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For centuries humanity has suffered greatly because of wars. No one wants war, but wars have a reality of human history. One of the Beatitudes Jesus taught the people was “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The Camp David Accords were initiated by the United States in 1977 in order to facilitate peace between Egypt and Israel. Although the accords led to more complicated relations between others countries in the Middle East and the Arab world, there were a surprisingly successful victory for the three parties involved and brought peace to Egypt and Israel.
The long and complicated history between Egypt and Israel offers insight into the necessity of a peace treaty. As stated in the preamble to the Camp David Accords, there had been four wars that led to the need establishing compromise between Egypt and Israel regarding land disputes, settlements, and the issue of a secure and normalized relationship between the two countries. There were indeed many reasons that led up to the Camp David Accords, but the main reason appears to be that both countries were worn out with the unprosperous wars and disputes. They both wanted and needed to do something different in order to resolve those problems. Fortunately at the same time, both Egypt and Israel were showing new enthusiasm for the peace progress largely because they both realized that they would benefit from a closer relationship with the United States (Telhami 3). Actually, for Egypt, “Sadat needed a new patron, a new source of economic and military aid. To become an American client, he needed to offer peace to Israel” (Cullen 3). For Israel, “Begin expressed interest in concluding a mutual defense treaty with the United States” (Lenczowski 173). Also for the Israelis, “it raised the prospect that they could get peace and recognition from Egypt without jeopardizing their plans for the West Bank” (Cullen 8). The initial intentions of Egypt and Israel were clear; of equal importance, however, were the intentions of the United States. What was its role as a key mediator for the negotiations? The U.S. interest in the region, particularly its alliance with Israel and reliance on Arab oil, along with President Carter’s personal desire to solve the problem, fueled this new engagement. Lenczowski writes that initially President Jimmy Carter was “frustrated by slow diplomatic process and domestic impediments (170),” so he wanted to make the progress move faster. In addition, he wanted to salvage his presidency. However, Lenczowski emphasizes that “it was a risky political gamble, internationally and domestically. If it failed, it would reflect adversely on the president’s political fortunes” (170). Yet, without any fear, Carter decided to play this game.
Leading to Camp David, some important events promoted Egypt and Israel into action. First of all, both Egypt and Israel were interested in negotiations for peace after President Jimmy Carter pushed for a new Geneva Conference with the Soviet Union in 1977. The Egyptians and the Israelis opposed this idea because they did not want to deal with the instability of the Soviet Union; therefore, they both undertook bilateral initiatives aimed at undercutting the Geneva process. These initiatives opened a new dialogue that led directly to the Camp David negotiations almost a year later (Oakman 2). Second, Sadat made a historic trip to Jerusalem to speak before the Knesset on November 19-21, 1977, in order to “preserve his newly forged friendship with Carter and the United States” (Lenczowski 171). Sadat’s visit made effective progress toward establishing the initial friendly relationship between Egypt and Israel because Israel was not officially recognized by the Arab world at that time except by Egypt after Sadat’s trip. Sadat’s well-publicized visit and passionate speech in the Israeli Parliament “played a crucial role in convincing Israelis of a new reality” (Eisenberg and Caplan 39) that peace would be the only way to relieve the economic burdens of the states and solve the problems between them. Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem achieved its major goal, which was to create an atmosphere in which it would benefit Begin to respond with concessions of his own (Oakman 3). Consequently, Israel agreed to withdraw its troops and restore Egyptian sovereignty over the disputed territory in Gaza shortly after Sadat’s visit. When Carter realized that an appropriate opportunity had come, it was time for him to carry out what was in mind. Thus “in July 1978 Carter decided to invite Sadat and Begin to the presidential vacation facility at Camp David in Maryland and lead the negotiations himself” (Lenczowski 170).
The conference at Camp David between Israel, Egypt, and the United States ran from September 4-17 in 1978. The negotiations were held in secret, and the press was not allowed to be present in order to report the proceedings. One may say, therefore, that the conference had a somewhat mysterious character because many facts had to be concealed at that time. The reasons for this are numerous, but in general it needed the assurance of security as well as the avoidance of interference from the outside world. Lenczowski writes, “Later, details of difficult and exhausting negotiations were revealed in the accounts and memoirs of member of all three negotiating teams” (170). Each negotiating team, in fact, had its own goals that it thought could be accomplished if the peace treaty were signed. Egypt wanted to recover its economy, which had been flagging throughout the 1970’s due in part to large defense expenditures, and it wanted to regain the Arab world’s support; however, Egypt’s main concern was “land and sovereignty” (Lenczowski 173). The Egyptians believed that when the latter demand was completed, the former goals would be fulfilled. Having had the proposals in mind, Sadat “asked for complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Sinai, removal of Jewish settlements, and payment by Israel of reparations for the occupation of Egyptian territory as well as the oil Israel drew from the Sinai wells during occupation” (Lenczowski 173). Like Egypt, Israel also had many proposals to be fulfilled. Israel not only wanted to recover its own economy after the four major wars, but it was also concerned about security, which was not a strong enough deterrent to its Arab adversaries. The Israelis believed that “by eliminating the largest member state from the Arab coalition, Israel could afford to ratchet down defense spending while still feeling secure against potential military threats” (Oakman 5). As the third party and mediator, the United States was surely interested in exporting Arab oil, but this was not the principal goal; rather, President Carter’s role as a mediator was played with the main interest of salvaging his presidency, though he kept his intentions secret. In general, the procedure was set up as follows: “The three parties met together only at the beginning of the conference. They presented on that occasion their respective proposals, which were quite apart from one another” (Lenczowski 170).
The bargaining process at Camp David lasted for thirteen days with many difficult issues to be solved. Even at the beginning of the conference, things were not going smoothly. In fact, Sadat and Begin seemed to disagree with each other on most of the issues discussed. Most of the conflicting problems stemmed from Israel. Lenczowski writes, “Generally, Carter’s conversations with Begin were difficult and tense” (173). Carter himself writes in his memoirs, “I accused Begin of wanting to hold onto the West Bank, and said that his home-rule or autonomy proposal was a subterfuge” (Lenczowski 174). The meetings quickly dissolved into shouting matches between Begin and Sadat, and the Americans realized that the leaders “could not interact constructively on a personal level” (Telhami 7). Nonetheless and interestingly, during the time of the conference, “Carter’s relationship with Sadat not only was harmonious but developed into genuine friendship” (Lenczowski 174). The friendship between Carter and Sadat helped cool down the uncomfortably heating atmosphere quite a bit. In fact, Sadat was willing a number of times to concede to Israeli demands either because Carter persuaded him or out of the desire to please him” (Lenczowski 174). However, the situation did not get better as Begin still held firm to the Sinai settlements. This made Sadat so mad that he “packed his bags and told Vance of his decision to leave” (Lenczowski 174). Out of political interests, Carter convinced Sadat to stay by asking Sadat take their friendship into consideration. He said to Sadat that the departure “would not only hurt the U.S.-Egyptian relationship and put the onus of failure on him, but also damage one of Carter’s most precious possessions – their friendship and mutual trust” (Lenczowski 174). As a result, Sadat relented and agreed to stay. From then on, more concessions were made and the atmosphere of the conference became more and more relaxed when Israel after resisting any connection in the text, sought as generalized language as possible (Gwertzman 1). Cullen states, “Slowly, they made progress” (8).
One would think that without a miracle, the negotiations could never succeed because most of the top issues were unresolved, and on the eleventh day, there were still no signs that the last remaining major problem had yet been resolved (Gwertzman 1). Surprisingly, there was no need for a miracle: Egypt finally gained sovereignty in the Sinai, though it had to “pay a price by agreeing to the severe limitation of its military presence in the Sinai and, as yet without a formal document, to make its oil available to Israel” (Lenczowski 178); Israel agreed to remove entirely its forces and Israeli settlements in the Peninsula. It was one of the hardest decisions for Begin to make. Prior to that, he had said, “My right eye will fall out, my right hand will fall off before I ever agree to the dismantling of a single Jewish settlement” (Lenczowski 175). Nevertheless, it was worth it because “for the first time since 1948 Israel was formally recognized by an Arab country, one with which it had fought four wars and remained in a state of belligerency” (Lenczowski 177). One issue that remained unresolved was Palestine’s future, which would not deter in bringing Egypt and Israel to peace; no one would know why Sadat, Begin, and Carter ignored this fact. They continued to move on and, finally, on September 17, the agreement was reached. It was signed by Sadat and Begin with Carter as an official witness. It was a historic and praiseworthy triumph in the progress of peacemaking and one in which President Carter played a significant role as a mediator. Vance, the Secretary of State, remarked, “The Camp David accords rank as one of the most important achievements of the Carter administration” (Lenczowski 179). As a result, the peace treaty was officially signed on March 26, 1979. Carter was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2002 for the Camp David accords, though it did not save him from electoral defeat two years later.
The Camp David Accords were somewhat controversial since Egypt was connected to the Arab world and Israel to the Middle East countries. The signing of the peace treaty was a triumphantly significant achievement, but Egypt and Israel did not exist in a vacuum. In fact, they had complicated relationships with other countries in the region that very much depended on them economically and politically. Therefore, when Egypt and Israel signed the peace treaty without the involvement of those other countries, there were negative consequences. Apparently, there were two distinctive sides: the Arab world and the Middle East. Egypt was connected to the Arab world, and Israel was connected to the Middle East countries. The reactions from both sides toward the two countries and the U.S as a result of the Camp David Accords in 1978 were decidedly negative (Lenczowski 181).
On the status of Egypt, the Arab League held a meeting in Baghdad on November 5, 1978 against Egypt for making concessions to Israel; “The Arab states’ main objection was that, acting without consulting them, Egypt – the most powerful Arab country – had deserted their common front for the sake of the bilateral treaty with Israel” (Lenczowski 182). The Arab world may have felt entitled to get angry at Egypt, but their reactions seemed to be too unfair because in the mind of Sadat, he did not mean to isolate Egypt by his decision to participate, from the Arab states; rather, he wanted peace with Israel in order to recover the declining economy and have sovereignty over the Sinai Peninsula with its rich natural resources and oil wells. It was indeed a victory for Egypt. From the Arab point of view, however, “Camp David looked like an Egyptian surrender and an Israeli victory” (Lenczowski 182). Their opinions were almost opposite to those of the three parties of Camp David. Moreover, ironically, they even blamed the Unites States and saw “the United States as an evil spirit which, under the guise of a peacemaker, became a real divider of the Arab world” (Lenczowski 182). In order to express their outrage, they argued that “the accord contradicted resolutions of previous Arab summit meetings and would not lead to a just peace in the Middle East” (Arab League 3); furthermore, and they did not believe that “Israel would fulfill its obligations regarding Palestine undertaken at Camp David and pointed to the inadequacy of the framework document in this respect” (Lenczowski 182). At the end of their summit meeting, “they reaffirmed their ‘non-approval’ of the peace plan and their refusal to accept its consequences” (Arab League 3). In reality, no one could determine what the main reason was for the Arab world to overreact so angrily toward Camp David, except that they were not involved in the conference. As a peace maker, Sadat should have been praised, but he received severe criticism instead, especially from his Foreign Minister Kamel, who accused him of making “fickle whims and indiscriminate changes of behavior without prior notice and consultation” (Lenczowski 183). He later resigned from his position to protest against Sadat’s decision. To punish Egypt, the Arab world took some “considered measures against Egypt,â€¦including cutting all political and diplomatic ties, cutting of aid, boycotting Egyptian companies which dealt with Israel and moving the organization’s headquarters from Cairo to another Arab capital” (Arab League 3).
It was an Egyptian crisis, but Israel was also at risk regarding Jerusalem. On the status of Jerusalem, Hedrick Smith writes, “Not only did the Arab radicals give that agreement the back of their hand, but King Hussein refused to take part and declared he was absolutely shattered by President Sadat’s go-it-alone diplomacy” (1). Further, “King Hussein promised to stand fast in defense of Arab rights in the occupied territories, especially the restoration of Jerusalem to the Arabs” (Arab League 3). Begin always expected peace and economic restoration for Israel. In his position, he seemed to be more challenged than Sadat since Israel was a country that was not fully recognized by many nations at that time. There was a threat regarding this matter when “Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia, [pledged] to work for the liberation of Jerusalem from Israel rule” (Arab League 3). Nevertheless, Begin seemed to know what he was doing for the sake of the state. He knew that Israel needed security in order to defense itself, and it surely was more important than the Sinai Peninsula and the removal of Jewish settlements. Oakman concludes, “Most analysts hold that Israel won the day, achieving security from one of its most powerful adversaries and giving up little in return. They point out that the shifted balance of power was one factor that allowed Israel to attack Lebanon in 1982” (11).
For the Unites States, one can easily see how much energy and effort President Carter dedicated for the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Some may doubt his intentions, but no one can deny his significant contributions for the progress of peace. Actually, he initially came up with the idea of peace between Egypt and Israel, and then took real action by inviting the two leaders to come to the U.S where he led the conference in the role as the mediator. During the proceedings at Camp David, Lenczowski records, “Carter himself put in an enormous amount of energy, often working late into the night, conversant with and attentive to the smallest detail, including geography, topography, military matters, and language” (171). Also, Carter was the one who convinced both Sadat and Begin to calm down when they were discussing conflicting issues, and he helped them reach the most important agreements. Lenczowski says, “It could be argued, therefore, that engaging in almost superhuman efforts to persuade a clever and advantage-oriented leader such as Begin to reach an agreement Israel desired anyway amounted to a superfluous exertion while other pressing international problems were calling for the president’s attention” (184). Later, after the Camp David Accords were signed, Carter travelled a great deal in order to promote the soon to be signed treaty. It was signed by Sadat and Begin on March 26, 1979. Thus, for the U.S., Carter’s constant relationship-building and trust-building had apparently paid off.
The Camp David accords ultimately benefited all the parties involved: Egypt completely had the sovereignty of the West Bank; Israel established a peaceful mutual border, enabling the Israel Defense Forces to reduce their levels of alert on Israel’s southwestern frontier; the U.S leaped into a deeper relationship with Egypt and Israel. If one looks further at the effects of Camp David, one can see both negative and positive outcomes. On the one hand, ten years after Camp David, the problems that were caused by its effects such as the unresolved issue of Palestine, still remained. William B. Quandt wrote in an article on the tenth anniversary of Camp David Accords, “the Camp David formula of ‘autonomy’ and the idea of having Egypt or Jordan represent Palestinian interests are unacceptable” (27). Further, “it did not prevent the war in Lebanon in 1982” (Quandt 27), and it may even have contributed to it by freeing Israel from military concern with its southern front. One the other hand, Camp David was still meaningful in establishing peace for the whole region. For example, Egypt was able to restore its ties to most Arab countries without breaking with Israel, a development that had helped to erode the old Arab taboo on the idea of peace with Israel (Quandt 27). It is the greatest achievement.
In conclusion, prior to the Camp David Accords, there were four major wars between Israel and Egypt; since the treaty was signed, there have been none. Thus, those who were involved in the Camp David Accords ought to be praised as peacemakers and remembered forever. Bob Cullen writes, “What I have learned left me with an enhanced appreciation of the difficulty of crafting peace in the Middle East and of the feat that Carter, Begin, and Sadat finally achieved” (2). Thus lasting peace is the most meaningful and greatest achievement of the Camp David Accords, one which later generations ought to appreciate. The United States affirmed its role and credibility on the international level by showing its concerns and abilities of establishing peace for humanity. Though Carter’s presidency was not as great as it should have been, he truly showed his balanced and artful mediation talents through the resulting peace between Egypt and Israel. He, indeed, has taught a very valuable lesson for those who study foreign relations and foreign policy about how to foster positive relations among any country in the world. The Camp David Accords initiated Carter were a meaningful victory.
“Arab League Appeals to Egyptians To Renounce Accord With Israelis.” New York Times. November 6, 1978: 3.
Caplan, Neil and Laura Zittrain Eisenberg. Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1998.
Cullen, Bob. “Two Weeks at Camp David.” Smithsonian Magazine. September 2003: 1.
Gwertzman, Bernard. “Prospects Fade for Fast Treaty on the Mideast.” New York Times. November 6, 1978: 1.
Lenczowski, George. American Presidents and the Middle East. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1990.
Oakman, Jonathan. The Camp David Accords: A Case Study on International Negotiation. January 8, 2002.
Quandt, William. “10 Years after Camp David. Now What?” New York Times. September 17, 1988: 27.
Smith, Hedrick. “After Camp David Summit, A Valley of Hard Bargaining.” New York Times. November 6, 1978: 49.
Telhami, Shibley. “The Camp David Accords.” Pew Case Studies in International Affairs. Washington, DC: Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 1992.
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