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05/09/2002

Camp David

Following the disastrous 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egyptian
President Anwar el-Sadat sought to retain the leadership of the
Arab world, as well as drive a wedge between Israel and its
friends. As Henry Kissinger notes in his book “Diplomacy,”
Sadat’s “original motive (in pursuing) rapprochement with Israel
was almost certainly to undermine the West’s image of Arab
bellicosity and to place Israel on the psychological defensive.”
As we’ll soon find out, what would turn out to be Sadat’s heroic
role as peacemaker at Camp David would backfire, and therein
may lie a lesson for today.

In the wake of the ’73 war, Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of
state, embarked on his famous shuttle diplomacy, becoming known
as “Henry the Navigator” in the Middle East. Israel, which had
captured the Sinai, disengaged in January 1974 and Kissinger was
able to finally work out a similar deal between Israel and Syria
for the captured Golan Heights in May of that year, but not before
Kissinger had to log an incredible 130 hours of face-to-face
discussions with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, in just one month,
going through Damascus Airport 26 times. As a result of Kissinger’s
efforts, the Arabs also lifted the oil embargo during this period.

But after 1974, the Arab world felt that Sadat was ignoring the
plight of Syria and the Palestinians and the other Arab nations
began to cut back on their own aid to Egypt. The economy
tanked, culminating in bread riots in 1977 that left over 70 dead.
Of course there is no democracy in the Middle East, save for
Israel, so autocrats like Sadat can hang on if they have a strong
security apparatus, and Anwar held power during these tough
times.

Meanwhile, in January 1977 Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as
President of the United States. Carter, an evangelical Christian,
had an intense interest in the Holy Land. As Harold Evans
describes in his book “The American Century,” by April of ’77
Carter was enmeshed in the region, writing after meeting Sadat
for the first time, “a shining light burst on the Middle East for
me.” Carter, similar to the reactions of George W. Bush today
when he meets certain leaders, formed a spiritual rapport with the
Egyptian president. He later had the same thoughts concerning
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Begin had won election in 1977. A Polish Jew, preoccupied with
the Holocaust and former commander of a guerrilla army against
the British, Begin denounced the PLO as “the Arab S.S.” He
labeled the land for peace strategy of his predecessor, Yitzhak
Rabin, “madness.” [Rabin would return to office in 1992, only
to be assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995 after reaching
the 1993 accord with the PLO.]

Begin insisted that Israel should include all the lands of the old
Palestinian mandate, including the biblical ones of Judaea and
Samaria. But over time, world opinion forced him to amend his
positions and he was soon advocating limited Palestinian
autonomy under Israeli sovereignty.

Prospects for real peace in the region seemed small, however,
until November 9, 1977 when President Sadat announced he was
taking up Begin’s offer to address the Israeli Parliament, and so
it was that ten days later Sadat arrived to massive worldwide
media coverage, having fulfilled his wish to go “to the ends of
the earth” for peace.

Both sides played to the media during Sadat’s incredible two
days in Israel, with Sadat logging some 100 interviews over the
ensuing week, prompting Golda Meir to say later, “Never mind
the Nobel Peace Prize, give them both Oscars.” [David
Reynolds]

It was an incredibly bold act, furthered when Sadat said he was
willing to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state, which then
opened up opportunities for Carter.

But, and there are always lots of “buts” when it comes to the
Middle East, Begin didn’t totally give in and accelerated his
settlements of both Gaza and the West Bank.

Nonetheless, with Carter having been granted his window of
opportunity, he invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David in
September 1978. [Talks began on September 4.] Carter also
invited Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians to
participate but they turned it down. The Arab world was
vehemently against Egypt’s new feeling of friendship with Israel.
[Fast-forward 20+ years and draw your own conclusions.]

Security for the Camp David talks was extra tight, with Carter
imposing a news blackout and demanding secrecy from both
sides. As Harold Evans notes, Carter needn’t have worried, since
both leaders thought the president was bugging their phones
(Carter wasn’t). It was a rough 13 days, with Sadat threatening
to go home twice. To break the ice, Carter took the two to
Gettysburg one day. [A great idea.] Finally, an agreement in
two parts was reached on September 17. Part One would have
Israel withdraw all of its settlers from the Sinai (which was
eventually accomplished in 1982), while Part Two called for
Israel to negotiate with Sadat to resolve the Palestinian refugee
dilemma, something which unraveled right after the summit.

Camp David was actually breaking down on the Sinai issue even
in the spring of ’79, however, forcing Carter to go to both Egypt
and Israel himself that March and finally on March 26, 1979 the
Camp David Accords were formally signed back in Washington.

Let me be clear about one thing, since I have always been highly
critical of President Carter. There is no doubt that Camp David
was an heroic effort on his part, but the bottom line is years later
it accomplished little.

Right after the signing, Menachem Begin made clear his refusal
to block new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which Sadat
had viewed as a homeland for Palestinians, while as a result of
the treaty, Sadat himself was condemned as a traitor to the
Islamic cause. Arab states severed relations with Egypt, as
inside the country, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and a
new underground outfit, Islamic Jihad, emerged to battle Sadat’s
government. In the case of Islamic Jihad, it was committed to
the overthrow of Sadat and the imposition of an Islamic regime,
launching a guerrilla war, which culminated in Sadat’s
assassination in 1981.

As historian David Reynolds sums it up, Camp David not only
didn’t bring peace to the Middle East, “If anything, it made the
Palestinian problem even harder to resolve.”

[One side note: According to the Soviet ambassador to the
United States at the time, Anatoly Dobrynin, Carter was to
involve Moscow, but Israel objected vociferously, leading, in
turn, to a vigorous protest by Leonid Brezhnev for the exclusion
of the Soviet Union from the peace process. Dobrynin writes in
his book “In Confidence,” “I believe it was one of the missed
opportunities for joint action during the Carter administration,
and it grew out of American domestic controversies and the
inconsistency of the administration itself.” For his part, Carter
was to later complain during the 1980 presidential campaign that
the American Jewish community didn’t appreciate his service to
Israel in promoting Camp David.]


Sources:

“In Confidence,” Anatoly Dobrynin
“Diplomacy,” Henry Kissinger
“The American Century,” Harold Evans
“20th Century,” J.M. Roberts
“One World Divisible,” David Reynolds
“History of the Twentieth Century,” Martin Gilbert
“The Oxford History of Islam,” edited by John L. Esposito
“America: A Narrative History,” George Brown Tindall and
David E. Shi

Next Hott Spotts Thursday.

Brian Trumbore


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Hot Spots

05/09/2002

Camp David

Following the disastrous 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egyptian
President Anwar el-Sadat sought to retain the leadership of the
Arab world, as well as drive a wedge between Israel and its
friends. As Henry Kissinger notes in his book “Diplomacy,”
Sadat’s “original motive (in pursuing) rapprochement with Israel
was almost certainly to undermine the West’s image of Arab
bellicosity and to place Israel on the psychological defensive.”
As we’ll soon find out, what would turn out to be Sadat’s heroic
role as peacemaker at Camp David would backfire, and therein
may lie a lesson for today.

In the wake of the ’73 war, Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of
state, embarked on his famous shuttle diplomacy, becoming known
as “Henry the Navigator” in the Middle East. Israel, which had
captured the Sinai, disengaged in January 1974 and Kissinger was
able to finally work out a similar deal between Israel and Syria
for the captured Golan Heights in May of that year, but not before
Kissinger had to log an incredible 130 hours of face-to-face
discussions with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, in just one month,
going through Damascus Airport 26 times. As a result of Kissinger’s
efforts, the Arabs also lifted the oil embargo during this period.

But after 1974, the Arab world felt that Sadat was ignoring the
plight of Syria and the Palestinians and the other Arab nations
began to cut back on their own aid to Egypt. The economy
tanked, culminating in bread riots in 1977 that left over 70 dead.
Of course there is no democracy in the Middle East, save for
Israel, so autocrats like Sadat can hang on if they have a strong
security apparatus, and Anwar held power during these tough
times.

Meanwhile, in January 1977 Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as
President of the United States. Carter, an evangelical Christian,
had an intense interest in the Holy Land. As Harold Evans
describes in his book “The American Century,” by April of ’77
Carter was enmeshed in the region, writing after meeting Sadat
for the first time, “a shining light burst on the Middle East for
me.” Carter, similar to the reactions of George W. Bush today
when he meets certain leaders, formed a spiritual rapport with the
Egyptian president. He later had the same thoughts concerning
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Begin had won election in 1977. A Polish Jew, preoccupied with
the Holocaust and former commander of a guerrilla army against
the British, Begin denounced the PLO as “the Arab S.S.” He
labeled the land for peace strategy of his predecessor, Yitzhak
Rabin, “madness.” [Rabin would return to office in 1992, only
to be assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995 after reaching
the 1993 accord with the PLO.]

Begin insisted that Israel should include all the lands of the old
Palestinian mandate, including the biblical ones of Judaea and
Samaria. But over time, world opinion forced him to amend his
positions and he was soon advocating limited Palestinian
autonomy under Israeli sovereignty.

Prospects for real peace in the region seemed small, however,
until November 9, 1977 when President Sadat announced he was
taking up Begin’s offer to address the Israeli Parliament, and so
it was that ten days later Sadat arrived to massive worldwide
media coverage, having fulfilled his wish to go “to the ends of
the earth” for peace.

Both sides played to the media during Sadat’s incredible two
days in Israel, with Sadat logging some 100 interviews over the
ensuing week, prompting Golda Meir to say later, “Never mind
the Nobel Peace Prize, give them both Oscars.” [David
Reynolds]

It was an incredibly bold act, furthered when Sadat said he was
willing to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state, which then
opened up opportunities for Carter.

But, and there are always lots of “buts” when it comes to the
Middle East, Begin didn’t totally give in and accelerated his
settlements of both Gaza and the West Bank.

Nonetheless, with Carter having been granted his window of
opportunity, he invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David in
September 1978. [Talks began on September 4.] Carter also
invited Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians to
participate but they turned it down. The Arab world was
vehemently against Egypt’s new feeling of friendship with Israel.
[Fast-forward 20+ years and draw your own conclusions.]

Security for the Camp David talks was extra tight, with Carter
imposing a news blackout and demanding secrecy from both
sides. As Harold Evans notes, Carter needn’t have worried, since
both leaders thought the president was bugging their phones
(Carter wasn’t). It was a rough 13 days, with Sadat threatening
to go home twice. To break the ice, Carter took the two to
Gettysburg one day. [A great idea.] Finally, an agreement in
two parts was reached on September 17. Part One would have
Israel withdraw all of its settlers from the Sinai (which was
eventually accomplished in 1982), while Part Two called for
Israel to negotiate with Sadat to resolve the Palestinian refugee
dilemma, something which unraveled right after the summit.

Camp David was actually breaking down on the Sinai issue even
in the spring of ’79, however, forcing Carter to go to both Egypt
and Israel himself that March and finally on March 26, 1979 the
Camp David Accords were formally signed back in Washington.

Let me be clear about one thing, since I have always been highly
critical of President Carter. There is no doubt that Camp David
was an heroic effort on his part, but the bottom line is years later
it accomplished little.

Right after the signing, Menachem Begin made clear his refusal
to block new Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which Sadat
had viewed as a homeland for Palestinians, while as a result of
the treaty, Sadat himself was condemned as a traitor to the
Islamic cause. Arab states severed relations with Egypt, as
inside the country, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and a
new underground outfit, Islamic Jihad, emerged to battle Sadat’s
government. In the case of Islamic Jihad, it was committed to
the overthrow of Sadat and the imposition of an Islamic regime,
launching a guerrilla war, which culminated in Sadat’s
assassination in 1981.

As historian David Reynolds sums it up, Camp David not only
didn’t bring peace to the Middle East, “If anything, it made the
Palestinian problem even harder to resolve.”

[One side note: According to the Soviet ambassador to the
United States at the time, Anatoly Dobrynin, Carter was to
involve Moscow, but Israel objected vociferously, leading, in
turn, to a vigorous protest by Leonid Brezhnev for the exclusion
of the Soviet Union from the peace process. Dobrynin writes in
his book “In Confidence,” “I believe it was one of the missed
opportunities for joint action during the Carter administration,
and it grew out of American domestic controversies and the
inconsistency of the administration itself.” For his part, Carter
was to later complain during the 1980 presidential campaign that
the American Jewish community didn’t appreciate his service to
Israel in promoting Camp David.]


Sources:

“In Confidence,” Anatoly Dobrynin
“Diplomacy,” Henry Kissinger
“The American Century,” Harold Evans
“20th Century,” J.M. Roberts
“One World Divisible,” David Reynolds
“History of the Twentieth Century,” Martin Gilbert
“The Oxford History of Islam,” edited by John L. Esposito
“America: A Narrative History,” George Brown Tindall and
David E. Shi

Next Hott Spotts Thursday.

Brian Trumbore