The Camp David Accords

In 1977, one man captured the attention of the entire world, bringing about a change in the paradigm of Israeli-Arab relations. Anwar Sadat decided to visit Israel.Until that time, Israeli and Arabs had seen each other face to face only on the battlefield, and now they would talk to each other directly without intermediaries.Sadat had courage. Realizing that the path of action that he and his predecessors had been following had not brought him success, he was concerned about his country’s future. Something new had to be done. So instead of listening to the worn-out tapes of advice he had received from Egyptian advisors, from other Arab leaders, from Washington and from Moscow, he decided to do something different, something which no one had ever dreamed of. He would go to Israel.What was his intent? He wanted the return of the territory Egypt had lost in the Sinai; he wanted the time to rebuild his army without the threat of war; and he wanted American financial aid for his country.Did he genuinely want peace with Israel? We can never know. To the other Arab leaders, he explained that he was not surrendering anything. He would receive what he could without fighting. And then, having improved Egypt’s position, he said, he would leave the challenge of defeating Israel militarily to the next generation.Was there nothing more? Were all the overtures of peace merely for show? Again, we cannot know. Twenty years later, the reality is that Israel’s sacrifice of its dearly-developed oilfields almost destroyed its economy. There is a very cold peace between Egypt and Israel. There is next to no economic cooperation. At every international diplomatic or commercial event in Egypt, Israel’s representatives are demonstratively snubbed. Egyptian tourists almost never come to Israel. In Egyptian media and schools, Israel is still described as “the enemy.” The Egyptian army is stockpiling arms, and from time to time, Egyptian leaders speak of war against Israel.But was that Sadat’s intent? Had he have lived, would it have been different? Firstly, that itself is a lesson – that when making a treaty with an enemy, one has to take the worst possible scenario in mind, not merely hope for the best. We can never know what will happen in the future, and we cannot make real sacrifices in the mere hope that everything will work out.Secondly, for peace to have been achieved, the bold ability to step beyond paradigms which Sadat demonstrated would have had to have been countered by a similar approach on the Israeli side, and unfortunately, that was lacking.Peace can never be achieved when only one side gives and the other merely receives. This does not nurture an attitude of respect for an adversary. On the contrary, weakness encourages an adversary to try to take greater advantage. When both sides have surrendered something, there is a chance that they will consider an agreement worth honoring, but when one side has made all the sacrifices, the other side has nothing binding it. And that is what happened at Camp David.Before Camp David, Israel controlled strategic mountain passes that would have made an Egyptian troop advance difficult; she had airfields in the Sinai which gave her advantages in both defensive and offensive movement; and she had oilfields which guaranteed her energy supply in time of war and supported her economy in peace. All these she sacrificed. In addition Begin gave the order to bulldoze the beautiful seaside township of Yamit, together with its surrounding cluster of thriving agricultural settlements on the Israeli side of the Gaza Strip.In return Israel was handed a piece of paper; Sadat gave nothing of substance.But the fault in the Israeli approach goes deeper. Sadat became a hero in Israel. He was lauded all over the country, and celebrations were held for his arrival. Israelis were overjoyed that an Arab leader had actually acknowledged their existence. So great was the adulation that there were Knesset members who proposed making Arabic a required language in schools.Now did any such thing ever happen in Egypt? Or, for that matter, did American praise ever wax so eloquent when a Russian leader came to visit? It seemed that Israel was saying, “Well, since Sadat thinks we’re important, I guess we are.” Self-esteem came not from an inner sense of their own mission and purpose, but from the recognition granted by a foe.Sadat heard that message, and for that reason he made no concession.Israel spoke to him as if he was the leader of all the Arab countries. In particular, she made commitments to him with regard to the West Bank. It was at Camp David that the term “autonomy” was coined.The Palestinians had stated publicly that they did not see Sadat as their representative. He had no commitment to them, nor they to him. For sure, to try to upgrade his image in the Arab countries he felt it necessary to raise the Palestinian issue. But once it was raised, Israel could and should have answered the truth: “This is no concern of yours. Peace with the Palestinians has to be made with the Palestinians.” And he would have left it at that, for his interests really lay only in strengthening his own country.Nevertheless, the Israelis made commitments to him, acknowledging a limitation of their rights to the West Bank.For him, making the requests was almost a caprice. He had nothing to lose, so why not ask? But the Israelis had everything to lose, and nothing to gain by speaking to him about the issue. And yet they spoke – and made concessions.In general, there was no reason for Israeli concessions. Sadat needed American support and money and could not get that without signing a peace treaty with Israel. He had already burned his bridges with the other Arab countries, and would not restore his image by breaking off negotiations with Israel and coming back emptyhanded. Carter was deeply involved in a reelection campaign and needed an agreement to improve his prestige among the voters.Begin, by contrast, needed nothing. There was nothing substantial that Sadat was prepared to give, and within Israel, the fact that he was the prime minister who had brought Sadat to Jerusalem had bolstered his position immensely. Unquestionably, Sadat was going to make demands, and the Americans may have supported him initially, but Begin held all these cards in his hand; there was no reason for him to give in. And yet he made concession after concession, giving away (and even volunteering) security and economic assets without getting anything in return. This was unnecessary. He could have come away with a treaty without making any substantial concessions.Is this mere conjecture? Not at all, because on one of the most sensitive points of all the negotiations, Begin stood his ground, and Sadat conceded. Sadat had demanded that Begin make concessions with regard to Jerusalem. On this point Begin stood firm and said, “No.”Now Jerusalem has sentimental value to the Arabs. A pledge from Begin on an altered status for Jerusalem would have been very flattering to Sadat’s image. But when Begin stood firm, the matter was erased from the agenda.The same motif could have been followed with regard to other matters. Sadat could have made demands, but Begin could have said “no.” If he had said “no” firmly, the American pressure that had been placed on him would have shifted to Sadat. And Sadat would have had to concede, for he had more to lose. Indeed, from the time of Sadat’s visit onward – significantly, many of the points mentioned above were made by the Rebbe in a public address delivered on the very night Sadat landed in Israel – the Rebbe argued that fortitude and patience were the only path to true peace.Throughout the entire time, the Rebbe raised a cry of protest against the Israeli approach. Indeed, Camp David marks the beginning of the fifteen years during which the Rebbe repeatedly warned that the proposed autonomy would quickly grow into an armed and belligerent Palestinian state which would displace Israel and destroy the basic security of her Jewish inhabitants.When Egypt violated the agreements, putting far more military men in the Sinai than the treaty allowed, the Rebbe called for a halt to the Israeli implementation of the remaining clauses. “Why continue withdrawing from land when the Egyptians are not maintaining their commitments?” he repeatedly asked. “Why the stubbornness on the part of the Israelis to observe every minor detail of the agreement, when the Arabs, those who have benefited most from it, violate the few restrictions which they undertook to honor?”
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