By 1978 the thirty-year war that had been fought between Egypt and Israel had come to a point where there was a chance for peace. The area that had been at the center of the turmoil was the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip. The problem was that both countries believed that they had the rights to this land: Israel, biblically and Egypt, politically. So an invitation by President Jimmy Carter to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel was extended. The invitation was for a meeting in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland at the presidential retreat, Camp David.
The meeting was so that the framework of a peace agreement, known as the Camp David Accord, could be laid out between Sadat and Begin, with Carter as the mediator. Both Sadat and Begin had their reputations and their countries’ futures on the line, not to mention the future of the Middle East. All of the countries neighboring Egypt and Israel would be affected by an Egyptian/Israeli agreement of any kind and maybe encouraged to come to an agreement of some sort for that region. A lot of problems had to be overcome for this summit to be a success.
One of them was that the hatred and suspicions between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin ran very deep. Another problem was that the outside pressures were too strong to permit an easy and early resolve for issues that had a long and ancient history (Mideast 26). The last problem was the hope that President Carter could put out of his mind the psychological profiles done by the CIA on both Begin and Sadat, which could have adversely effected his ability to mediate the proceedings. The long-standing hatred between Sadat and Begin was not one of a personal nature.
It had more to do with the political differences of their two countries. Israel has held that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were theirs because of the establishment of the State of Israel, out of what was Palestine in 1948 and by right of heredity. This was the land that God had told Moses was the Jewish Promised Land. The Egyptians on the other hand claimed that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were theirs. They based their claim on the fact that there were Egyptian citizens living in these areas at the time, the State of Israel was established, so therefore it must be Egyptian land.
In advance of the summit, the President received in-depth psychological profiles of both Sadat and Begin from the CIA (Blitzer 48). The American delegates thought that if the Egyptian and Israeli leaders were to budge it would be necessary to understand them and the way they thought (Blitzer 48). It was also decided that the Camp David meetings would be completely unstructured, without even an agenda to get them started, (Three 227) the hope was that this would be more conducive to the free exchange of thoughts and ideas.
As the summit convened Rosalynn Carter (President Carter’s wife) recognized that the three men had one thing in common, that is, their deep religious convictions (Blitzer 48). She suggested that the summit begin with some sort of prayer. So on September 6, 1978, as the summit was starting, the three leaders issued a prayer for peace to the world, saying: “Conscious of the grave issues which face us, we place our trust in the God of our fathers, from whom we seek wisdom and guidance. “(Mideast 29) With this the Camp David summit started.
In the beginning both Sadat and Begin seemed willing to have sit-down face to face talks’ about the issues that were in front of them, evident by the fact the two men had come this far. But it soon became obvious that a three way sit down approach between President Carter and the two leaders was going to be counter productive. Within the first ten days of the summit Sadat and Begin sat down together on only two days for a total of seven hours (Mideast 26). This was due in large part to some sticky points the two leaders could not see eye to eye on:
Sadat demanded that Israel agree eventually to withdraw its military forces and civilian settlements from all occupied Arab land. The main withdrawal would be from the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip. Then that the 1. 1 million Palestinians living there be allowed to determine who would govern them. Begin insisted that Israel has a historical and biblical right to the West Bank and must keep its troops in the occupied territory to guarantee the nation’s security from attack.
Israel also opposed creation of a Palestinian area that could someday become an independent state, although Begin had offered Arabs there limited self-rule. (Mideast 26) So President Carter, to help along the peace process, started a series of one-on-one meetings with Sadat and Begin individually. From the start of these one-on-one meetings Begins attitude startled Carter and members of his negotiating team. Begin seemed willing to yield ground on some finer points, but stood firm on other points that were thought to be easily resolved (Mideast 26).
For instance, Begin was steadfast in insisting that Israel keep its existing settlement in the Sinai Desert. However he showed apparent willingness to consider almost immediately the question of Israeli control over the West Bank, instead of waiting five years before addressing the question of the region’s sovereignty. Sadat on the other hand wanted a set agreement, one that would mollify Arabs who suspected him of selling out their cause. The agreement he wanted would spell out a schedule or time frame for the return of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Arab sovereignty.
During the transition the two ethnic areas would have autonomy in local self-government, but with a limited Israeli military presence (Szulc 13). With this being the main point around which the deadlock revolved, Carter pressed on with his one-on-one meetings that by most accounts were the saving grace of the summit. With Sadat’s demands for sweeping decisions and Begin’s probing of practically every point, the conferences seemed to drag on forever.
The American delegates involved had to rewrite the compromised proposals three and four times between sessions, before both Sadat and Begin would agree to them (Mideast 29). In the end the agreement that was spelled out (see attached copy) was a blueprint for further negotiations, with the goal of concluding a peace treaty between them within three months of the signing of this agreement (Camp 43). So by the close of the summit, Begin had accepted the new “words,” which he once had considered improbable (Blitzer 48).
For someone like Begin who holds a lot of value in the power of words, this agreement was not easy to come by. What all the men involved wanted to know was how the meaning of the words would be translated on the ground in the months and years to come (Blitzer 48). In the final analysis of the meetings at Camp David it’s important not to focus on what was not accomplished, but on what was. The agreement that these two leaders came to was much more than a “framework for peace;” it was a first step in a long process.
A process that many people here and abroad thought would never come. In the years that followed this summit there were more and more talks that have lead to the relative peace in that part of the world today. So, what Camp David did more than anything else was to set the groundwork to get people talking to each other in a positive direction. The three men had progressed from an agreement to pray together to an agreement to try and make a lasting peace (Blitzer 48).