The Carter Administration's Efforts

The election of Jimmy Carter as President of the United States created a special opportunity for American diplomacy in the Middle East. President Carter had no ties to the course of American diplomacy, whether by Democratic or Republican administrations. His own views were not already cast and his chief diplomatic advisors tended to view the issue in a light differently from previous administrations.

But, they all agreed on what the US had at stake.

The Administration's Views on Its Opportunity

From Keeping Faith, President Carter remembers his initial views:
In my affinity for Israel, I shared the sentiment of most other Southern Baptists that the holy places we revered should be preserved and made available for visits by Christians, and that members of other religious faiths should have the same guaranteed privileges concerning their sacred sites.....

The Judeo-Christian ethic and study of the Bible were bonds between Jews and Christians which had always been part of my life. I also believed very deeply that the Jews who had survived the Holocaust deserved their own nations, and that they had a right to live in peace among their neighbors. I considered this homeland for the Jews to be compatible with the teachings of the Bible, hence ordained by God. These moral and religious beliefs made my commitment to the security of Israel unshakable.

These were thoughts I shared with many other Americans but now I had been elected President and needed a broader perspective. For the well-being of my own country, I wanted the Middle East region stable and at peace; I did not want to see Soviet influenc e expanded in the area. In its ability to help accomplish these purposes, Israel was a strategic asset to the United States. I had no strong feelings about the Arab countries. I had never visited one and knew no Arab leaders.

In his memoirs, Hard Choices, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance described the initial situation as one in which,
...the step-by-step approach had exhausted its potential and that it was time to renew the pursuit of a comprehensive peace. ....There was an additional dimension to the Carter policy that sharply distinguished our Middle East approach from that of our predecessors. Peace in the region would be a critical element in a broader American strategy for shaping a more cooperative wo rld order in the coming decades. To cope with the complex challenges of a prolonged period of widespread, turbulent upheaval, we believed we would have to work toward developing institutions for the prompt and orderly resolution of conflicts and the acco mmodation of social, economic, and political change.

Carter Administration's Initial Diplomatic Effort

The new administration's efforts at a new, comprehensive Mid-East settlement focused on restoration of the pre-1967 borders, full normalization of Arab-Israeli relations and the subsequent recognition of Israel's inherent right to exist, a reconvened Gene va conference on a comprehensive settlement (including Syria), the right of self-determination for Palestinians in a Palestinian homeland of some kind, the full participation of the Soviet Union in peace negotiations, and the full participation of the PLO .

The Administration's efforts began with the new President meeting each of the leaders involved. Throughout March and April of 1977, President Carter discussed his proposal with visiting Arab leaders and Prime Minister Rabin of Israel. Both the Israelis and the PLO were especially reluctant to the pursue the new proposals.

Sadat's Bold Initiative

The principal development in these discussions was the introduction of President Sadat to President Carter. In his memoirs, President Carter describes their first meeting:

...a shining light burst on the Middle East scene for me. I had my first meeting with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, a man who would change history and whom I would come to admire more than any other leader.

....It soon became apparent that he was charming and frank, and also a very strong and courageous leader who would not shrink from making difficult political decisions. He was extraordinarily inclined toward boldness and seemed impatient with those who were more timid and cautious. I formed an immediate impression that if he should become a personal ally, our friendship could be very significant for both of us, and that the prospects for peace in his trouble region might not be dead.

....[The next morning] we discussed his other regional concerns, and the possibilities for United States military and economic aid to Egypt. Sadat's final words convinced me that he was determined to make progress without delay. When we talked about military sales to Egypt, he said, "I would rather do without weapons that we need, like the F-5E fighter pla ne, in order not to endanger the possibilities of a Middle East settlement this year."

With the American comprehensive program failing to realize a full-fledged Geneva convention, President Sadat took a dramatic turn. On 9 November, he told the Egyptian parliament that he would do anything to achieve peace, including traveling to Jerusalem to meet his old enemies face to face. Within less than a week, the Israeli government had issued Sadat an official invitation to speak to the Knesset. Sadat's speech created a new opportunity for peace.

For two months following Sadat's dramatic speech, however, the pressures mounted against transforming Sadat's bold gesture into a diplomatic turning point. Everyone's search for a framework was slowly slipping away as time raised the old rivalries and po sed the ever present questions. Without a vision of what to do next, the opportunity would pass and the stalemate would return. It was time for an American initiative.

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Preparations describes the physical setting of the meetings and the government preparations necessary for hosting such negotiations. Negotiations describes the day by day bargaining between the three delegations, using President Carter's memoirs and those of others who were there. Legacy discusses the impact of Camp David on modern history.