President Jimmy Carter earned broad plaudits for his role in securing what came to be known as “the Camp David Accords.” Egypt had borne the brunt of Arab-Israeli wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, the unofficial so-called “War of Attrition from 1967-1970, and in 1973, suffering far more casualties (more than 15,000) than any other Arab state. Military expenses put a strain on the weak Egyptian economy and that of their more prosperous enemies next door, the Israelis.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat believed that the greatly improved performance of his military in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (as opposed to the humiliation of the Six-Day War in 1967), gave him enough prestige and credibility to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. In a November 9, 1977 speech to the Egyptian Parliament, he declared he would do anything to achieve peace. “I am ready to go to the Israeli parliament itself and discuss it with them,” Sadat proclaimed.
Five days later, Walter Cronkite interviewed Sadat on his prime time CBS News broadcast and Sadat repeated his offer, saying that he could make the trip to Jerusalem within days. “I’m just waiting for the proper invitation,” Sadat said.
Cronkite then interviewed Menachem Begin, Israel’s newly elected prime minister and head of the right-wing Likud Party, who extended the invitation. On November 20, Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit Israel and, as promised, he made a speech to the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, and spoke with other Israeli leaders. During his speech, Sadat proclaimed he was there to break down “the barriers of suspicion, fear, illusion, and misrepresentation” that had divided Arabs and Israelis. Sadat was immediately denounced by hardline Arab leaders like Libyan dictator Muamar Gadaffi and the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, who believed that Israel occupied land stolen from the Palestinians and that the Jewish state had no right to exist.
Carter invited Begin and Sadat to Camp David, a presidential retreat in Maryland built during the Eisenhower administration, for peace negotiations. Under pressure at home, Sadat pressured Begin for some concessions to the Palestinians who had been forced from their homes during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and were living in squalid refugee camps in the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan River, and in Arab nations like Jordan and Lebanon. Not only was Sadat’s presidency threatened, but so was his life. Begin, believing that the occupied territories provided Israel a safety cushion from Arab attacks, would promise only limited Palestinian autonomy in municipal government. Begin said that the Israeli government would consider the future status of these territories in five years.
The three world leaders conferred at Camp David for 13 days, and at different points Begin and Sadat threatened to leave with no agreement signed. In each case, Carter was able to persuade the two sides to continue negotiations. Unable to resolve the conflict over the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Golan Heights (in Syria) and the Gaza Strip (adjoining the Sinai Peninsula), the Camp David agreement became simply an accord between Egypt and Israel that Carter would declare a “framework of peace” in the entire Middle East.
The Israelis agreed to return the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and in return Egypt agreed to diplomatically recognize Israel. Begin and Sadat agreed to continue negotiating the Palestinian issue. The two Middle Eastern leaders signed a formal peace treaty on these terms in 1979. The state of war that had existed between Egypt and Israel officially ended after 30 years. Carter played a major role in achieving this breakthrough, but it would be Begin and Sadat who would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The agreement made Sadat a marked man in the Arab world. The Palestinians felt abandoned by the largest Arab nation. A government-run Syrian radio station denounced the agreement as “humiliating concessions.” The Algerian government described the Camp David Agreements as “an act of treason.” Several Arab countries withdrew their diplomats in Cairo and hit the poverty-stricken nation of Egypt with economic sanctions.
To make up for these losses, Egypt and Israel became the two largest recipients of American foreign aid. Egyptians enraged by Camp David assassinated Sadat while he viewed a parade honoring troops on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in October 1981. In spite of the promise for peace Camp David represented, the final status of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remained unresolved as of 2011, and most Palestinians live in poverty with few opportunities.
Michael Phillips has authored the following:
White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006)
(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)
“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)
“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ” in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)
“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)
(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013).
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.