Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace 08.05.13
Part III: The Camp David Peace Agreement
The Camp David Accords were not even signed when disputes arose over the interpretation. As well there were regrets over the terms. Jimmy Carter understood why Begin would not agree to a permanent freeze on settlements, but he regretted not pushing Begin to agree to a one year freeze. Further, he believed that Israel had agreed to a freeze on settlements for the duration of the autonomy negotiations and publicly said so. Begin insisted that he had agreed to only three months. Before the official signing of the Accords on the morning of 17 September he delivered a letter confirming that he had agreed to only a three month freeze. Carter believed that Begin had just misunderstood. But Carter claimed that the error was critical; because of the dispute and the impression of the Israelis changing the terms, Hussein refused to come on board with Egypt and join the peace agreement.
As it turned out, Begin was right and Carter was wrong. When the dispute arose, Begin called Aharon Barak and, since Barak had taken notes, asked what those notes said. Barak opened his notes and told Begin, “three months.” Further, Barak called Carter and told him what his notes said. Yet for twenty five years after, Carter kept insisting that the agreement was for the duration of the negotiations and that Begin had misunderstood, but Carter had nothing on paper to prove it. The argument over what was agreed upon set a bad tone and left a long shadow. Jimmy Carter: “Well, there I disagree with him. Because I was present and my strong belief in my written notes that say that Begin agreed to freeze the settlements during the autonomy talks. And the schedule for the autonomy talks was very clearly expressed. And Cy Vance agreed with me. But it was just a few days after that that Begin then announced, in my opinion, contrary to what he had said, ‘only three months’.”
However, President Sadat, who had no love for Begin, in spite of their severe differences, and had agreed between them to delete the clause to which they had previously concurred on supporting an undivided Jerusalem as both too sensitive at this stage and too premature, told the US Congress, “so what’s wrong about three months? I don’t think Begin would have gone back on his word.”
But the critical defining evidence came from Bill Quandt who was sitting outside the room when Cy Vance came out and said to Bill that we have a three month commitment from Begin. Quandt wrote it down in his notes and told Carter. The issue is not simply that the same stubbornness that made Jimmy Carter so effective in pulling off a deal was the same trait that made him blind to his own faults and culpability. It took him twenty-five years to acknowledge that he, not Begin, had misunderstood. However, he remained convinced then and became more convinced over the years that settlements were the single obstacle to resolving the issue in the Mideast and convinced many others of this myth about the peace process. The settlements are and have been a problem. But they are not the most important problem and certainly not the single obstacle preventing peace. The refugee issue has always been more important. And Jerusalem has been the most important obstacle. It is not just me saying that. Carter’s own ambassador to Egypt, Hermann Eilts, confronted Carter on this directly, not that it had any noticeable effect.
Carter had mediator’s remorse and had developed a vested interest in a particular solution and not just the process. He correctly accused Begin of having a “strong case of buyer’s remorse after Camp David” without recognizing his own. Most significantly, Begin’s feelings about the deal affected the leeway he gave Moshe Dayan and undercut his relationship with Ezer Weizman — if that relationship had not already been destroyed by the way Begin conducted the negotiations at Camp David. As Leon Charney, the main figure in the back channel discussions, interpreted the situation, Ezer Weizman, the crown prince of the Likud Party, resigned because he was very angry at Begin for being so sorry about the agreement that he felt pressured to sign. Weizman was also under the fallacious belief that he could take over the party.
So the Camp David Accords came at great cost. Sadat’s team refused to back him. Begin refused to back himself and cut the legs from under both Dayan and Weizman. Carter backed himself fully even if it meant he misinterpreted the agreement and contributed to the distrust and then blamed others for why King Hussein did not join the parade even though King Hussein explicitly told Harold Saunders that he supported the deal, wanted to make peace but could not do so publicly because he was not in a position to deliver without costing him his throne; the timing was just not propitious for him. Meanwhile, the Saudis reassured Carter that they supported the deal while they publicly condemned Sadat for unilaterally making such enormous concessions.
In retrospect, the shock was that a Camp David Accord was signed at all given what we now know and given Jimmy Carter’s serious flaws as a mediator. His strengths had to make up for those flaws because he helped pull off the even more difficult task of translating those Accords into a full peace agreement without the benefit of Ezer Weizman, with serious divisions among the Egyptians, with a castrated Moshe Dayan and an even more determined and stubborn Menachem Begin. None of this was conveyed, or perhaps could have been conveyed in the movie.
What could have been told was how Begin conceded to first allowing the Knesset to decide whether to endorse the agreement and then to return all of the Sinai and dismantle the settlements, thereby removing the final obstacle to the peace agreement. This left both the legacy of an historic breakthrough that deservedly won both Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat the Nobel Peace Prize and also the reinforced mistaken belief of Jimmy Carter and many others that if the settlements could be withdrawn, peace would follow.
It just ain’t true. Carter and others have continued to blame Israel as the main and, if not for the Arab terrorists, the sole obstacle to peace. This was the theme of his noon hour speech on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Camp David Accords. “Its key early provisions of the Road Map to Peace (which is in line with the Camp David Peace Agreement), however – a good number of them – have been rejected by the Israeli Cabinet. There were 14 caveats that have been promulgated by the present Israeli Cabinet that subvert some of the major portions of the “Road Map to Peace.” For Carter, peace depends on two and only two things: “One is that Israel refrains from retaining in the occupied Palestinian territories or the West Bank and Gaza the multiple settlements that have to be defended militarily and connected with a web of relatively uncrossable highways.” Second, “\he Palestinian national authority and all Arab nations must acknowledge the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Israel and its right to live in peace and must exert their combined effort to control and to prevent any further acts of terrorism or violence by any Palestinian group against the people in Israel.” One has to wonder how such a naïve man could have accomplished what he did even while acknowledging he did very little else with his presidency.
This blog is no place to review the extrapolations of his own mediating style to general principles set forth in Carter’s book, Talking Peace, or my strong disagreements with them. Some mediators are Machiavellian and not dedicated to truth as Carter has always been – even when he sometimes does not recognize what the truth is – but that does not invalidate that one style may be appropriate to some negotiations and a second to another. Secondly, Carter argued that the mediator has to be regarded as fair. Carter has never been fair. Understandably, he liked Sadat and disliked Begin. He agreed with Sadat and disagreed with Begin. Nevertheless, in spite of his obvious biases, the peace treaty that Israel and Egypt signed on 26 March 26 1979 reflected the Camp David Accords of 17 September 1978. This suggests that fairness in a mediator may not be a prerequisite to some peace negotiations.
Further, Jimmy Carter’s unfairness has only increased since then. In his book with the outlandish title, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, the term ‘apartheid’ – by his own account and lack of evidence – is preposterously unfair to Israel. Carter never even tries to establish that Israel’s motives have been racist. The book is a polemic with no effort to even be objective and truthful. He claims that Israel did not offer a deal to the Palestinians at Taba that met their latest demands, in spite of President Bill Clinton’s testimony that this was precisely what happened. At the twenty-fifth anniversary forum, Elyakim Rubinstein, who was at Camp David with Clinton as well as at Camp David with Carter, confronted Carter on this Big Lie, of course, without naming it as such because Rubinstein is after all a diplomat and I am a philosopher dedicated to clarity and distinctness.
Carter was not balanced or fair. Carter did not tell the truth to both sides – not because he was dishonest, but because he often did not recognize the truth. Carter insists that the mediator must understand the issues as well, but Carter did not and never has. Finally, Carter insisted that the final key to a successful negotiation is that both sides must see themselves as winners. That is also not correct both historically in this case and as a general principle. Both sides, historically, thought they lost a great deal. And that fear on the part of the Israelis reared its ugly head when, in September 2011, the new Egyptian Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf, suggested that the Camp David Peace Agreement could be (and should be?) revised.
Further, psychological research has established repeatedly that one need not believe one came out on top in a successful negotiation but one must believe that the other party lost as much if not more than you did. Carter was a success as a negotiator in this case in spite of himself. As Bill Quandt worded it: “This conflict needs more than a facilitator. It needs somebody on the outside who can be a catalyst, who can be a prod, who can be a friend, who can be a guarantor, and a real nag. Carter was all of that even though he was not just, was not honest with himself, nor objective, nor truly knowledgeable or even recognized how much both sides gave up and lost. Nevertheless, the agreement by and large remains an outstanding success.
One sign of that success was in one area where it failed. The Camp David Peace Agreement required that the United Nations provide a peacekeeping force. A Soviet threatened veto prevented that possibility. If this contingency took place, the United States promised to use its best efforts to create a multinational force. After Israel and Egypt agreed to a protocol change in the agreement, on August 1981 America set up an alternative Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) to be operational at the end of April 1982, the scheduled date for the Israeli withdrawal.
Bill Quandt not only spoke truth to power, not only understood mediation much better than Carter, but also, in contrast to both Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, did not mouth platitudes such as building on the road map. Quandt advised, “Don’t try to revive the road map…The problem with the road map was both sides were very tentatively committed to it, and the Americans weren’t very serious about it either…Secondly, it did not have a clear destination…the parties are looking by now at the details…They’re looking at actually what would happen in Jerusalem. What would happen on refugees, what would happen on borders, what would happen on security? How can these things be worked out? The generalities are not where the problems lie so much today.” Today was 2003. But those words are as applicable ten years later. Bill Clinton had the deal. That has the details. Refine it, shine it up and try to get both parties to sign on.
Easier said than done!