Thirty years ago, on November 19, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, opening the path for peace between Israel and the Arab world, and shaping a new agenda of political relations in the region.

 30 years since Egyptian President Sadat's historic visit to Israel

 

Photos: GPO

Thirty years ago, on Saturday night the 19th of November 1977, the plane of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat landed at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. This courageous, historic first visit by an Arab leader to Israel, and the speech he gave at the Knesset in Jerusalem, is to this day credited with changing the geopolitics of the entire Middle East, opening the path for peace between Israel and the Arab world, and shaping a new agenda of political relations in the region.

Two years after Sadat’s visit, in March 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a comprehensive peace agreement. Today, as we mark Sadat’s historic visit, our nations have known more years of peace than of confrontation and conflict, years in which open dialogue and cooperative ventures have been possible.

In the present reality, and in the spirit of President Sadat’s vision, the two states enjoy cooperation which is reflected in periodic meetings and various joint committees:

1. A joint military committee, which convenes twice yearly on a regular basis, in addition to ongoing communication between the armies to coordinate military-security issues;

2.  A joint economic committee to promote economic-trade cooperation between the two countries;

3. A joint agricultural committee, convening twice a year and conducting an ongoing dialogue. This is the most veteran of the three committees and the most active. Since being founded in 1981, it has helped launch hundreds of agricultural projects aimed at improving both countries’ agricultural expertise and capabilities. To date this cooperation has resulted in the establishment of dozens of joint agricultural farms and joint professional training courses; thousands of Egyptians have participated in various agricultural courses in Israel, 150 of them just in the past year.

The QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zones) agreement occupies a central place in the relations between Israel and Egypt. Signed in 2004, this agreement makes it possible for Egyptian companies that use Israeli components to export their wares to the United States, duty free. This successful model of international cooperation could be emulated by other states. And it has indeed been successful – in 2006 reciprocal trade between Israel and Egypt totaled some $200 billion, compared to only $59 million in 2004, signifying a more than threefold increase over the period prior to the agreement.

Another important element in the economic relations between the two counties is the natural gas agreement, in which a huge deal was signed in 2005 between an Egyptian company and an Israeli company. The deal covers the purchase of Egyptian gas by the Israeli company for the sum of $2.5 billion over the next five years.

Cooperation between Egypt and Israel also takes place in areas such as tourism, transportation, communications and health.

On the diplomatic plane, the peace treaty has made a great contribution on both the bilateral and the regional level. In the face of difficult events such as the Lebanon War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the intifada, and the war in Iraq, the peace between Israel and Egypt has proven to be stable and solid, showing that the desire for peace is a priority for both peoples, and demonstrating its strategic value over other approaches. Today these relations form a basic premise for every regional diplomatic development and provide support for the continuation of the peace process in general and with the Palestinians in particular.

As part of the diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, an ongoing dialogue takes place between the countries on various subjects, including sensitive and problematic issues. The frequency of meetings between the state leaders reflects the strength of the relations. Prime Minister Olmert has met three times with President Mubarak over the past two years for talks on relations between the two states and on promoting the peace process.

Many meetings also take place on the ministerial level in both countries. For instance, the Israeli Foreign Minister has visited Cairo three times during the past two years, with one of the trips devoted to meeting with representatives of the Arab League; and her Egyptian counterpart came twice to Israel in the past year. Official visits were also paid by the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Science, Culture and Sport, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, the Minister of Communication, and others, who met with their counterparts in Egypt.

Despite the progress, much still remains to be done apropos the peace between the two countries, such as bringing the populations themselves closer together, encouraging a broader cultural dialogue, increasing tourism, and getting better acquainted. Israel aspires to have the peace with Egypt, which is already considered to have borne real fruits in the intergovernmental dialogue, turn into a lively, productive peace on the level of the two peoples and two cultures as well.

The two nations must dedicate the coming years to this objective. That was how President Sadat saw our shared reality in his vision of peace, and that is how, 30 years later, it should be.