Peace in our time, seems like a utopian fantasy, doesn’t it? But there are true examples of lasting success. The best by far is the Camp David Accords signed at the White House in 1978 by Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and US President Jimmy Carter. It laid the groundwork, after 3 decades of wars, for a permanent peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that lasts to this day, The famous, but now largely forgotten accords, were fleshed out during 13 days of intensive negotiations lead by President Carter at the Camp David Presidential Retreat. The final peace agreement – the first ever between Israel and an Arab neighbor – was signed 6 months later!
This seems unimaginable today given the powder keg that is the Middle East. A state of war had basically existed between Israel and Egypt since Israel’s formation in 1948. Jews had achieved an independent homeland, but the Arab world claimed that same land for a Palestinian state. In the 3 wars that followed – the 1948 Arab Israeli War, 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel successfully defended itself and in fact expanded its territory by occupying the Sinai Peninsula.
By the late 1970’s, Anwar Sadat had enough of wars and wanted to finally make peace AND recover the Sinai. But after Israel’s victories in the wars. they had little reason to include Sinai in any peace terms. Menachem Begin, the new conservative Israeli Prime Minister appeared immovable on the very idea of exchanging land for peace.
By 1977, Sadat, frustrated by the lack of movement made a dramatic announcement, saying that he would be willing to go to Jerusalem! Begin complied, inviting Sadat to visit Israel, where he historically spoke before the Israeli Knesset – the 1st time ever for an Arab leader! Sadat then invited Begin, who reciprocated with a trip to Cairo. These 2 visits led to direct talks, but unfortunately, not much came of them.
Then along came U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
From the start of his presidency, Carter pursued intensive negotiations with both Egypt and Israeli to achieve peace once and for all. During the summer of 1978, Carter attempted to find common ground. He realized that without direct U.S. mediation, the 2 sides would simply go on arguing, blaming each other for failure. Carter ignored advice to stay out of the Middle East mess and chose instead to commit the US to trilateral negotiations.
Jimmy Carter decided the solution was to call for a Summit, but not just any summit. He invited Begin and Sadat to the Presidential Retreat at Camp David. This meeting would bring Sadat, Begin, and Carter himself together at the secluded retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. They both agreed.
It was a huge risk and daring act for Carter to stick himself into the hornet’s nest of the Middle East. He placed both his presidential capital and political future on the line for a summit that might very well fail. Carter decided it would be best, win or lose, to go all out, in an all-or-nothing gamble on peace.
So in September 1978, Jimmy Carter welcomed Sadat and Begin to the forested retreat in the middle of nowhere, away from the public’s and press’s eyes. Here peace accords would be hammered out under the direction of President Carter himself. He preferred informal diplomacy and felt it best to shield them all from public and media scrutiny, to allow a more relaxed atmosphere for negotiations.
The Camp David Summit, lasted 13 days from September 5–17th, 1978.
Rarely had a U.S. President devoted as much attention to a single foreign policy issue as Carter did. The core issues centered around Egypt demanding the Sinai back and the creation of an independent Palestinian homeland on the West Bank. In turn, Israel insisted Egypt remove its troops from its border and allow for access to the Suez Canal.
As the first 3 days ran on, the talks melted down, especially when both leaders sat in the same room. The debates were often heated between Begin and Sadat, breaking down into shouting matches while Carter played the role of mediator. The two leaders did not like each other on a personal level, let alone a political one.
So instead, Carter and his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, decided to meet with each delegation separately over the course of the next 10 days, acting as go-betweens. This was exhausting, but Carter was tireless, and with his perpetual optimism, shuttled back and forth between the 2 delegations. He often rode a bicycle between the cabins of the 2 heads of state.
Each leader threatened to walk out on numerous occasions.
President Carter played the role of strategist, mediator, ally and even therapist. He effectively used the promise of American aid as leverage to induce flexibility and accept concessions. For 13 days, Carter did something unprecedented, he set aside his other presidential duties to work exclusively on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And it worked!
Carter wisely separated the Sinai issue from the Palestinian issue, resulting in 2 agreements. The first was ‘A Framework for Peace in the Middle East Agreed at Camp David.’ It stated that Israel would evacuate the Sinai in exchange for full access to the Suez Canal. In exchange, Egypt would greatly limit its military activities on the Israeli border.
The second agreement was the ‘Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.’ This one was to discuss the future of the West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of a future Palestinian state. The CAMP DAVID ACCORDS were signed in the East Room of the White House on national TV on September 17, 1978.
The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was formally signed 6 months later on March 1979 on the South Lawn of the White House . Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and established full diplomatic and commercial relations that lasts to this day!
Peace between Egypt and Israel was a truly historic accomplishment that wouldn’t have been achieved without the tireless efforts of US President Carter. Jimmy Carter accomplished something that had eluded the Middle East for 3 decades and the decades since. He himself received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. The sustainable Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty has remained unmatched by subsequent administrations around the world ever since.