countless skirmishes with them, and their rejection of its very existence seemed non-negotiable. So it was with a sense of euphoria that Israel finally signed a peace treaty with its most formidable foe, Egypt. Fifteen years later, in 1994, a second peace treaty followed, this time with Israel’s neighbor to the east, The Kingdom of Jordan.
Formally, a state of peace now exists between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan. Certainly, some of the trappings of peace exist. There are embassies of Jordan and Egypt in Tel Aviv, and Israel maintains embassies in Cairo and Amman. One may travel between the countries. There are certain commercial ties, and, to an extent, military cooperation. But is there really peace between Israel and its two formally-former enemies?
Some, especially those pushing for Israel to withdraw from territories it acquired in the Six Day War in the hope of signing even more peace treaties, say there is. To prove it, they point to some of the facts I’d written above. But I don’t believe there is true peace between Israel and Egypt, nor between Israel and Jordan. There is a peace treaty, but there is no peace.
What is the distinction?
Well, a peace treaty is an agreement. While peace is a state of mind, of behavior, of what is acceptable and thinkable. If one has peace one doesn’t require a peace treaty. But if one has a peace treaty, one does not necessarily have peace.
For instance, Norway and Israel have never signed a peace treaty, but they do have peace. Any politician, in either country, who would suggest going to war with the other would be laughed at. He or she might see their career come to a screeching halt. Now, it is true that Norway and Israel have never fought any wars, do not share a border, nor do they have any conflicting claims over land or resources. So using them to illustrate my point may not have been the best choice.
All right. Let us choose two other countries, countries which have a long and bloody history of conflict, but which today enjoy peaceful relations: France and Britain.
The rivalry between these two nations spanned centuries. In fact, one of the wars they fought is called The Hundred Years’ War. On more than one occasion, France and Britain signed treaties to end their wars, only to see them flare up again over one pretext or another. They had peace treaties, but they did not have peace.
For a long time, even while the two countries maintained trade and diplomatic relations, they conspired against each other. Each sought to snatch from the other land and wealth and resources. War was not unthinkable; it was assumed. It was not a question of if, but of when. Even after they jointly defeated Germany in the First World War, did the tensions between France and Britain not dissipate. This explains the eagerness with which certain French politicians, once they were defeated by Germany in 1940, were eager to turn on Great Britain.
War between France and Britain was thinkable and assumed, even when they had peace treaties. But today it is not. Today France and Britain are military allies–both being members of NATO–and trade, cultural exchange, and tourism flourishes between the two countries. No one needs to point to a peace treaty to claim they have peace. It is simply there, plainly visible. It does not require the buttress of any treaty.
Is this the case with Israel and its neighbors, Egypt and Jordan?
The clear and indisputable answer is No.
The public sentiment of Egyptians and Jordanians toward Israel is highly negative. Many consider it to still be an enemy nation. Israelis regularly visit Egypt and Jordan, but reciprocal tourism barely exists. There is no exchange of students between universities, due to Arab rejectionism. Cultural exchange is a whisper above non-existent. A publisher in Egypt who translates an Israeli novel to Arabic will face a harsh, perhaps violent, backlash. Journalists from Egypt and Jordan rarely visit Israel, even when they report on it. Even professional curiosity is held in disdain. In fact, a journalist who breaks this taboo might find himself expelled from journalism organizations in Egypt, or perhaps even fired from his position. In the Rio Olympics, a Judo fight between an Israeli and Egyptian athlete ended with the latter refusing to shake the hand of the former.
The dislike toward Israel extends also to the political sphere.
Egyptian and Jordanian politicians regularly vow to tear up the peace treaties with Israel and to resume a state of belligerence with it. The parliament in Jordan does not renounce terror attacks against Israelis and recently observed a moment of silence when one such attack culminated in the death of the terrorist. There are regular calls on the King of Jordan to sever ties with Israel. A member of parliament in Egypt who publicly met with Israel’s Ambassador to Egypt was expelled from parliament by his peers. When an Egyptian minister was photographed during a meeting with Israel’s PM Netanyahu, he received a torrent of abuse and recriminations on social media.
In the United Nations, Egypt and Jordan not only support virtually every anti-Israeli resolution, they frequently sponsor them. Recently, in UNESCO, Egypt supported a resolution which disregarded the historical and religious ties between the Temple Mount and Jews. This is not how peaceful nations behave toward each other.
Peace is not an accurate description of the relations Israel has with Egypt and Jordan. A more apt term would be “long term ceasefire”. It is a condition in which, while they have an interest to do so, Egypt and Jordan continue to maintain formal peace with Israel. But, if and when they sense that Israel has become weak, or that they could withstand the international fallout breaking their treaties would bring, they would pounce on it. Which is why there is frequent worry about the durability of these peace treaties. They have nothing but transient interests at their foundation. No change in conception and attitude has occurred. Egyptians and Jordanians still, by and large, long for Israel’s destruction.
This does not mean that signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan was a mistake on Israel’s part. It has enjoyed various benefits from these treaties. For one, these is some intrinsic value to a formal treaty. It’s not much of a value, history has shown, and it cannot be counted upon, but it still exists. There is also the more tangible benefit of military and intelligence cooperation, even though it is provided only when it suits Jordan’s and Egypt’s interests, not out of true friendship. And there are financial benefits.
But none of these benefits mean that true peace exists. It does not, nor does it seem to be imminent.
What this means for the future is open to discussion. But it is a fact that must be taken into account when weighing Israel’s options as it pursues more peaceful relations with its other neighbors, such as Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority, and more distant Arab countries. Because, unfortunately, it is unlikely that any peace treaty with these countries or entities would lead to true peace as well.