The Camp David Accords

Jordan Table of Contents

During the spring of 1977, the international climate strongly supported some type of superpower-sanctioned settlement to the Arab-Israeli dispute. Newly elected United States president Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Brezhnev advocated a comprehensive ArabIsraeli settlement that would include autonomy for the Palestinians. On October 1, 1977, in preparation for a reconvened Geneva Conference, the United States and the Soviet Union issued a joint statement committing themselves to a comprehensive settlement incorporating all parties concerned and all questions. The proposed summit, however, was preempted by events in Egypt.

Jordan, like the rest of the Arab states, was taken by surprise by President Sadat's decision to travel to Jerusalem in November 1977. Hussein, however, muted his criticism of the Egyptian president's historic trip and called on the Arab states to reserve judgment. The king feared that an outright rejection of the Egyptian initative might provoke an alienated Sadat to seek a separate agreement with Israel. He also saw many positive elements in Sadat's opening statement to the Knesset, such as his rejection of a separate settlement to the Palestinian problem, his emphasis on the need to find a solution to the Palestinian problem, the recognition of Jordan's special relationship with the West Bank, and the proposal to incorporate Jordan, rather than the PLO, into the peace process.

Despite his enthusiasm for Sadat's speech, Hussein was reluctant to join the Egyptian-Israeli peace process. He feared that by joining the negotiations he would isolate Jordan in the Arab world, incur Syria's wrath, and potentially destabilize Palestinians on the East Bank with little possibility for Jordanian gains. Moreover, Hussein did not want to represent Palestinian interests at such negotiations unless he had a clear Arab and Palestinian mandate to do so.

The final version of the Camp David Accords signed by Egyptian president Sadat, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and United States president Carter separated the issues of the future of the West Bank and the return of Sinai. Whereas the sections dealing with the return of Sinai were very explicit, the sections on the West Bank were vague and open to various interpretations. They called for Egypt, Israel, and "the representatives of the Palestinian people to negotiate about the future of the West Bank and Gaza." A five-year period of "transitional autonomy" was called for "to ensure a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority." The agreement also called for peace talks between Israel and its other Arab neighbors, particularly Syria.

The Camp David Accords fell far short of meeting even Jordan's minimal demands. Hussein expressed anger that Jordan was included in the Camp David framework without his prior knowledge or approval. He viewed the division of the accords into two agreements with no linkage between Israel's withdrawal from Sinai and progress on the Palestinian issue as a sign that Sadat was more interested in regaining Sinai than in brokering a viable peace settlement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hussein was further alienated from the Camp David peace process because Israel refused to negotiate over East Jerusalem, insisted on its rights to establish settlements in the occupied territories, and reserved the right to demand sovereignty over those areas at the end of the transition period.

Following the signing of the Camp David Accords, Jordan accepted an Iraqi invitation--accompanied by a US$30 million Iraqi grant--to attend the Baghdad Conference. The summit conference's decision to allot to Jordan the relatively large sum of US$1.25 billion per year helped keep Jordan in the Arab fold. At the Baghdad Conference held in November 1978, the Arab states unequivocally rejected the Camp David Accords and officially ostracized Egypt from the Arab League.

Jordanian-Egyptian relations deteriorated even further after the signing of the Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel in March 1979. The Israeli government's limited view of Palestinian autonomy became apparent shortly after the peace treaty was signed. In April the Begin government approved two new settlements between Ram Allah and Nabulus, established civilian regional councils for the Jewish settlements in the territories, and prepared autonomy plans in which Israel would keep exclusive control over the West Bank's water, communications, roads, public order, and immigration into the territories. The acceleration of settlements, the growth of an increasingly militaristic Jewish settler movement, and Israel's stated desire to retain complete control over resources in the territories precluded the participation in the peace process of either moderate Palestinians, such as the newly formed National Guidance Committee composed of West Bank mayors, or of Hussein. The PLO refused from the beginning to participate in the peace process.

In response, the Jordanian government recalled its ambassador from Cairo on March 28 and on April 1 it severed diplomatic relations with Egypt. Not all ties were broken, however; the Jordanian and Egyptian airlines still flew about ten flights a week between their respective cities and, most important, Egyptian workers in Jordan continued to enjoy the same status as before. The Jordanian media and public officials intensified anti-Israel rhetoric, showing particular hostility toward the United States for supporting the accords. Hussein's greatest fear was that, with Egypt removed from the Arab-Israeli military balance, Israel might be tempted to transform the East Bank into an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians. Jordanian fears were fueled when, at the end of March 1979, Israeli minister of agriculture Ariel Sharon issued a statement to the effect that the Palestinians ought to take over Jordan and establish a government there.

Hussein, although fully backing the Baghdad accords, sought a very different objective than the more hard-line Arab states such as Syria and Iraq. His goal was not to punish Egypt or overthrow Sadat, but rather to set up an alternative strategy to the Camp David framework supported by an Arab consensus that would provide a more equitable and viable solution to the Middle East conflict. The essence of the Jordanian alternative was to return the Palestinian problem either to the UN Security Council or to the Geneva Conference where all the relevant parties--including the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Economic Community--could work together in reaching a comprehensive Middle East peace plan.

Hussein's attempt to develop a united Arab stand did not succeed. At the Tunis Summit of November 1979, in the face of strong Syrian objections, Hussein was unable to mobilize an Arab consensus behind an alternative to the Camp David Accords. Syrian president Assad's strong objections to Hussein's proposal marked the beginning of rapid deterioration in Syrian-Jordanian relations. Hussein was further rebuffed when Assad revived the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front consisting of Syria, Libya, Algeria, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), and the PLO. The Syrian leader accused Jordan of supporting Syrian elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been involved in a series of attacks against his regime. Although Syria continued to be a major Soviet ally in the Middle East, Jordan joined nearly the entire Arab world in condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Finally, Syria, unlike Jordan, was unwilling to participate in any alternative to the Camp David Accords.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress