Camp David Negotiations

[Sadat-Begin Bargain] The
First Few

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September 5, 1978 Daily Diary

The President and Mrs. Carter attended the arrival of Anwar al-Sadat, President of Egypt. Brzezinski analysis told the President that "Sadat cannot afford a failure and knows it.... [he] will define success in terms of substance, and in particular on Israel's commitment to the principle of withdrawal on all fronts."

President and Mrs. Carter welcomed Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel. Pictured in the delegation: (l to r) Mrs. Carter (back to camera), the President, Major General Avraham Tamir, ?, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Secretary of State Vance, Begin, National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski's analysis told the President that "Begin will define success largely in terms of procedural arrangements and will be very resistant to pressures for substantive concessions. You will have to persuade Begin to make more substantive concessions, while convincing Sadat to settle for less than an explicit Israeli commitment to full withdrawal and Palestinian autonomy."

Somehow, even though this is truly a grave moment, I do not feel at all nervous or concerned. My feeling is that things will work out well or at least to a satisfactory degree." --Brzezinski [Power and Principle, p.255]

That night, President Carter consulted with PM Begin from 8:30 to 10:53 PM. The President tried to assure Begin that the US understood Israel's security concerns and would not deal in "hazy guarantees on this critical issue." Carter emphasized his hope that face to face negotiations would rid Begin and Sadat of their mutual suspicions and eventually lead to a successful agreement.

Begin, for his part, emphasized that President Ford had commited the US to allowing Israel advance review of US proposals and that Israel held as its highest priority solving the question of security, including keeping Israeli settlements in the Sinai territories captured in the 1967 War and secured after 1973 as a buffer zone against Egyptian attack. Begin wanted to keep the three Israeli airfields for between three to five years as additional security and a general demilitarization of the Sinai thereafter. With regard to the language in UNRes 242 banning acquisition of land through war, Israel's position remained that they had captured the Sinai in a "defensive war," after being attacked and that such defensive actions could not be considered as exempt from UNRes242.

The President found this discussion discouraging as it did not offer any new Israeli position, but merely repeated historical position on Israel on every issue, without any indication of flexibility.

September 6, 1978 Daily Diary

Sadat and Carter met and discussed Sadat's position. Sadat presented a detailed proposal entitled "Framework for the Comprehensive Peace...." The proposal raised every major issue and presented a hard line approach to Israel. Carter believed that such a proposal would doom the discussions to failure.

Sadat then produced an extraordinary gesture of good faith. He gave the President a three page memo outlining concessions that Egypt would accept and encouraged the President to use them at the appropriate time.

Later, Begin and Sadat met face to face with Carter to discuss the Sadat framework. Brzezinski's notes recall that

...the meeting with Begin and Sadat went better than expected. Although Sadat's proposals were clearly unacceptable to Begin, Begin, to some extent forewarned by the President not to expect anything forthcoming, responded rather magnanimously, indicated that he is prepared to consider any proposal, and he hopes that the Egyptians would do the same to his proposals. --Brzezinski [Power and Principle, p.256].
The President joked that it would save a lot of time if Begin would simply sign Sadat's document.

September 7, 1978 Daily Diary

Begin and Sadat met face to face twice with the President. These meetings were less cordial than the previous. Begin rebutted each of Sadat's points in the Egyptian "Framework."

Sadat replied that the discussions proved that Begin wanted territory more than he wanted peace.

Behind the scenes, Secretary of State Vance carried on explorations with others in the Israeli delegation, primarily Dayan and Weizman. In these conversations, the Israelis raised two important issues: their settlements and airfields in the Sinai. Dayan and Weizman suggested that they could reach some kind of an agreement on the Sinai settlements and those on the West Bank. Dayan urged the US to assume responsibility for putting forward a proposal of its own as the Israelis and Egyptians could go no further on their own.

The President had expected that the spouses would play an important role in the negotiations. While Jihan Sadat could not attend, the President hoped that Rosalynn and Mrs. Begin would be able to ease tensions and create a more congenial atmosphere.

September 8, 1978 Daily Diary

Sadat argued that, "Begin is making withdrawal conditional on land acquisition. Begin is not ready for Peace." In his notes, Brzezinski wrote that, "Carter doubtless agreed with Sadat, but he admirably maintained his position as a conciliator, responding firmly that 'Begin is a tough and honest man. In the past he was quite hawkish. He sees his proposals as a starting point.' Carter went on to say that he agreed with Sadat on the question of settlements, but he added the Egyptians ought to be more forthcoming on the security issues."

In his meeting with Begin, the President told the Prime Minister that the Israelis must not dwell on the Sadat proposal and suggested that Sadat had already agreed to a number of compromises which Carter now had in hand. Begin emphasized Israel's unwillingness to abandon the Sinai settlements and its continued claims to sovereignty in the disputed areas (Sinai, West Bank, and Gaza). He also complained that the American position in the negotiations had shifted from being a mediator to actively taking sides.

That evening, the American delegation enjoyed a pleasant dinner with the Israelis enjoying the completely different mood: "carefree and lighthearted." Without any real justification, the President left the dinner optimistic about the situation. Earlier, the President had authorized Harold Saunders to begin the development of an American proposal to present to Begin and then Sadat outlining a possible agreement.

September 9, 1978 Daily Diary

The principals held no formal meetings during Saturday, Begin observing the sabath. The President developed a list called "Necessary Elements of Agreement" to assist the team developing the draft American proposal. Sadat conferred with his delegation.

Weizman met with Sadat twice to discuss the details. On each issue, Sadat indicated that the Egyptians would not accept any further suggestions from the Israelis until after the Americans had developed their proposal.


The President discussed the American proposal at four o'clock, adding his suggestions. In particular, the President added the word "minor" to the draft on modifying the 1967 lines on the West Bank and Gaza. The President intended that this wording would become a bargaining chit in his negotiations with Begin.

In the evening Brzezinski played chess with Prime Minister Begin. Brzezinski recalled,

He announced that this is the first time he has played since September 1940, when a chess game that he was playing was interrupted by the NKVD, which came to arrest him....

I suspect that Begin's reference to his last chess game being interrupted by the NKVD was a psychological ploy. Toward the end of the game, Mrs. Begin showed up, and noticing her husband and me deeply engaged, she exclaimed, "Menachem just loves to play chess!"

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