Term Paper: 1978 Camp David Negotiations Between Israel and Egypt

Pages: 9 (3090 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: History - Israel  ·  Buy This Paper

Camp David Negotiations Between Israel and Egypt

"After four wars during 30 years, despite intensive human efforts, the Middle East, which is the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of three great religions, does not enjoy the blessings of peace. The people of the Middle East yearn for peace so that the vast human and natural resources of the region can be turned to the pursuits of peace and so that this area can become a model for coexistence and cooperation among nations." (http://www.jmcc.org, 1978)

What led to the meeting at Camp David between President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin?

In 1977, United State President Jimmy Carter, early in his first year in the White House had a powerful desire to bring some form of peace to the Middle East. Carter began holding meetings with various leaders in the Middle East to test out some of his ideas, and bounce proposals off these leaders to see where negotiations might lead. Those leaders Carter met with included King Hussein of Jordan; Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia; Syrian president Hafez al-Assad; Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.

As background, according to Carter's book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, the president's White House staff and his cabinet members knew "even before inauguration day" that bringing peace to the Middle East "would be at the top of my foreign affairs agenda for prompt action" (Carter, 2009, p. 17). He writes that upon reflection, the "most important single mission my political life has been to assist in bringing peace to Israel and its neighbors and to promote human rights" (p. 17). Carter admits he did not have a firm grasp on the internationally tense political situation in the Middle East, that involved many actors, but he "lost no time" getting down to the business of negotiating with the principal parties in the drama.

In approaching the historical Palestinian issues and the legitimate concerns of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) -- juxtaposed with the Israeli attitudes about their neighbors -- Carter was "constrained by previous American commitments not to recognize the PLO by diplomatic contract" or by a gesture that would in any way "acknowledge" the PLO's authenticity (p. 20). And so, having his hands tied by previous U.S. policy, Carter interacted with the PLO through surrogates (Syria, Jordan, and Egypt).

The advice Carter typically received from his political advisors was to "stay out of the Middle East controversy" until his second term (p. 20). Of course, in hindsight that would have meant Carter would have done nothing, because there was no second term; Ronald Reagan defeated him in 1980. But moreover, Carter was "determined," he asserted on page 20, to at least "make an effort" to find a solution to the regional problem "on a more immediate and comprehensive basis" than had ever been attempted in the past. It was clear this was not an ego-driven initiative by Carter, but a powerfully personal desire to make concrete progress in the Middle East since he believed previous presidents had not pushed hard enough in that direction.

In the process of trying to formulate a workable plan, a president who is thorough and smart discusses policy with a wide swath of leaders from many perspectives. Carter was thorough and smart, and he discussed the Middle East question with Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko. These discussions were "somewhat strained" because it was publicly known that Carter had reached out to "noted Jewish human rights heroes" Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky, the author explains on page 21.

And widely published worldwide was a photo of Sakharov "holding my handwritten letter," which caused additional stress between Carter and Soviet president Lenoid Brezhnev. Still, reaching out to the Jewish human rights icons paid dividends because "Within two years, annual Jewish immigration from Russia to the United States increased from a few hundred to more than fifty thousand," Carter explains on page 21. Moreover, Sharansky was released from a Soviet labor camp and Sharansky "gave our policies credit for having saved his life" (p. 21).

Carter, meantime, made many overtures and invitations to the leaders in the Middle East in order to arrive at a time and place that would allow serious dialogue to occur. One issue at hand for Carter was addressing the thorny problem of the "illegal" Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Israelis were in no mood to give up the settlements, and Sadat was unhappy with the Israeli attitude. It looked hopeless for any conciliation on either leaders' part. And notwithstanding the strong criticisms from Carter's own staff and his advisors as to his insistence on moving ahead with negotiations, the president invited Begin and Sadat to Camp David and they accepted in on August 8, 1978.

What were the circumstances surrounding the meeting at Camp David?

Carter explains (p. 37) that Sadat was outwardly willing to "accept almost anything" that the president suggested, as long as Israel would agree to "withdraw from the Sinai" and that the rights of the Palestinians would be respected. Begin was "more reluctant to make concessions" than the other members of the Israeli delegation. It did not look promising, and when Carter tried meeting with both leaders the talk transitioned into "shouting matches" (p. 37). So the president kept them separated and he met with each leader independently for ten days.

In his book Heroic Diplomacy, author Kenneth W. Stein provides page after page of the points of discussion between Sadat and Begin leading up to the Camp David talks, and there were myriad positions presented, too many to outline in this paper. But the value of Stein's narrative is that he presents preliminaries very thoroughly, and the dynamics leading up to Camp David are important to note, for a full understanding of how these two leaders eventually reached an agreement.

Stein points out that Sadat had boldly, courageously visited Israel in November, 1977, well prior to his meeting with Carter, and that was the first time an Egyptian president had set foot in modern Israel. Sadat was showing flexibility in light of previous hatred between Egypt and Israel; he met at the King David Hotel with Begin and later visited the "Dome of the Rock," the "Church of the Holy Sepulcher," and the "Al-aqsa Mosque" (Stein, 1999, p. 226). What made this visit to Israel potentially politically potent was the speech Sadat gave to the Israeli Parliament; in that address Sadat "pulled no punched," Stein explains.

Sadat said he didn't come to made a deal with Israel, and acknowledged the "feeling of utter suspicion and lack of confidence between the Arab states and the Palestinian people on the one hand, and Israel on the other" (Stein, p. 226). Sadat emphasized that his country wanted to live in peace with Israel, but he also asserted that the Palestinians had a right "to establish their own state" (Stein, p. 227).

The point of bringing Sadat's surprising visit to Israel is that through his courageous act "he enraged his Arab contemporaries" and as a result, the Arab world decided to "punish Egypt with isolation" (Stein, p. 229). With this as a backdrop, Sadat and Begin began working together, and in the ten months between Sadat's visit to Israel and the Camp David meetings, "a very significant amount of progress was made" towards narrowing the differences between Egypt and Israel (Stein, p. 233). Their cooperation was not enough, however, for any breakthrough to occur without the "active support of the White House and the president of the United States," Stein explains on page 233.

What were the positions/wants/needs/strategies of each state?

On page 251 Stein reports that "Both Begin and Sadat were prepared to reach a compromise arrangement on the Palestinian/West Bank-Gaza dimension of the conflict." Begin's objectives, Stein continues, was to allow a situation be created where "Israel's presence and Zionist continuation in Judea and Samaria would continue"; in return Begin would not have to "dismantle" the Jewish settlements in the Sinai buy rather would return sovereignty to Egypt. That said, Begin's position was to oppose "staunchly" any talk of an independent Palestine, or any agreement at Camp David that would "restrict any Israeli prerogative" to go on populating the West Bank and Gaza (Stein, p. 252). Stein (p. 251) notes that by August, 1978, both Begin and Sadat "were antsy to have an agreement. Sadat by now considered Carter a dear friend in whom he had absolute faith." As to the Camp David possibilities, without the real possibility that an Egyptian-Israeli agreement on Sinai being hammered together "…and a peace treaty recognizing Israeli existence, neither Egypt or Israel would have been motivated to come to Camp David" (Stein, p. 251).

In William B. Quandt's book, Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics, the author reviews the positions of each side prior to the negotiations. Begin, for his part, had a "trump card" when he came to the Camp David negotiations, Quandt writes on pae 208.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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