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Camp David Accords (September 1978)

Title: Camp David Accords signed
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Peace agreement reached between Egypt and Israel in September 1978 at Camp David, the U.S. presidential retreat in rural Maryland. During 1977 and 1978, several remarkable events took place that set the stage for the Camp David negotiations. In autumn 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat indicated his willingness to go to Israel for the cause of peace, something that no Arab leader had done since the creation of the Jewish state in 1947. On 19 November 1977, Sadat followed through on his promise, addressing the Israeli Knesset (parliament) and calling for peace between the two nations. The Israelis welcomed Sadat's bold initiative but took no immediate steps to end the state of belligerency, instead agreeing to ministerial-level meetings in preparation for final negotiations.

In February 1978, the United States entered into the equation by hosting Sadat in Washington, with both President Jimmy Carter and Congress hailing the Egyptian leader as a statesman and courageous leader. American adulation for Sadat led to greater cooperation by the Israelis, and they thus agreed to a summit meeting in September at Camp David.

For two weeks in September 1978, Sadat, Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin hammered out a framework for an agreement, but not before both sides were forced to make serious concessions. Begin insisted that Sadat separate the Palestinian issue from the peace talks, something that no Arab leader had been willing to do before. Israel also demanded that Egypt negate any former agreements with other Arab nations that called for war against Israel.

Sadat bristled at Begin's demands, which led to such acrimony between the two men that they met in person only once during the entire negotiation process. Instead, Carter shuttled between the two leaders in an effort to moderate their positions. After several days of little movement and accusations of bad faith directed mostly at Begin, however, Carter threatened to break off the talks. Faced with the possibility of being blamed for a failed peace plan, Begin finally came to the table ready to deal. He agreed to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Sinai Peninsula and return it in its entirety to Egypt. For his part, Sadat agreed to put the Palestinian issue aside and sign an agreement separate from the other Arab nations. On 15 September 1978, Carter, Sadat, and Begin announced that an agreement had been reached. In reality, there were still many details to work out, and Carter and his secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, made numerous trips to the Middle East during the next several months to finalize the agreement. One guarantee that the United States made was to help organize an international peace-keeping force to occupy the Sinai following the Israeli withdrawal. The United States also promised $2 billion to pay for the relocation of an airfield from the Sinai to Israel and made guarantees of economic assistance to Egypt in exchange for Sadat's signature on a peace treaty.

Finally, on 26 March 1979, in a White House ceremony, Sadat and Begin shook hands again and signed a permanent peace treaty, normalizing relations between their two nations. When the accord was reached, all sides believed that other Arab nations, particularly the pro-Western regimes in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, would soon follow Egypt's lead and sign similar agreements. They were mistaken. Other Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) denounced the Camp David Accords and Sadat for having sold out the Arab cause. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, and several Middle Eastern nations broke off diplomatic relations with Cairo. Not until the mid-1990s would another Arab nation, Jordan, join Egypt in normalizing relations with Israel. The Camp David Accords were, without doubt, Carter's greatest foreign policy success.

Brent Geary

Further Reading
Carter, Jimmy. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1995.; Quandt, William B. Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1986.

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