In Recognition of the 20th Anniversary of the Camp David Accords
October 25, 1998
University of Maryland, College Park
It is always nice to hear a good introduction – and particularly from someone who is so close and such a cherished friend as Jehan Sadat. In thinking about what I was going to say today, I decided not to write a text but just to reminisce about some of the things that have been important to me in dealing with this vitally important subject.
But I came today not because of entreaties, and not because of my respect for Jehan Sadat, not even because of my respect for this great university. I came for a different purpose and wanted to come last year. The first year I was in office, I met sixty-eight foreign leaders, some who came to the White House on formal occasions, and others when I visited the United Nations in New York. And in the next three years I met a number of others. This is my seventeenth year as a professor at Emory University. I have given a lot of lectures in that time, and I have been asked a lot of questions. One of the most frequent questions is: Who is the greatest leader you have ever met in your life? And I have only had one answer: President Anwar Sadat of Egypt.
I first met Anwar Sadat just a few months after I became president. I had taught Sunday school for many years -- I taught this morning before I left my home -- and I had a deep religious interest in the Holy Land. I had learned as a candidate and as a new president the importance of the Middle East to me personally, to those who share faith in God, and to those who are concerned about the integrity and the future peace of my own country.
There was an alignment of forces in the Middle East that was very disturbing. The powerful Soviet Union in the depths of the Cold War aligned with certain groups, and our country aligned with others. I felt it incumbent upon me to cast aside any restraints regarding political popularity or the risk of failure and began to seek a way to bring peace to the region. I began to meet with Middle East leaders. I was distressed when I met with then Prime Minister Rabin of Israel who was extremely cautious. I then met with King Hussein of Jordan, President Assad from Syria, and Crown Prince Fahd from Saudi Arabia. It was not encouraging, the totality of it.
Then President Anwar Sadat came to meet with me. We had our normal conference -- one side filled with Americans and the other with Egyptians – followed by a banquet in the evening with some entertainment. Afterwards I felt a strange rapport with that man that has been almost unequaled in my life. I invited Anwar to go upstairs with me, to a place in the White House where very few people visit, to the second floor where the families live. He went up with me. Our little daughter Amy was asleep, and I woke her up and said, "Amy, I want you to meet a new friend." And President Sadat met my daughter. We then went and sat on the corner of a sofa, and I began to explain to him my dreams of peace in the Middle East. I found a receptivity that I had not experienced anywhere else, and I began to recognize the attributes that made him great. He was calm, self-assured, and had a far-sighted awareness of global interrelatedness. It was obvious that he was bold and did not lack political courage. We explored some ideas. There were some things he said would never happen in his lifetime. He said we might see Israeli ships going through the Suez Canal, but there would never be an exchange of ambassadors.
After he left I knew – and made a public statement saying - that a bright shining light came into my life with the visit of this singular man. I asked Anwar Sadat to help me break the ice that had frozen over as a result of four wars between Egypt and Israel in the last twenty-five years. Later, when I had not made any progress after a very conservative Menachem Begin was elected Prime minister of Israel, Sadat said he would like to do something that was bold. I encouraged him. His first thought was to invite the five permanent members of the United Nations Security council to come together promote peace in the Middle East. I said there was no way to invite all five – the U.S., Soviet Union, China, France, and Great Britain – that it would just complicate the issue.
We exchanged ideas again, and in September he said that he would be willing to go to Jerusalem. He announced this publicly after he had consulted with me, and I strongly approved. I contacted Menachem Begin, who responded to me with an invitation for Sadat to come, and he went.
It was a momentous event. The First Baptist Church in Washington where I attended services, adjourned early so I could go home and watch Sadat’s speech. It was a harsh speech, laying down the maximum demands of the Arab world. However, it was not important what he said; it was where he said it. Then - through me – he invited Menachem Begin to join him in Egyptian territory, which turned out to be a disaster. The two men were totally incompatible. They were only together about twenty minutes and stormed away from each other in a spirit of anger.
Later, I decided that the only way to break this deadlock was to invite both men to come to meet with me at Camp David. I hand-wrote long letters to both of them, and they both agreed. And they arrived there, and I talked to both men. Before that I had a deep psycho-analysis of each man presented to me - very thick books. I never let Jehan read the one about her husband. But they turned out to be quite accurate. After studying those books, I knew both men. Sadat thought about complicated matters in a broad strategic, bold, aggressive, global fashion. Begin was just the opposite. He thought about things in a more detailed way. How would they affect the people that had supported him? How would they affect his own interests inside Israel? When I deliberately put pressure on both men, Sadat would respond to escape my pressure by talking about broad generalities. Menachem Begin would become involved in minutia, particularly in semantics - wondering about what does this word mean, what does that word mean?
I brought them together; however, as had been the case with the visit in Egypt, they were incompatible. I tried for three days to get them to talk about the future. All they could talk about was the past. And so for the last ten days at Camp David, I never let them see each other. Begin sat in his cabin. Sadat sat in his cabin. They ate at different times, different places. I kept them very carefully apart, and I went back and forth between them. While I was with Menachem Begin, Sadat was resting. While I was with Anwar Sadat, Begin was resting. And we kept going and made some progress.
Within that interim period we went to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg one day, and I made them both agree not to talk about the Middle East or about anything that happened since 1865. I sat between the two men in the limousine. We got to Gettysburg, and Sadat, all of his generals, and all of the Israeli generals knew the battle details – I was really amazed. However, Menachem Begin did not know anything about the battle. We had Shelby Foot with us, an expert on the Civil War. And so Begin was a little embarrassing to me, not having learned about Gettysburg. But when we arrived at the point where Abraham Lincoln had made his address, Menachem Begin recited it word-for- word. A nice event – that I will never forget.
Then we went back to work, not very successfully at first. Assistants were negotiating. I was primarily by myself with those two men and those whom they designated. One day we made the mistake of letting Moshe Dayan go and speak to Sadat. Ezer Weizman who was here last year was a friend of Sadat as you know. Moshe Dayan, who did not know Sadat well, outlined to him a harsh summary of Israel’s demands and said, "We will not make any concessions!" I was in a meeting in my cabin with my secretary of state and defense secretary. And I was informed that Sadat had packed his backs and called for his helicopter to remove him from Camp David. I was distressed because Sadat had promised me he would not leave.
I was wearing blue jeans, and so I put on more formal clothes. I went over to the window, and I looked out over the mountain side and said a silent prayer. Then I went over and confronted Sadat. It was the only harsh confrontation we ever had. I told him that he had betrayed me and broken his promise to me -- that if he left Camp David and left me and the Israelis there, the condemnation of the world would be on him. And eventually he decided to stay. He only made two demands of me and my negotiation role. One was that we have a comprehensive agreement on behalf of the Palestinians -- which is there. I hope all of you will read what was agreed in Camp David. And secondly, that all Israeli troops, all Israeli citizens had to leave Egyptian territory in the Sinai desert. Those were the only two. He said: "Anything else you negotiate, my good friend Jimmy (as he always said), I will accept it."
There was a general consensus at Camp David that Sadat trusted me too much and that Begin did not trust me enough. Sadat was the most forthcoming member of the Egyptian delegation. Begin was the most reluctant member of the Israeli delegation.
We have gotten to the eleventh day. We had a breakdown because Menachem Begin had taken an oath before God that he would never dismantle an Israeli settlement. And one of Sadat’s unchangeable demands was that all Israelis had to be removed from Sinai dessert. There was one in Yamit, a little settlement, about 3,000 people in the Sinai dessert. That was the fatal obstacle.
Begin had decided to leave. I had decided to leave, and so had Sadat. Begin asked me to sign a photograph of the three of us for his grandchildren. My secretary brought me eight photographs, and she had also discovered the names of Begin’s grandchildren. So instead of just signing Jimmy Carter, I put "With Love to" and wrote the name of every one of his grandchildren. I took them over to his cabin. He was hardly speaking to me. I knocked at the door and went in. I handed him the photographs, a stack of them. He said, "Thank you, Mr. President" and turned around, dismissing me in effect. And he looked down and he read the first photograph, and he called out the name of his granddaughter. And then one by one he read out the names of his grandchildren. Tears ran down his cheeks, and when I saw them I also cried. And he said, "Why don’t we try one more time?"
I went back to my cabin with a man named Aharon Barak who had been designated to be Attorney General of Israel. He is now the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Barak and I worked out a proposal to submit to Begin in effect saying, "You do not have to violate your oath. You do not have anything to do with dismantling your settlement. We will let the Israeli Knesset make the decision, yes or no. And you do not have any reason to vote." And to make a long story short, we concluded the agreement. And then later with about an eighty-five percent vote, the Knesset agreed to dismantle the settlement in Yamit. That was the high point.
After that things broke down again, and I could not get the Israelis to carry out the commitments that had been made. My interpretation and Sadat’s interpretation was that Begin had agreed not to build any more settlements until the peace agreement was concluded. Begin, in my opinion, (he disputed this), violated that commitment and said he only agreed to wait three months. So the settlements began to be built again. I decided to go to Egypt and Israel in March of 1979. I called Sadat in advance, and he said, "Anything you propose, I will accept it." When I got to Israel, Begin was totally adamant against making any further concessions, and he and I had a terrible confrontation.
All the members of his cabinet including Sharon agreed with my proposal, but Prime Minister Begin did not. The last day I was to be there, Prime Minister Begin and his wife came up to my and Rosalynn’s suite in the King David Hotel. We went down to the lobby to meet them. Our elevator got stuck six feet above the floor. It took them about twenty minutes with a big crow bar to tear open the door of the elevator. We did not know if God had his hands in the episode or not, but Begin finally agreed. I went back to the airport in Cairo, and we announced that a peace treaty had been concluded. We signed it a few days later.
Next spring it will have been twenty years. Not a single person has been killed. And not a single word of that peace treaty has been violated. And it has been a testament that it is possible for Arabs and Israelis who have despised each other and killed each other and have been at war with each other can indeed find peace so that it is permanently beneficial to both sides.
Then came another long empty period when nothing was done, frustrations grew, and violence erupted. Then there came a time of secret negotiations by the Norwegians. There was a social science group who went to Gaza to study the problems of Palestinians who were living in occupied territory in Gaza. They became trusted by the Palestinians, and as academics they reached out to the Israelis too. First a very low level of government increased upward. I was in Vienna, Austria, at a human rights conference in June of 1993, and Shimon Peres told me about the secret talks. He said the United States did not know about them. Later Chairman Arafat also told me about the talks. I was in the northern part of Yemen when I got a call that Arafat had flown into the capital and needed to see me urgently. I left my visit and flew down to the capital. With his eyes filled with tears, Arafat told me they had reached agreement and that the biggest problem for Rabin was to notify the secretary of state of the United States, whose government had not been involved. They rented a Lear jet in Geneva and flew to Los Angeles and informed Warren Christopher that the Oslo agreement had been signed.
There was a ceremony on the South lawn. Some of you were there. I was there, sitting on the front row and my wife on the third row. Behind her were former secretaries of state. And sitting beside her was the foreign secretary of Norway who had negotiated the agreement. His name was never mentioned. Two years later he died at the age of forty-four. This signing was a high point. And then began the low points with Rabin’s assassination, and violence by the Palestinian militants which resulted in Netanyahu’s election.
And then the long dry spell interrupted recently by President Clinton who brought the leaders to the Wye Plantation. You know the result which has basically put back on track the peace process. It is not quite back where it was before Rabin’s assassination, but there is hope. Anyone dealing with the Middle East has to be an optimist. I am. Jehan is. Sadat was. Many others. I am optimistic not as a naive foolish person. But I am optimistic because I know the Israelis, and the Lebanese, and the Syrians, and the Jordanians, and the Palestinians, and the Egyptians. I know that the Israeli mothers want peace. And the Palestinian mothers want peace. And the Lebanese, and the Syrian, and the Jordanian mothers want peace. The obstacles are the politicians. They do not have the courage to honor the demands and the prayers of the mothers. I made this same statement in a speech to the Knesset back in those days. I do not know what is going to happen in the future. I am inclined to be cautiously optimistic. Those of us in this room who have demonstrated an interest in the process need to be involved. However mighty, some with authority, some without authority. All of us have some degree of influence.
We need to support President Clinton in his efforts. I sent him a congratulatory letter the day before yesterday. We need to strengthen the Jewish community in this country who are deeply concerned about the security of the honored land. We need to be conversant with the suffering of the Palestinian people who have dreams. And we need to resurrect in times of doubt, the image of the greatest leader I have ever met. His name has been given to this lecture series: Anwar Sadat.
C.D. Mote, Jr., President of the University of Maryland:
Thank you very much, President Carter, for the inspiration and guidance you have given us all and for this opportunity to sense your personal history of this period that is so critical to all of us. It has really been a treat for us to hear you and also to be guided by you.
President Carter has graciously agreed to respond to questions submitted by a distinguished panel of participants at a conference held at College Park this past Friday and Saturday. The theme of the conference was Major Unilateral Concessions in International Bargaining: A Conference on the Occasion of the Twentieth Anniversary of the Camp David Accords.
Professor Telhami, would you please relay the questions from the panel?
Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development:
The first question is from Professor Saad al-Din Ibrahim from the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development in Cairo, Egypt.
Many Egyptian insiders to the Camp David negotiations in 1978 were led to believe that you, Mr. President, were going to enlist the Saudi’s support to the Camp David Accords which never materialized. What is the truth to this claim?
President Carter: Well, this in the past, I think, has been a secret that has not been known by anyone except me and then Crown Prince Fahd, now King Fahd. Before we went to Camp David, I met with Crown Prince Fahd. He encouraged me to go and said he wished every success. When I left Israel in the spring of 1979 and flew to the airport in Cairo and go President Sadat’s final approval of the exact text of the treaty and got into Air Force One to fly back to the States, the first message I got was from Saudi Arabia. It said: We are deeply pleased at the success you had and the peace treaty that we hope will bring an end of violence in our region.
The Saudis were quite close to me as President. When I had a problem with oil, when I had a problem later on with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Christmas week of 1979, they were there to help me. The grievous aftermath of the peace treaty though was that almost unanimously in the Arab world there was a condemnation of Sadat and a boycott of Egypt itself. Only three Arab leaders refrained from that condemnation: King Hassan of Morocco, President Nimeiry of Sudan, and Sultan Qabus of Oman. Everyone else publicly condemned the statement.
So as is often the case in politics, there is a difference in public statements and the private assurances. So I can let you know that I had private assurances of encouragement from the Saudis to proceed. But publicly they joined in with other Arab leaders who objected.
I cannot claim that we did not make some mistakes in the way Camp David was conducted. It was complicated enough for me. Some people have said, "Why didn’t you invite King Hussein of Jordan? King Hussein would not have come. "Why didn’t you invite some Palestinians?" Had Palestinians been there officially, Begin would not have come. So we had to – I had to make a judgment about how restrictive we should be. But to answer your question, I can assure you - and the documents are at the Carter Library in Atlanta - that we had strong support privately from the Saudis, even though they did join in with other Arab countries in condemning the peace agreement after it was reached.
Shibley Telhami: The second question, Mr. President, is from Professor Asher Arian of the Haifa University in Israel.
Do you now think that your efforts at Camp David helped you or hurt you in the 1980 presidential campaign? What element in the negotiation are you now sorry you did not press harder to obtain?
President Carter: In March of 1977, before I had ever met Begin or Sadat, I made a speech in Massachusetts. And I called for a homeland for the Palestinian people, to end their long period of suffering. This was a statement that was quite controversial at the time. When we concluded the Camp David Accords, it had mixed reviews among Jewish leaders in the United States and also in Israel. When I visited Israel later, some of the people who had become top leaders there thought I betrayed Israel by my apparent affinity for the Palestinians. And one minister of defense, a very influential man, told me that I gave away the Sinai which should be under the control of Israel, and I returned Egypt’s oil wells which should have been retained for Israel. So there were mixed feelings about that.
I might say that almost invariably in any sort of political issue, the ones that feel most intensely are the ones who tend to prevail. And the ones who are just in general for peace or in general for progress are quite often moderate in their beliefs. They are not willing to sacrifice to bring about what’s nice. We see this quite often in our country, for instance, with gun control. The overwhelming majority of Americans feel that AK-47s ought not to be sold to people through a gun shop. But when a vote comes in the Congress, or in a city government, or a state legislature the intensity of the National Rifle Association prevails and the guns, the machine guns are still being sold that way.
I am not being critical. I hate to avoid the question. In 1980 when I ran for reelection as president, I was the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt who did not get a majority vote among the American Jewish community. By then the glory of the peace treaty at Camp David had dissipated, and the threat of loosing territory in the West Bank and Gaza, the threat of a possible independent Palestinian entity or government was genuinely fearsome to many Israelis and to those who supported them over here. So I would say at the time we signed the peace treaty there was an almost unanimous favorable response, but over a period of time it dissipated. I would say in general the incumbent government of Israel draws support in this country from the Jewish community. And I think that is the way it ought to be. And that is probably the way I would feel if I were Jewish and were concerned about Israel being in danger. I think that makes negotiations very difficult. It made it difficult for me. It made it very difficult for President Reagan and Bush and now for President Clinton.
The genuine and I would say legitimate fear of Israelis is that their security may be frittered away because there is not much trust on either side as you well know. The Israelis do not trust the Palestinians. The Palestinians do not trust the Israelis. And there is evidence on both sides because Netanyahu cannot control settlers, some of whom will now be forced to leave territory that they believe in the depth of their hearts and souls is ordained to them by God almighty. There could not be a more deep commitment in human beings’ hearts. And there are Palestinians, members of the PLO, Hamas, who are deeply convinced that Sadat and Arafat have betrayed the cause of the Palestinians and that any peace agreement with the Israelis is counterproductive.
I overanswered the question. But the point is, I do not have any blame for anyone who has deep feelings, you might say, on all four sides: the Israelis pro and con peace, the Palestinians pro and con peace. You can make justifiable arguments in every case. I wrote a book about this. It is called Blood of Abraham. I think a very provocative title. We are all descendants of Abraham. Those of us who are Christians, those of us who are Jews, and those of us who are Arabs. And what I did was to go to Israel and talk to members of the Likud and also members of Labor. I went into the West Bank and Gaza and talked to Palestinians who were basically moderate and basically fervent. I went to Lebanon when the war was still on. Shells were bursting around the president’s palace while I was talking to him. I went to Assad in Syria three or four times. I went to meet with the Jordanians and the Egyptians. And I wrote a book describing not my interpretations but what they felt about the Mid-East peace process. It is an interesting book. If you study this subject you might want to take a look at it. But I understand, I believe, the complexities and the deep feelings and the justifiable fears that exist over there in the Holy Land. And so we should not feel an element of hatred or animosity toward someone who disagrees with us. That is the root and the cause of continuous strife. We cannot recognize that our enemies are human beings and they might have some justifiable reasons for disagreeing with us. So, I hope that in the future we can all be more moderate.
Shibley Telhami: Thank you. Last question, Mr. President, from Carol Gordon. Over the past two days, we have been discussing the Camp David Accords and the effect of major unilateral concessions such as that made by President Sadat. The issue of trust or lack of trust and the question of how unilateral concessions help build trust has been emphasized. Can you compare the relationship between Begin and Sadat with that of Arafat and Netanyahu, especially regarding the level of trust and mistrust between them?
And if you may allow me, Mr. President, since this is the last question to take the liberty of asking you to elaborate on a statement that related to trust, both here and in your book, which was: "Sadat trusted me too much." What do you mean by that, Mr. President?
President Carter: Do I have my choice between those two questions?
Well, you know, professors could go on for days trying to analyze the difference between Netanyahu and Begin. And I am reluctant to be completely frank in my opinion. You know, the TV cameras go on. But I will say that Begin, I always thought, made the most courageous decisions at Camp David. He had the most to loose when he went back home. Because not only had he made an oath that he would not dismantle an Israeli settlement, but he had led the most militant element of the Jewish society when they were still under the domination of Great Britain and had even committed acts of violence, which is well known. But he was a man of great courage. And I would guess that he had probably the highest intelligence of any man I have ever known. He was a semanticist. He dealt in the meaning of words. Very effectively, I might say. When I proposed in my handwritten notes, which are available for you to look at, that the Palestinians be granted autonomy, he said: "Insert full, full autonomy." So I wrote in "full" at Begin’s request. Unfortunately, they were not given any authority or autonomy afterwards for a long time.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is constrained I think by his own deep beliefs and also by his alliance with elements in Israeli political society that are more reluctant than he is to make steps to implement the Oslo agreement. And I think that he at Wye Plantation had to make the most courageous decision. It did not require a lot of courage on the part of President Clinton to go there and to negotiate. Even a failure would not have been devastating. But it took a lot of courage which I admire deeply to make the concessions that Netanyahu has made.
I would say that Sadat was totally different from Chairman Arafat. Sadat was bold, authoritative, and self-confident, independent, strategic in his thoughts. Chairman Arafat is not blessed with those attributes of boldness and independence. He has to deal with and has dealt for decades with a very fragile organization of disparate points of view. His continuing as a chairman is predicated on his balancing all those conflicting opinions in trying to reach compromises that will retain his authority. Sadat did not have to worry about that. Sadat was, I think, overly immune to the condemnation of those within the Arab world who disagreed with him. I used to argue with him about that. He was impervious to this, which may be one of the causes of his assassination. So I think you can see that the four men are quite different. And I am not trying to exult any above the others, except I have already told you how I feel about Sadat. But I have great admiration for Chairman Arafat, with whom I have spent many hours, and who came to me as soon as there was an opportunity and said to me, "I wish we had accepted all the terms of the Camp David Accords. We would have been much better off had we done it at the time."
The other part of your question. Sadat was as good a friend as I ever had personally. Rosalynn and Jehan are close friends. My children are friends with Sadat’s children. My grandchildren are friends of Sadat’s grandchildren. He came down to Plains to visit me in my little home town, six-hundred people, just a few months before he gave his life for peace. And when I went to Egypt I went to his little home town. And I walked through the streets and talked to some of his neighbors. There was an element of mutual trust and accommodation and rapport of a political and human nature that was possibly unprecedented between two leaders of nations.
When I got to Camp David as I mentioned earlier, Sadat told me, this is strange to say: "Mr. President, my good friend Jimmy," he always said, "anything that you propose, I will accept. Except I have two demands. I want a comprehensive agreement for the Palestinians that all the Israeli forces would be withdrawn from the Westbank and Gaza." All that is in the Camp David Accord. "And the other thing is, every Israeli has to leave Egyptian territory. If they want to come back later and live there with my approval I will arrange that but they have to leave. And with those two exceptions it is okay."
And as I said earlier, I am repeating myself to answer the question, Sadat was by far the most forthcoming member of the Egyptian delegation. Some of his top assistants resigned in protest because they felt that Sadat was too forthcoming, that he trusted me too much. And as I said earlier, Prime Minister Begin, I felt, did not trust me enough. I do not say that in a critical fashion. But Ezer Weizman, Moshe Dayan, Aharon Barak and other members of the Israeli delegation trusted me a lot more than did Prime Minister Begin.
So the feeling of trust was mutual, and I am glad that he trusted me too much.