Two Weeks at Camp David

There was no love lost between Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menachem Begin. But at the very brink of failure, they found a way to reach agreement

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The next day, Begin rejected Sadat's proposal point by point. He dismissed the requirement that Israel withdraw from virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, adding that Sadat must allow Israel to retain the 13 settlements it had established on Egyptian territory in the Sinai. Sadat pounded the table. "Security, yes! Land, no!" he shouted.

"There was no compatibility between the two," Carter wrote later. "Almost every discussion of any subject deteriorated into an unproductive argument."

The press was bivouacked in an American Legion Hall in Thurmont. Powell put the best spin on things. "I am not in a position to characterize [the talks] or go into [their] substance," he told reporters. "It is my impression that the personal relationships among all three principals are good."

In reality, the summit was on the verge of breaking down. Aharon Barak, then a legal expert with the Israeli delegation, asked Quandt to get a message to Carter requesting that he not bring Sadat and Begin together again. Barak said Begin was hardening his position and thinking of ways to leave Camp David without being blamed for the summit's failure.

Lewis recalls a conversation he had with Carter as they walked in the woods after a particularly frustrating meeting. "Sam, I don't think Begin wants peace," Lewis remembers the president saying. "I don't think Begin wants peace at all."

Lewis, a career diplomat, believed that nations generally do want peace. The conflict, he told the president, was over the conditions for achieving it, the risks and compromises that leaders were prepared to accept. In that respect, Lewis said, Israel was no different from other nations.

"Well, no," Carter said. "I don't think they really want peace."

Carter had to improvise. With Plan A—the brief meeting that would produce warm personal feelings between Sadat and Begin—in shambles, he fell back on Plan B. He would take Barak's advice and keep Begin and Sadat separated. He would hold what diplomats call "proximity talks," in which leaders are in the same location but do not talk directly. The Americans would shuttle proposals between them. One proposal—outlining concessions by both sides—had been developed weeks before by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Saunders, Quandt and Ambassador Alfred "Roy" Atherton, Jr., a roving envoy for the Middle East. Now the American staff reworked the proposal.

On the sixth day of the summit, a Sunday, Carter showed the revised American plan to the Israelis. The meeting did not go well. A mention of the national rights of the Palestinians was "out of the question," Begin said. So was a proposal that Israel dismantle its Sinai settlements. "We do not dismantle settlements," Begin declared. As to the proposed wording that acquiring territory by war was inadmissible, Begin said, "We will not accept that."

"You will have to accept it," Carter said.

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