Camp David Negotiations

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September 10, 1978 Daily Diary

The President led an excursion to the Gettysburg battlefield. As a young cadet, Sadat had studied the battle in great detail, especially with an eye to how it had turned the tide in the American Civil War. Begin was completely unfamiliar with the battle or its role in the war. However, when the President's party came to the part of the park commemorating Lincoln's Gettysburg address, Prime Minister Begin recited the entire speech from memory.

In two dramatic meetings (one held in the late afternoon and the other, a five and one-half hour meeting beginning at 9:30 PM), the President presented the American proposal to the Israeli delegation. The exchanges became sharp when Begin focused on the American insistence on adhering to UN Resolution 242. Carter insisted that an Israeli disavowal of 242 would scuttle the peace process. Begin eventually responded "We do not consider the resolution to be self-implementing. 'All its part' includes the preamble. That has been our position for eleven years." Carter responded, "Maybe that's why you don't have peace for eleven years."

Further, heated discussions revolved around the issue of self-rule on the Israeli occupied West Bank. The Americans argued that the Israeli proposal for vetoes and controls amounted to political control. Moshe Dayan responded, "...we are not after political control. If it looks that way to you, we will look at it again." The President suggested that Sadat might be willing to sign a separate peace treaty provided the Israelis showed some flexibility.

The President then outlined his priorities:

In securing these objectives, Carter revealed that he would push Sadat to accept the language that only representatives of the "permanent residents of the West Bank and Gaza will participate in the negotiations -- not all Palestinians." Sadat had proposed to agree with this compromise language in his earlier memo to the President.

September 11, 1978 Daily Diary

At 3:00 AM, the meeting ended with the Israelis promising they would produce recommended changes to the American proposal by 8:00AM. After making revisions responding to the Israeli position, President Carter presented a revised American proposal to Sadat. Brzezinski wrote in his journal,

I am fearful that we have revised it to a point that may make it difficult for Sadat to accept our document. Carter relies heavily on his special relationship with Sadat to bring him around to a more compromising point of view, and I hope he can pull it off.

Sadat offered that he would be willing to allow the Israeli settlers to remain in the Sinai for three years and he might consider allowing Israelis to control two of the airfields in the Sinai for the same length of time. The Americans cannot reveal this position, though. Sadat would discuss the draft with his colleagues.

While the Egyptians discussed the proposal, Vance and the President both explored potential avenues of agreement with the Israelis. Vance and Dayan explored a potential Sinai agreement. Carter met with Weizman and Tamir to review the Sinai situation.

The eventual Egyptian position taken that day turned out more pessimistic than Sadat's original reaction. Foreign Minister Kamil argued that Sadat's tendency to overlook how details would undermine his position in Egypt and the Arab world had led to Sadat's original optimism. In fact, though, Kamil argued the proposal was unacceptable to Egypt in a number of ways.

In late night discussions with Dayan and Barak, the President discerned that they were adopting a more positive and compromising position.

September 12, 1978 Daily Diary

The President arose and took an early morning bicycle ride around the Camp David grounds. Along the way, President Carter stopped and chatted with members of the Egyptian delegation. In a morning meeting, Sadat and President Carter discussed the American proposal. Sadat recounted his troubles with the Egyptian delegation and indicated he felt discouraged. He, nevertheless, told Carter that he probably would eventually sign the accords, after going through the motions of fighting on some issues. Carter assessed the meeting as indicating that Sadat would be cooperative.

During the late morning, Begin and Brzezinski walked and discussed the situation. Begin characterized as "fantasmorphic" the position that the Israelis must dismantle its Sinai settlements. Begin asserted, "My right eye will fall out, my right hand will fall off before I ever agree to the dismantling of a single Jewish settlement." Brzezinski argued that the Arabs perceived the settlements as a form of colonialism and that the Israelis should be more sensitive to this Arab point of view, given their relatively recent past.

Dayan and Vance discussed the Sinai settlement situation, with Dayan arguing for completing a limited agreement leaving vague the question of settlements. Vance rejected the suggestion and Dayan said that he had tried his best to avert disaster. History would show, he said that this conversation with Vance had been the last chance to salvage something.

Meanwhile, the President worked on a draft agreement he entitled a "Framework for a Settlement in the Sinai." The text represented Carter's own views on a potential solution.

Sadat found the Carter "Framework" largely acceptable. Begin, however, became very concerned with the situation. In a late night meeting with Carter, Begin outlined his inability to accept the reference in UN 242 that claimed the "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war." Brzezinski interpreted this position to mean that Begin was maneuvering to protect his interests in claims to the West Bank territory seized from Jordan. Near the end of the meeting, Begin pulled out a type-written statement and read it, indicating a willingness on Israel's part to end the negotiations unsuccessfully rather than agree to the general tenets of the American proposal. In a heated exchange, Begin raised the question of whether Israel acted as a colonial power exercising military rule over the Palestinians. President Carter accused Begin of throwing away a promising peace just to keep "a few illegal settlers on Egyptian land." As he left, Begin said that Israel would not want territory in the Sinai and would not want settlements on the West Bank for the first five years of the peace.

Meanwhile, Vance and Brzezinski continued to work with staff to develop a new revision, incorporating the agreed upon changes and searching for ways to accommodate the Israeli positions.


September 13, 1978

Carter and Vance spent a good deal of the day working with Israeli Attorney General Aharon Barak and Osama El-Baz, a senior advisor for Sadat. The Israelis continued to press for excluding the language of UN Resolution 242 having to do with acquiring territory through war. A proposal to "finesse" this problem seemed acceptable: the proposed final accord would only refer to 242 generally and then would append the text of 242 to the accord. A similar arrangement was constructed covering the sticky symantic problem of refering to the Palestinian people as "Palestinian Arabs," which Begin insisted on doing while the Americans and Egyptians considered this an unreasonable point. In the end, all sides agreed to use their own phrases and Carter and Begin would exchange letters recognizing the linguistic differences.

This team proposed an agreement on the status of Jerusalem, keeping it undivided and providing for free access to the holy places. Both Begin and Sadat agreed, thus sealing the deal. The problem of settlements still prevented progress, however. Both Barak and later Begin adamantly refused to agree to removing Sinai settlers while El-Baz refused to commit to open borders and full diplomatic recognition. This seemed to establish a quid pro quo on these two issues.

September 14, 1978

With the Israelis adamant on the issue of Sinai settlers, the President began to worry that the process of negotiations will eventually fail. Brzezinski and Vance added some language to the American proposal that bolster Sadat's position. Having to do with the status of Jerusalem, these provisions drew a strongly negative reaction from Begin. "Non-possumus," he called the provisions for elections in the West Bank. And Sadat would not allow for any finessing of the question of Sinai. Without resolving the Sinai settlements question, Sadat would not sign an agreement. Instead he would agree to the American draft and leave it at that.

Faced with such strongly divergent positions, Vance and Brzezinski begin to plan for the possible collapse of the talks. They recommended that the administration coordinate with Sadat to make it clear that the responsibility for failure rested with the Israelis. The President phoned Vice-President Mondale to request that he come up to Camp David in order to deliver a message to the Israelis about the potential plight of the talks. Brzezinski's strategy in making the request rested on the belief that the Israelis believed Mondale a strong supporter of the Israeli cause.

The American position was that two fundamental stumbling blocks stood in the way of the talk's success: the Sinai settlements and how to achieve an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai and how to determine of the West Bank and Gaza, given the UN Resolution 242 emphasis undermining the status of territory obtained in war.

September 15, 1978

The American team met to discuss how to proceed in the next few days, assuming that the talks had reached an impasse and would eventually fail to reach an agreement. The plan called for developing a joint communique and a Monday night presidential address. Over lunch with Harold Brown and Brzezinski, Weizman offered a deal on the Sinai airfields question -- if the US would replace the lost airfields, the Israelis would give them up. The President decided he would not go along with such a deal unless the Israelis agreed to the whole American proposal.

An afternoon meeting between Mondale, Brown, Vance and Brzezinski on the one hand and Dayan, Barak, and Weizman on the other. Barak devised a proposal for resolving the Sinai question -- with Sadat's agreement on a framework for the West Bank and Gaza, Begin would sign the American proposal on Sinai. The Israelis would then begin withdrawing from Sinai except for a thin security zone which they would retain until a peace treaty could be signed. Sadat would then be signing an agreement over the West Bank and Gaza while basically postponing a show down on the Sinai.

In the middle of the work on these contingencies, the entire process was derailed as President Sadat decided to withdraw from the negotiations and leave without any formal actions at all. With Sadat arranging to leave, the entire Camp David negotiations would have failed.

After considering the options, President Carter dressed into more formal clothes and went to Sadat's cabin for a show-down. Sadat recounted how Dayan had told him earlier that Israel would not sign any agreement. This, of course, infuriated Sadat. Carter recounted to Sadat the dire consequences for relations with the US if the Egyptians pulled out. In addition, Carter emphasized how Sadat's failure would bolster his critics in the Arab world, damaging his own reputation. Carter pleaded for patience, for at least two more days. Sadat eventually agreed.

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