Camp David Day By Day
September 5, 1978
Brzezinski's analysis told the President that "Sadat cannot afford a failure and knows it.... [he] will define success in terms of substance, and in particular on Israel's commitment to the principle of withdrawal on all fronts."
Brzezinski's analysis told the President that "Begin will define success largely in terms of procedural arrangements and will be very resistant to pressures for substantive concessions. You will have to persuade Begin to make more substantive concessions, while convincing Sadat to settle for less than an explicit Israeli commitment to full withdrawal and Palestinian autonomy."
Somehow, even though this is truly a grave moment, I do not feel at all nervous or concerned. My feeling is that things will work out well or at least to a satisfactory degree." --Brzezinski [Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser, 1977-1981, p.255]
That night, President Carter consulted with PM Begin from 8:30 to 10:53 PM. The President tried to assure Begin that the US understood Israel's security concerns and would not deal in "hazy guarantees on this critical issue." Carter emphasized his hope that face to face negotiations would rid Begin and Sadat of their mutual suspicions and eventually lead to a successful agreement.
Begin, for his part, emphasized that President Ford had commited the US to allowing Israel advance review of US proposals and that Israel held as its highest priority solving the question of security, including keeping Israeli settlements in the Sinai territories captured in the 1967 War and secured after 1973 as a buffer zone against Egyptian attack. Begin wanted to keep the three Israeli airfields for between three to five years as additional security and a general demilitarization of the Sinai thereafter. With regard to the language in UNRes 242 banning acquisition of land through war, Israel's position remained that they had captured the Sinai in a "defensive war," after being attacked and that such defensive actions could not be considered as exempt from UNRes242. The President found this discussion discouraging as it did not offer any new Israeli position, but merely repeated historical position on Israel on every issue, without any indication of flexibility.
September 6, 1978
Sadat and Carter met and discussed Sadats position. Sadat presented a detailed proposal entitled "Framework for the Comprehensive Peace...." The proposal raised every major issue and presented a hard line approach to Israel. Carter believed that such a proposal would doom the discussions to failure.
Sadat then produced an extraordinary gesture of good faith. He gave the President a three page memo outlining concessions that Egypt would accept and encouraged the President to use them at the appropriate time.
...the meeting with Begin and Sadat went better than expected. Although Sadats proposals were clearly unacceptable to Begin, Begin, to some extent forewarned by the President not to expect anything forthcoming, responded rather magnanimously, indicated that he is prepared to consider any proposal, and he hopes that the Egyptians would do the same to his proposals. --Brzezinski [Power and Principle, p.256].The President joked that it would save a lot of time if Begin would simply sign Sadats document.
September 7, 1978
Begin and Sadat met face to face twice with the President. These meetings were less cordial than the previous. Begin rebutted each of Sadats points in the Egyptian "Framework."
Behind the scenes, Secretary of State Vance carried on explorations with others in the Israeli delegation, primarily Dayan and Weizman. In these conversations, the Israelis raised two important issues: their settlements and airfields in the Sinai. Dayan and Weizman suggested that they could reach some kind of an agreement on the Sinai settlements and those on the West Bank. Dayan urged the US to assume responsibility for putting forward a proposal of its own as the Israelis and Egyptians could go no further on their own.
The President had expected that the spouses would play an important role in the negotiations. While Jihan Sadat could not attend, the President hoped that Rosalynn and Mrs. Begin would be able to ease tensions and create a more congenial atmosphere.
September 8, 1978
Sadat argued that, "Begin is making withdrawal conditional on land acquisition. Begin is not ready for Peace." In his notes, Brzezinski wrote that, "Carter doubtless agreed with Sadat, but he admirably maintained his position as a conciliator, responding firmly that 'Begin is a tough and honest man. In the past he was quite hawkish. He sees his proposals as a starting point.' Carter went on to say that he agreed with Sadat on the question of settlements, but he added the Egyptians ought to be more forthcoming on the security issues."
In his meeting with Begin, the President told the Prime Minister that the Israelis must not dwell on the Sadat proposal and suggested that Sadat had already agreed to a number of compromises which Carter now had in hand. Begin emphasized Israel's unwillingness to abandon the Sinai settlements and its continued claims to sovereignty in the disputed areas (Sinai, West Bank, and Gaza). He also complained that the American position in the negotiations had shifted from being a mediator to actively taking sides.
That evening, the American delegation enjoyed a pleasant dinner with the Israelis enjoying the completely different mood: "carefree and lighthearted." Without any real justification, the President left the dinner optimistic about the situation. Earlier, the President had authorized Harold Saunders to begin the development of an American proposal to present to Begin and then Sadat outlining a possible agreement.
September 9, 1978
The principals held no formal meetings during Saturday, Begin observing the Sabbath. The President developed a list called "Necessary Elements of Agreement" to assist the team developing the draft American proposal. Sadat conferred with his delegation.
Weizman met with Sadat twice to discuss the details. On each issue, Sadat indicated that the Egyptians would not accept any further suggestions from the Israelis until after the Americans had developed their proposal.
The President discussed the American proposal at four o'clock, adding his suggestions. In particular, the President added the word "minor" to the draft on modifying the 1967 lines on the West Bank and Gaza. The President intended that this wording would become a bargaining chit in his negotiations with Begin.
In the evening Brzezinski played chess with Prime Minister Begin. Brzezinski recalled,
He announced that this is the first time he has played since September 1940, when a chess game that he was playing was interrupted by the NKVD, which came to arrest him....
September 10, 1978
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
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,
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 Sadats original reaction. Foreign Minister Kamil argued that Sadats tendency to overlook how details would undermine his position in Egypt and the Arab world had led to Sadats 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
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 Sadats 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 Sadats 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 Sadats 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 Sadats 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.
After attending President Sadats walk around the compound, President Carter returned to Aspin Lodge in order to review their current situation. Briefly, the President also met with the Israeli Defense minister, Ezer Weizman. Reviewing the current American proposal with his staff, the President chose stronger language constraining Israeli West Bank expansion. They also discussed the possibilities for including the Palestinians in determining their own future and the Sinai settlements question.
A morning meeting with the Israelis hosted by Vance focused on the issue of the West Bank and the UN Resolution 242 language.
In a late morning to early afternoon meeting, Vance and Carter proposed a solution to the question of Palestinian autonomy which Sadat accepted as well as language on the treatment of Jerusalem, as long as the US would agree to an "exchange of letters" reaffirming the US position that Jerusalem is part of the West Bank.
In a protracted meeting between the Israeli and American principals, Carter went through the entire draft framework listing the common positions and detailing the remaining sticking points. He hoped the litany of agreements would make it clear to Begin how few were the issues remaining. Begin insisted on an agreement over Sinai in which the parties would continue negotiating for a final peace treaty and after three months, if they were successful then he would submit the question of withdrawing the settlements to the Knesset. Carter pointed out that Sadat has consistently opposed such a proposition. Begin finally agreed to a Knesset vote over removing the Sinai settlements contingent upon settling all other Sinai issues (e.g., the question of airfields). With that agreement, Begin removed the roadblock to successfully concluding an agreement.
September 17, 1978
Sunday began with Carter reviewing with Sadat the agreement as worked out with the Israelis. Sadat disagreed over the treatment of Jerusalem, as had Begin. The American proposal was to drop the language on Jerusalem and Begin had agreed to an exchange of letters stating each party's position. The American proposal reaffirmed its longstanding position, including the contention that Israel's position in East Jerusalem was an illegitimate occupation. Begin refused to accept this letter and threatened that if the US did not change its letter, then the Israelis would not sign the accords.
Meeting with Dayan, Weizman, and Barak. Mondale, Vance, and Brzezinski, Carter discussed the possible revisions of the American and Israeli letters on Jerusalem. The American position merely restated the positions of its three previous UN Ambassadors. Carter suggested restating the American letter by simply "reaffirming" its previous positions without stating them.
The final issue remaining arose over the language on the Knesset vote. Begins letter restated the agreement to mean that the Knesset vote would result in commencement of the peace negotiations while the agreement had been that no peace negotiations would commence until the Knesset voted. Carter insisted on the original language and eventually devised letters preserving that position and to which the Israelis would agree. With this final agreement, the three parties had reached a final accord.
The Camp David delegations arrived at the White House at 10:15 PM and went immediately to the East Room where they signed the Accords.
On Monday evening, President Carter addressed the Congress, reporing on the Camp David negotiations and the Accords. Both Sadat and Begin were in the audience. In preparing the speech, Sadat advised the President, "Just do not aggravate the Israelis, some of whom are quite excitable and unpredictable people." On the way to the Capitol, President Carter decided to add "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Source: Camp David Accords Framework for Peace.