Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In Pursuit of Peace in the Middle East

"The Framework for Peace in the Middle East and the Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty Between Egypt and Israel were two major steps forward. For a few hours, all three of us were flushed with pride and good will toward one another because of our unexpected success. We had no idea at that time how far we still had to go."

Jimmy Carter
Keeping Faith (1982)

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that the presidency of Jimmy Carter endured more bad days than good.

But today is the 35th anniversary of one of the good ones — maybe the best one — for it was on this day in 1978 that Carter, Israel's Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords.

Those accords led to a peace treaty the following year — the first such treaty ever signed by the still–new nation of Israel with any of its Arab neighbors in the Middle East — and a shared Nobel Peace Prize for Begin and Sadat.

Secretly, the three men had been engaged in nearly two weeks of negotiations at Camp David, Md., the presidential retreat. Their mutual suspicions required Carter to negotiate with each one separately, going from one cabin to another. At one point, I have heard, he even took the two men to nearby Gettysburg in the hope that they would be inspired by the story of America's civil war.

At the time the accords were signed, it seemed to the general public that the negotiations at Camp David were virtually spontaneous, but appearances can be deceiving. In truth, the Camp David Accords were the outcome of more than a year's worth of diplomatic discussions between the three countries that began after Carter became president in 1977.

What was unique was the fact that Carter managed to bring the two leaders to the same place at the same time.

But even that wasn't enough to ensure the success of the negotiations.

It required a lot of hard, behind–the–scenes work. The two nations had a brief but stormy history that aroused great passion on both sides — and erected often–enormous barriers between them.

Since Israel was established in 1948, there had been three armed conflicts between Egypt and Israel by the time of the Camp David Accords. Israel won them all and, as a result of the 1967 war, controlled the Sinai Peninsula that connects Africa and Asia.

But Sadat, who probably deserves more credit for the Camp David Accords than he received, traveled to Jerusalem in late 1977 to speak to Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Less than a year later, he joined Carter and Begin at the presidential retreat.

At the time of the accords, Sadat was widely praised outside the Arab world — within it, though, he was roundly condemned. Three years later, on the eighth anniversary of the Yom Kippur war, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists while he watched a military parade in Cairo.

The peace process continued.

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