JERUSALEM (AP) — It was a warm handshake between the unlikeliest of statesmen, conducted under the beaming gaze of President Jimmy Carter. Sunlight streamed through the trees at Camp David, Maryland, as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin solidified a historic agreement that enabled more than 40 years of peace between Israel and Egypt. It has been an important source of stability in an unstable region.
This peace persisted despite two Palestinian uprisings and a series of wars between Israel and Hamas. But now, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to send Israeli troops to RafahGaza city located on the border with Egypt, the Egyptian government threatens to cancel the agreement.
Here’s a look at the history of the treaty and what could happen if it’s canceled.
HOW WAS THE TREATY BORN?
It was 1977, and Begin, Israel’s new prime minister, was opposing the ceding of lands that Israel had conquered a decade earlier in the 1967 Middle East war. These lands included Egypt’s southern peninsula. Sinai.
Egypt and Israel have fought four major wars, the last in 1973. So the world was shocked when Sadat’s Egyptian regime broke with other Arab leaders and decided to engage with the Israelis.
The talks resulted in the Camp David Accords in September 1978 and a peace treaty the following year.
Under the terms of the peace treaty, Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai, which Egypt would leave demilitarized. Israeli ships gained passage through the Suez Canal, a key trade route. The two countries established full diplomatic relations as part of the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country.
“The Camp David Accords were led by three courageous men who took a bold stand because they knew the lasting effects on peace and security, then and in the future. We need the same type of leadership today, and it is currently lacking,” said Paige Alexander, executive director of the Carter Center.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT SITUATION IN EGYPT?
Two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat told The Associated Press on Sunday that Egypt could suspend the peace treaty if Israeli troops invade Rafah.
Netanyahu said Rafah was Hamas’ last stronghold after more than four months of war and that sending ground troops was essential to defeating the group.
But Egypt opposes any measures that could send desperate Palestinians flee across the border on its territory. Rafah also serves as the main entry point for humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, and an Israeli attack could choke off deliveries of essential supplies.
Rafah’s population has fallen from 280,000 people to around 1.4 million, as Palestinians flee fighting elsewhere in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of these evacuees live in vast tent camps.
Netanyahu ordered the army to prepare a plan to evacuate all Palestinian civilians before the offensive begins. But we don’t know where they will go.
Netanyahu said on Sunday they could return to open spaces further north. But these areas were seriously damaged by the Israeli offensive.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE TREATY IS VOID?
The treaty significantly limits the number of troops on both sides of the border. This allowed Israel to focus its military on other threats.
Alongside the war in Gaza, Israel has engaged in near-daily skirmishes with the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon while its security forces deploy heavily in the occupied West Bank.
If Egypt were to cancel the deal, it could mean that Israel can no longer rely on its southern border as an oasis of calm. Bolstering forces along its border with Egypt would undoubtedly challenge an already strained Israeli military.
But it would also have serious consequences for Egypt. Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid since the peace deal.
If the deal is canceled, it could jeopardize this funding. A massive military buildup would also strain Egypt’s already struggling economy.
Alexander said any move that could draw Egypt into hostilities “would be catastrophic for the entire region.”
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