Peace between Israel and Egypt

Israel, for whatever reasons, has never issued a stamp which explicitly commemorates the historic peace treaty between her and Egypt – the treaty which was signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, Israeli PM Menachem Begin and US President Jimmy Carter on the White House lawn on March 26, 1979.

True, a stamp bearing the name “Peace” – the featured stamp – was issued on the day the treaty was signed, but it has no reference whatsoever to this particular peace treaty. Also the article that the Israeli Philatelic Service published together with the stamp, while containing much blah about the merits of peace in general, didn’t mention the specific peace with Egypt and the way it had been achieved (the only indication that the stamp is somewhat linked to the peace treaty is the postal stamp on its First Day envelope, which states “Israel Egypt Peace Treaty”).

Since the birth of Israel in 1948, a state of war had existed between her and all her neighbors until the Peace Treaty was signed. Israel and Egypt fought against one another in the Independence War (1948-49), the Sinai War (1956), the Six-Day War (1967), the War of Attrition (1969-70) and the Yom Kippur War (1973).

The Yom Kippur War was the last war in which Israel’s survival was at stake. At the end of this horrific war, on Nov. 11, 1973, a cease fire agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt. On Dec. 21 the same year, an international conference in Genève was held, leading the sides to sign, on January 18, 1974, their first “disengagement” agreement separating their military forces along a 20-mile north-south line on the east side of the Suez Canal.

In September 1975, while Yitzhak Rabin was Israel’s PM, Israel and Egypt signed an Interim Agreement that obligated Israel to pull back further east in Sinai and to give up an important Egyptian oil field on the Gulf of Suez. In exchange, Egypt agreed to renounce the use of force against Israel and to give Israel merchant-shipping rights through the Suez Canal. A U.N. buffer zone was enlarged and the USA military took control of an early-warning system in two strategic points in Sinai. The agreement enjoyed the support of 70 Knesset members (the Knesset is the unicameral national legislature of Israel), while 43 members objected (incl. Menachem Begin).

On November 19, 1977, then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat flew from Egypt to Israel to give one of the most historic speeches ever to be delivered at the Knesset. The 36-hour visit was the first official visit of an Arab leader ever to the Jewish state. Sadat, technically the leader of an enemy state, was greeted as dignified head of state. Addressing the Knesset, the Egyptian president declared that he had come to Israel not to conduct another withdrawal of forces agreement or make a partial peace. “Today I tell you, and declare it to the whole world, that we accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice,” Sadat said in his speech.

The Egyptian president’s visit to Jerusalem and his speech to the Knesset would serve as the start of a process that lasted 16 months before a peace treaty, brokered by US president Jimmy Carter, was eventually signed by Begin and Sadat on the White House lawn on March 26, 1979. The ceremony lasted 45 minutes. The Nobel Peace Prize of 1978 was awarded jointly to Sadat and Begin for their brave move towards peace.

Israel had to pull out from the entire Sinai peninsula and evacuate many military installations and civilian settlements in the process. It was a very painfull and costly process which Israel completed by Apr. 1982 (except a withdrawal from a small disputed area in Taba near Eilat which was returned to the Egyptians eventually few years later). The permanent border between Israel and Egypt was based on the border which had been originally defined back in 1906 in an agreement between the Ottoman and the British empires. Israel kept her control over the Gaza Strip.

In light of the current political situation in Egypt and the state of “freezing cold peace” that has characterized the relations between Egypt and Israel for many years now, it is often hard to see the huge benefits of the state of peace between the two countries. The fact is that the treaty is still very important strategically to Israel. The peace with Egypt paved the way to a peace with Jordan and contributed to the prosperity and relative security that Israel has enjoyed.

The stamp was issued in 1979, design: Rony & Aryeh Hecht.

The stamp shows the Western Wall and a wish note, representing a wish for peace, placed in one of its crevices. It is a centuries-old Jewish tradition to place a note with a prayer or request in the Western Wall.