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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The myth of Camp David

One of the myths of American foreign policy is the first Camp David summit, the one that resulted in the peace treaty between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israel, ostensibly brokered by Jimmy Carter. In a Wall Street Journal article on Friday, Arthur Herman says that Carter had very little to do with it.
The myth of Camp David hangs heavy over American foreign policy, and it's easy to see why. Of all the attempts to forge a Middle East peace, the 1978 treaty between Egypt and Israel has proved the most durable. Mr. Carter's admirers extol Camp David as an example of how one man's vision and negotiating skill brought former enemies together at the peace table, and as proof that a president can guide America toward a kinder, humbler foreign policy. Camp David was indeed Mr. Carter's one major foreign policy accomplishment amid a string of disasters including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and Ayatollah Khomeini's ascent in Iran.

But the truth about Camp David belies this myth. The truth is that Mr. Carter never wanted an Egyptian-Israeli agreement, fought hard against it, and only agreed to go along with the process when it became clear that the rest of his foreign policy was in a shambles and he desperately needed to log a success.

As presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter was sharply critical of the kind of step-by-step personal diplomacy which had been practiced by his predecessors Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. President Carter's preferred Middle East policy was to insist on a comprehensive settlement among all concerned parties -- including the Arab states' leading patron, the Soviet Union -- and to disparage Nixonian incrementalism.

Mr. Carter and his advisers all assumed that the key to peace in the region was to make Israel pull back to its pre-1967 borders and accept the principle of Palestinian self-determination in exchange for a guarantee of Israel's security. Nothing less than a comprehensive settlement, it was argued, could ward off future wars -- and there could be no agreement without the Soviets at the bargaining table. This was a policy that, if implemented, would have thrust the Cold War directly into the heart of Middle East politics. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had strained to achieve the opposite.

Interestingly, the man who ultimately prevented this Carter-led calamity from unfolding was Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Herman is certainly correct that had Sadat not made the decision to come to Jerusalem and claim his desire for peace before the Israeli people, Camp David would and the Egyptian-Israeli treaty would never have happened. And even then, Jimmy the Dhimmi was pushing for a 'Palestinian' state reichlet.
An agreement was hammered out for an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai, coupled with vague language about Palestinian "autonomy." The item Mr. Carter had really wanted on the agenda -- a Palestinian state -- was kept at arm's length.
If President Obama is going to use the public image of Jimmy Carter's 'success' at Camp David, we have nothing to look forward to but disaster.
Camp David worked because it avoided all of Mr. Carter's usual foreign policy mistakes, particularly his insistence on a comprehensive solution. Instead, Sadat and Begin pursued limited goals. The agreement stressed a step-by-step process instead of insisting on immediate dramatic results. It excluded noncooperative entities like Syria and the PLO, rather than trying to accommodate their demands. And for once, Mr. Carter chose to operate behind the scenes à la Mr. Kissinger, instead of waging a media war through public statements and gestures. (The press were barred from the Camp David proceedings).

Above all and most significantly, Camp David sought peace instead of "justice." Liberals say there can be no peace without justice. But to many justice means the end of Israel or the creation of a separate Palestinian state. Sadat and Begin, in the teeth of Mr.Carter's own instincts both then and now, established at Camp David a sounder principle for negotiating peace. The chaos and violence in today's Gaza proves just how fatal trying to advance other formulations can be.
Read the whole thing.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger YMedad said...

Watch it, Carl, Jammie Fool will start hitting on you

At 9:25 AM, Blogger LB said...

I once heard a "rumor" that the Egyptians tried to relay a message that they would have given up the eastern third of Sinai, but the message was intercepted by Carter, and that the rest is, well, history. Also, along the same lines - the fight for Taba was then only because Sadat knew he could extract 100% from Israel - so he didn't stop demanding it all.

Does anyone know how much truth there is to that? Thanks.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

It should be pointed out Egypt and Israel made a deal because there was chemistry and trust between Sadat and Begin and both sides did not trust the US to make it happen - in fact, the US was the biggest obstacle to a "small" agreement because it thought that to make peace happen, it should be the reverse.

And it looks like the Hopenchange Administration is set to repeat the Carter failures that almost wrecked the rapprochement between Egypt and Israel in the late 70s.

The fly in the ointment today is there is no one on the Palestinian with Sadat's stature to help make peace and then the other thing that has to kept in mind is Israel made peace with a regime, not with the Egyptian people. The Palestinian street is not amenable to moderation and there is no prospect of a final status agreement being realized for at least the next few generations.

So we can see from hindsight what Camp David accomplished - and what it didn't.


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