Camp David Accords turn 40: How Israel and Egypt found peace

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Camp David Accords turn 40: How Israel and Egypt found peace

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In Depth

Camp David Accords turn 40: How Israel and Egypt found peace

Four decades ago, Israeli and Egyptian leaders managed to end years of hostilities with the help of a US president. Their experiences with the horrors of violence led them to find peace in a broken region.

Anwar Sadat    (left), Jimmy Carter (center) and Menachem Begin (right) clasp hands on a White House lawn

In September 1978, Israel and Egypt, with help from US President Jimmy Carter, signed a peace accord at Camp David. The agreement was unpopular but it was dictated by political reason.

Although the river was neither large nor rapid, it was meaningful in the eyes of the later US president â€" exceedingly meaningful. For Jordan was the river upon whose banks so many stories from the Bible played out. And it was in this river that Carter â€" then governor of the state of Georgia â€" and his wife Rosalynn were permitted to swim when they visited Israel and the West Bank in 1973. The swim required special permission from the government of Israel, which seized the West Bank in 1967.

That swim in the river Jordan and his trip to the Holy Land were the root of Carter's fascination with the Middle East and his resulting desire to contribute to bringing peace to the region. When the deeply religious Christian became president in 1977, he immediately set out to make that vision a reality.

"He had come to believe that God wanted him to bring peace, and that somehow he would find a way to do so," as Lawrence Wright notes in his book "Thirteen Days in September," which chronicles the two weeks in September 1978 that eventually led to what had been considered a seemingly impossible breakthrough: Mediated by the US president, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin negotiated a peace agreement between their countries. The deal, later known as the Camp David Accords, was officially signed in March 1979, just months after the historic meeting.

Read more: Opinion: 1967 â€" The war that never ended

Jimm   y Carter speaks to Anwar Sadat

US President Jimmy Carter mediated the talks, shuttling back and forth between both sides to discuss crucial points

Experiencing violence firsthand

Both Sadat and Begin had experienced violent occupation early in life. In 1918, when Sadat was born, Egypt was under British control. Sadat was particularly fond of recounting an event that took place before he was born. In 1906, a British hunting party arrived in the village of Denshawai on the Nile Delta. There was a clash between the Britons and the villagers and a British officer was killed. The British then sent in a military expedition and 52 villagers were arrested. Most were whipped or thrown in jail; four died on the gallows.

Menachem Begin was more directly exposed to the brutal violence of an occupying force. Born in 1912, Begin's hometown of Brest, which is in Belarus today, was occupied by the German Army in 1941. The Germans immediately rounded up all of the city's Jews in order to deport them to death camps. Begin's mother Hassia was in the hospital at the time. The Nazis murdered her in her bed. His father Zeev Dov was killed when soldiers weighed him down with rocks and drowned him in the Bug River.

Those firsthand experiences of helplessness drove both men to fight for the protection of their respective countrymen â€" Sadat in Egypt and Begin in Israel. Both men saw the Middle East conflict that began with Israel's declaration of independence in 1948 as a zero-sum game: One country's gain meant the other's loss â€" with every territorial gain made by Israel diminishing the territory of the Arabs and vice versa.

Read more: Israelis and Palestinians lament Oslo Accord deadlock, 25 years on

  • City of Strife - Jerusalem Photo Gallery (   Imago/Leemage)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Jerusalem, the city of David

    According to the Old Testament, David, king of the two partial kingdoms of Judah and Israel, won Jerusalem from the Jebusites around 1000 BC. He moved his seat of government to Jerusalem, making it the capital and religious center of his kingdom. The Bible says David's son Solomon built the first temple for Yahweh, the God of Israel. Jerusalem became the center of Judaism.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Under Persian rule

    The Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (3rd from the left) conquered Jerusalem in 597 and again in 586 BC, as the Bible says. He took King Jehoiakim (5th from the right) and the Jewish upper class into captivity, sent them to Babylon and destroyed the temple. After Persian king Cyrus the Great seized Babylon, he allowed the exiled Jews to return home to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Historical Picture Archive/COR)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Under Roman and Byzantine rule

    The Roman Empire ruled Jerusalem from the year 63 AD. Resistance movements rapidly formed among the population, so that in 66 AD, the First Jewishâ€"Roman War broke out. The war ended 4 years later, with a Roman victory and another destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The Romans and Byzantines ruled Palestine for approximately 600 years.

  • < img src="" title="City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Selva/Leemage)" alt="City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Selva/Leemage)"/>

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Conquest by the Arabs

    Over the course of the Islamic conquest of Greater Syria, Muslim armies also reached Palestine. By order of the Caliph Umar (in the picture), Jerusalem was besieged and captured in the year 637 AD. In the following era of Muslim rule, various, mutually hostile and religiously divided rulers presided over the city. Jerusalem was often besieged and changed hands several times.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (picture-alliance/akg-images)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    The Cru sades

    From 1070 AD onward, the Muslim Seljuk rulers increasingly threatened the Christian world. Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, which took Jerusalem in 1099 AD. Over a period of 200 years a total of nine crusades set out to conquer the city as it changed hands between Muslim and Christian rule. In 1244 AD the crusaders finally lost control of the city and it once again became Muslim.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Gemeinfrei)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    The Ottomans and the British

    After the conquest of Egypt and Arabia by the Ottomans, Jerusalem became the seat of an Ottoman administrative district in 1535 AD. In its first decades of Ottoman rule, the city saw a clear revival. With a British victory over Ottoman troops in 1917 AD, Palestine fell under British rule. Jerusalem went to the British without a fight.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Gemeinfrei)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    The divided city

    After World War II, the British gave up their Palestinian Mandate. The UN voted for a division of the country in order to create a home for the survivors of the Holocaust. Some Arab states then went to war against Israel and conquered part of Jerusalem. Until 1967, the city was divided into an Israeli west and a Jordanian east.

  • Soldiers during Six-day war (picture alliance/AP/KEYSTONE/Government Press Office)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's c omplex history

    East Jerusalem goes back to Israel

    In 1967, Israel waged the Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel took control of the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Israeli paratroopers gained access to the Old City and stood at the Wailing Wall for the first time since 1949. East Jerusalem is not officially annexed, but rather integrated into the administration.

  • City of Strife: A history of Jerusalem in pictures (Getty Images/AFP/A. Gharabli)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Muslim pilgrimage to Israel

    Israel has not denied Muslims access to its holy places. The Temple Mount is under an autonomous Muslim administration; Muslims can enter, visit the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa mosque and p ray there.

  • Old City in Jerusalem (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Jensen)

    City of strife: Jerusalem's complex history

    Unresolved status

    Jerusalem remains to this day an obstacle to peace between Israel and Palestine. In 1980, Israel declared the whole city its "eternal and indivisible capital." After Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1988, the state of Palestine was proclaimed. Palestine also declares, in theory, Jerusalem as its capital.

    Author: Ines Eisele

To the ends of the earth

And that, by and large, was also how their predecessors saw the situation. Step by step, the rivalry that began in 1948 grew into open hostility. Before the Camp David summit both countries had fought no less than four wars: The Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49, which resulted in the foundation of the state of Israel; the Suez crisis of 1956, the Six-Day War of 1967, and finally, the so-called Yom Kippur War of 1973. It was a violent cycle that Carter was determined to break.

There had been rapprochement prior to Camp David. On November 9, 1977, Sadat told the Egyptian parliament that he would go to the ends of the earth, even the Israeli Knesset, if it would mean saving the life of one Egyptian soldier. When Begin invited him, Sadat took up the offer: On November 20, he addressed the Knesset â€" enraging much of the Arab world. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Algeria all broke diplomatic ties with Egypt. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) criticized Sadat's move as well.

Read more: 'Deal of the century': US pushes Israeli-Palestinian plan

Coming together under outside pressure

Despite the criticism, less than one year later Sadat and Begin met at Camp David. Bo th were cognizant of the fact that another issue was at stake beside peace: Good relations with the US. Both men went into the meeting determined to take a hard stand, yet they also knew that inflexibility could do longterm damage to their relations with Washington.

The realization that the zero-sum logic no longer applied and that the men would have to take not only Middle East but also US sensitivities into account â€" and that the two were closely related â€" finally forced the issue, with Begin and Sadat eventually striking a deal. The Camp David Accords obliged both countries to acknowledge one another as sovereign states. It also ended the state of war that began in 1948. Israel also agreed to return the last remaining sections of the Sinai Peninsula under its control to Egypt.

Other principles were also established: The rights of Palestinians displaced by Israeli settlements set up in the occupied territories were to be acknowledged. In return, Israeli ships wou ld be granted unimpeded passage through the Suez canal, and the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba would be acknowledged as international waters, providing freedom of passage for Israeli vessels.

Read more: Israel at 70: What does the future hold?

  • UN Security Council 1967 (Getty Images/Keystone)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

    United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.

  • Sadat, Carter and Begin join hands after they signed the Camp David Accords in Washington 1979 (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Daugherty)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Camp David Accords, 1978

    A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.

  • Palestinian negotiator Haidar Abdel Shafi speaks at the Madrid conference to other Middle East, US and Soviet Union delegates (picture-alliance/dpa/J. Hollander)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    The Madrid Conference, 1991

    The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinians â€" not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) â€" who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.

  • Politicians sign the Oslo I Accord on the lawn of the White House in 1993 (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Sachs)

    A history of the Middl e East peace process

    Oslo I Accord, 1993

    The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.

  • Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat walk in the woods at Camp David (picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Edmonds)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Camp David Summit Meeting, 2000

    US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to d iscuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.

  • Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudia Arabia shakes hands with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud at the Beirut summit (Getty Images/C. Kealy)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002

    The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt â€" all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to w ithdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.

  • Yasser Arafat meets the UK's Middle East Commissioner Lord Levy (Getty Iamges/AFP/J. Aruri)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    The Roadmap, 2003

    The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.

  • Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, US President George W. and Palestinian Mahmoud abbas shake hands (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Thew)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Annapolis, 2007

    In 2007 US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.

  • Washington Israels Premierminister Benjamin Netanjah   u, Palästinenser Präsident Mahmoud Abbasund Hillary Clinton (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Milner)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Washington, 2010

    In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a ten-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.

  • Smoke rises after an air strike on Gaza in 2012 (picture-alliance/dpa)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Cycle of escalation and ceasefire continues

    A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and t hose in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.

  • French Foriegn minister Jean-Marc Ayrault speaks onstage at the 2017 Paris summit (Reuters/T. Samson)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Paris Summit, 2017

    Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as "rigged" against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. "A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jea n-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.

  • Israel Jerusalem Panorama (Reuters/A. Awad)

    A history of the Middle East peace process

    Deteriorating relations in 2017

    Despite the year's optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump's plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say "the measures ... undermine all peace efforts."

    Author: Aasim Saleem

The fate of the nation

"Two great leaders â€" great for the history of their nations â€"President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin have shown more courage, tenac ity and inspiration than any general leading man and machine on the battlefield," said Carter, hailing the outcome of the summit. Still, Sadat and Begin had difficulty getting approval for the accord at home despite the fact the two were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978. "The fate of the nation hangs in the balance," grumbled Begin when Carter visited Israel in March 1979. Many Egyptians saw things the same way â€" especially Islamic extremists. Anwar Sadat was later assassinated by Islamists during a military parade in October 1981.

The legacy of Camp David continues to be held high today, though less enthusiastically. Both sides know they cannot afford another war, as the consequences for each would be detrimental. In the end, a sober peace is a dictate of reason.

Read more: 70 years of Nakba: The ongoing struggle of Palestinian refugees

  • Jerusalem - Mount of Olives (Reuters/R. Zvulun)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Mount of Olives today

    The old City Wall and the gold-domed Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, are visible in the background from the mountain ridge which lies to the east of the Old City. The Old Jewish Cemetery, situated on the western and southern slopes of the ridge, are in an area once named for its many olive groves. It is the oldest continually used Jewish cemetery in the world.

  • Jerusalem 1967 view from Mount of Olives (Reuters/Government Press Office)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Mount of Olives then

    If it weren't for the ancient Ottoman city wall and the shrine in the background, viewers might not realize this is the same site. The picture was taken on Jun e 7th, 1967, when the peak was this brigade's command post at the height of the Six-Day War, or Arab-Israeli War.

  •  Jerusalem al-Aqsa-Mosque (Reuters/A. Awad)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Al-Aqsa mosque today

    Al-Aqsa, with its silver-colored dome and vast hall, is located on Temple Mount. Muslims call the mosque the "Noble Sanctuary," but it is also the most sacred site in Judaism, a place where two biblical temples were believed to have stood. As well, it is the third holiest site in Sunni Islam, after Mecca and Medina. There have long been tensions over control of the entire Temple Mount area.

  • Jerusalem 1967 - al-Aqsa-Mosque (Reuters/)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Al-Aqsa m osque then

    The name Al-Aqsa translates to "the farthest mosque." It is also Jerusalem's biggest mosque. Israel has strict control over the area after conquering all of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, and regaining access to its religious sites. Leaders at the time agreed that the Temple Mount would be administered by an Islamic religious trust known as the Waqf.

  • Jerusalem - Damascus Gate (Reuters/R. Zvulun)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Damascus Gate today

    The historic Gate, named in English for the fact that the road from there heads north to Damascus, is a busy main entrance to Palestinian East Jerusalem, and to a bustling Arab bazaar. Over the past two years, it has frequently been the site of security incidents and Palestinian attacks on Israelis.

  • Jerusalem 1967 Damascus Gate (Reuters/)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Damascus Gate then

    The gate itself - what we see today was built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1537 - looks much the same in this July 1967 picture. Seven Gates allow entrance to the Old City and its separate quarters.

  • Israel - Jerusalem - Altstadt (Reuters/A. Awad)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Old City today

    Jerusalem's vibrant Old City, a UNESCO world Heritage Site since 1981, is home to sites important to many different religions: the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque for Muslims, Temple Mount and the Western Wall for Jews, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians. Busy and colorful, it is a great place for shopping and food , and a top attraction for visitors.

  • Jerusalem 1967 Old City scene- Altstadt (Reuters/Fritz Cohen/Courtesy of Government Press Office)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Old City then

    This picture was taken in July 1967, but 50 years later, some things in the Old City haven't changed at all. Boys like the one in the photo balancing a tray of sesame pastries - called bagels - still roam the streets of the Old City today, hawking the sweet breads sprinkled with sesame seeds for about a euro ($1.12) apiece.

  • erusalem Western Wall-(Reuters/R. Zvulun)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Western Wall today

    This section of ancient limestone wall in Jerusalem's Old City is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. It is the most religious site for Jewish people, who come here to pray and perhaps to place a note in a crack in the wall. There is a separate section for men and for women, but it is free and open to everyone all year round - after the obligatory security check.

  • Jerusalem 1967 Western Wall Reuters/Fritz Cohen/Government Press Office)

    Jerusalem in 1967 and 2017

    Western Wall then

    The Western Wall is also known as the 'Wailing' Wall, a term considered derogatory and not used by Jews. The above photo of people flocking to the Wall to pray was taken on September 1, 1967, just weeks after Israel regained control of the site following the Six-Day-War. It had been expelled from the Old City 19 years earlier during Jordan 's occupation.

    Author: Dagmar Breitenbach

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