Sanctions and Relief Implementation

Sanctions and Relief Implementation


Howard Adelman

Note that the EU3+3 (Britain, France, Germany + China, Russia and the U.S.) is the same as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and U.S., permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany).

To understand the current conflict over sanctions against Iran, it is helpful if we provide a brief history.

  • 1979 (November) President Carter’s Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian assets (estimated value $10-12 billion) in response to Iranian hostage-taking of American embassy personnel by radicals protesting allowing entry to the Shah of Iran for medical treatment into the U.S.
  • 1980 embargo on U.S. trade with Iran imposed and travel ban to Iran issued
  • 1981 sanctions lifted after hostage crisis resolved
  • 1984 U.S. prohibits weapons sales, loans or assistance to Iran following Iraq invasion of Iran and belief that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program
  • 1987 (October) President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12613 prohibiting all imports from or exports into U.S. by Iran
  • 1995 (March) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12957 prohibiting all manner of trade between the U.S. and Iran in support of the Iranian petroleum industry
  • 1995 (May) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12959 prohibiting any trade with Iran
  • 1996 (August) under President Clinton, Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172) signed into law but Libya deleted from name of law when sanctions against Libya lifted in 2006
  • 1997 (August) Mohammad Khatami, considered a reformer, elected President of Iran and president Clinton eases some sanctions
  • 2000 sanctions reduced for pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, caviar and Persian rugs
  • 2001 (August) Iran (and Libya) Sanctions Act renewed under President George W. Bush
  • 2004 U.S. Courts overrule a Treasury Department application of sanctions to intellectual exchanges and reciprocal publication arrangements
  • 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elected President of Iran and lifts suspension of uranium enrichment program agreed to with Britain, France and Germany (EU3) and sanctions in place now vigorously reinforced
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696 passed against the renewal of Iranian uranium enrichment program
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1737
  • 2007 UNSC Resolution 1747
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1803
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1835
  • 2010 (June) UNSC Resolution 1929
  • 2010 (July) EU expands its sanctions beyond those required by the UNSC
  • 2012 (October) EU significantly expands and details more specifically its bans on the provision of services and equipment for the petrochemical industry, including oil tankers, the supply of services upon which Iranian production was so dependent, especially the ban in the export of certain specific metals, including graphite, that would be critical to Iran’s ability to fabricate its own machinery related to Iran’s ballistic missile development as well as its petrochemical industry
  • 2013 (March) EU imposition of sanctions against judges, media officials and a special police monitoring unit linked to the death of a dissident held in custody
  • 2013 (June) election of Hassan Rouhani government in Iran
  • 2013 (July) almost five months before Joint Plan of Action agreement signed and after Rouhani elected on a pledge to enter negotiations with the UN, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400:20 in favour of increased sanctions against Iran
  • In contrast, following Rouhani’s election, the EU took a pro-active stand to invite Iran to join negotiations and a step-by-step approach that would restore normal economic relations while ensuring Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes
  • Sanctions begin to be lifted for an initial six-month period by the EU in January 2014 after the JPA came into effect beginning with suspension of the ban on the import of petrochemical products and the banking and insurance related thereto.

While George W. Bush was renewing the sanctions regime against Iran, since 1998, Iran and the EU had been seeking to formalize its commercial and political cooperation arrangements and, in 2001, sought to negotiate a comprehensive trade and co-operation as well as political dialogue agreement. Negotiations started in 2002 but paused when Iran declined to engage in any further human rights dialogue after 2004. Once Iran’s clandestine nuclear development program was revealed in 2005 and Iran refused to co-operate with IAEA, all dialogue between the EU and Iran stopped.

The increasing severity of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between 2006 and 2010 were in direct response to Iran’s refusal to abide by the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the requirements set down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA was determined to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue to ensure the NPT was not breached. At the same time, the IAEA recognized Iran’s rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The biggest change came because of independent EU action in July 2010 since the EU was then Iran’s largest trading partner. Further, London is a global financial centre; UK financial restrictions made it much more difficult for Iranian banks to use the international financial system to support its oil and gas business and Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In addition to an embargo on nearly all dual-use goods and technology which could contribute to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the EU introduced bans on the export of telecommunications, monitoring and transport equipment as well as arms, followed by more sanctions on instruments that could be used for internal repression. Perhaps the bans on investments, services and technology for the oil and gas industry were the most crippling since Iran’s oil production systems were based on European technology. European banking restrictions related to investments, grants, financial assistance, especially transfer of funds to and from Iran, and the ban on the provision of insurance services, were also enormously effective. But perhaps the sanctions that most hit home to persons of influence in Iran were the restrictions on the admission of specific persons (a long list to which more names were continuously added), freezing of their funds and economic resources and their inability to satisfy any claims.

By the time the JPA was put in place in November 2013, oil imports from Iran had fallen to zero and EU exports fell again by 26% in the 2012-2013 period. EU sanctions against Iran are based not only on the failure of Iran to be compliant with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) but also because of Iran’s human rights record, support for terrorism, and its destructive approach to Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Given the close economic ties between the EU and Iran, the targeted sanctions against specified individuals and organizations were even more significant because they entailed freezing of funds and economic resources of persons responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran and persons, entities and bodies associated with them. The list of people and organizations affected was long.

It was in the context of the UN sanctions against Iran for its breach of NPT that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) has to be understood rather than the 35 years of U.S. up-and-down sanctions against Iran. In return for Iran taking steps to halt and roll back its nuclear enrichment program, the E3/EU+3 agreed to:

  • Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales to enable Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil
  • Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad and, for such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services
  • Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services
  • Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
    • Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services
    • Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services
  • License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services
  • No new nuclear-related UN Security Council or EU sanctions
  • U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions
  • Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade (transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad) for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad involving specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks yet to be defined
  • This channel could also enable: transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations; and, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six-month period
  • Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Nine months ago as the first deadline for the Joint Plan of Action approached, the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement hit a snag over the issue of sanctions, though, as became a pattern over the last nine months, the Iranians continued to voice optimism about the results of the negotiations. Thus, on 21 May 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Today, the nuclear negotiation is progressing and is on the threshold of reaching a conclusion.” The very next day, this was the same message coming from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Saeed Jalili, the former lead negotiator, a conservative very close to Khamenei, said, “We should permit the (Iranian) nuclear negotiation team to proceed with its programs in the framework of (the Supreme Leader’s proposed) ‘heroic lenience’ and we should all assist them in their bid to materialize the nation’s rights.”

There could be two reasons for the articulation of this optimism: 1) domestically to dampen down the ultra-conservative voices critical of the negotiations; 2) to send a message to the P5+1 that the Iranians are fully committed to the success of the negotiations. But there were two sets of issues which this optimism masked. There were disagreements about Iranian compliance that would persist for the next nine months and that I will deal with in tomorrow’s blog. Second, there were rising voices within Iran that the pace of lifting sanctions had been far too languid given the enormous concessions (in their minds) that the Iranians had made thus far in their nuclear program. Just as there were continuing concerns within the U.S about the Iranian commitments to a successful outcome of the negotiations., within Iran there were an increasing number of queries from many quarters about whether the U.S. was truly committed to lifting sanctions or whether the whole process was just a ruse to stop, set back and eventually derail Iran’s development of its nuclear program.

As reported from the Tasnin News Agency in Al-Monitor, Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesperson for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, noted “intense disagreements” over a variety of issues during the Vienna talks, including an alleged P5+1 proposal for a 10-year rollout for sanctions relief. The Iranians were afraid of a Republican backlash that could re-impose sanctions, since they already anticipated that American sanctions relief would only take place under U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive authority to waive many of the sanctions on Iran. Waivers can be easily rescinded. Iran might accept waivers, but only in an initial phase in a process leading to complete sanctions relief.

Hosseini called for lifting of all sanctions rather than segmentation and a phased-in approach, a comment directed not only at the then current snag in negotiations about sanctions, but an explicit critique of the JPA provision for the implementation of the agreement of “specified long tern duration” usually bandied about as ten years. The issue was a divide between ending or suspending sanctions.

If the U.S. insisted upon a 10-year rollout period for sanctions relief, then the Iranian rollback in its nuclear program should also be phased over ten years, Iran insisted. Yet the other side insists on Iranian compliance with IAEA requirements as a prerequisite to sanctions relief, consistent, not with the preamble of the JPA, but with the position that Iran is the outlier in its failure to comply with its international treaty obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPA). The sanctions were imposed for Iran’s failure in compliance. Making relief implementation proportionate to Iranian compliance is akin to requiring the justice system to reduce a fine in proportion to a felon desisting in the future from recommitting the felony.

The JPA calls for a “comprehensive solution.” Comprehensive entails lifting all trade, technology, banking, energy and aeronautical sanctions – including UN Security Council, EU multilateral and national sanctions – with the implication that these even included non-nuclear sanctions by the U.S. (hence the importance of having the historical background). But U.S. oil and financial sanctions are subject to the Iran Sanctions Act described above. To waive sanctions, the President must certify to Congress, not only that Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons within a one year breakout period, but that Iran no longer seeks to build weapons of mass destruction ever. Further, the President must certify that Iran no longer sponsors terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Tehran, though Hamas had a fallout with Iran over Syria). Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. Finally, the President must certify that Iran no longer represented a security threat to U.S. Interests. Given the U.S. commitment to Israel and Saudi Arabia, how could this be possible given Iran’s continuing foreign policy?

Who said that sanctions are easy to lift but hard to impose? This analysis suggests that the opposite may be truer.

All these issues end up being tied into the negotiations. And I have not even delved into the Syrian part of the equation. It is a truism that Lebanese issues and conflicts over Hezbollah cannot be resolved without reference to Syria. So bringing all of these into the negotiations would definitely kibosh them. Where do you draw the line? As we shall see tomorrow, IAEA restricts the negotiations to nuclear issues, but then includes military developments (e.g. missiles) related to nuclear militarization, but excludes other foreign policy issues.

However, with the U.S. as the lead negotiator on the side of the UNSC, the matter becomes complicated in a totally other way – not over what is included and what is excluded, but over who is included and who is excluded. Many members of Congress insist they must have a say since an act of the U.S. Congress is involved. And the Iranians, as well as everyone else, know the position of the Republicans. Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, insists that what is at stake is a good deal, not knee-jerk opposition to Iran. “If it’s a good deal, I’m going to vote for it. I want a good outcome… We haven’t been in the camp of wanting to add sanctions right now. We’ve been in the camp of wanting to find what a good deal is. So if we get a good deal, I’ll be glad to vote for it.” However, for the Republicans, merely extending the breakout period from three months to one year does not represent a good deal.

So the sanctions issue is bound to be a spoiler for both sides if politicians and the domestic constituencies behind them become convinced that Iran is not sincere in its quest to pursue a strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy. Hence, as we shall see tomorrow, the repeated reassurances that Iran is complying with almost all the requirements of the JPA. Hence, also the IAEA’s insistence of stretching beyond a narrow interpretation of nuclear negotiations to include other nuclear-related security issues (missile delivery systems) as well as assurances of full transparency.


Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace-Part II: The Camp David Accords.07.05.13

Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace 07.05.13
Part II: The Camp David Accords


Howard Adelman

When I was in the Jerusalem Theatre at the historic moment of Sadat`s visit to Jerusalem when Sadat, Begin and Peres made speeches, I was overwhelmed with how articulate, witty, warm and forthcoming Sadat had been. Peres was also his usual serious political self clearly open to peace and welcoming to Sadat. Begin was the grouch. It was as if Sadat had not said anything and had not taken the bold step of coming to Jerusalem. Begin told Sadat about the Jews as victims of the Holocaust, as if Sadat was a school child. The second note Begin struck was on the Jewish historic right to Palestine and Jerusalem. Begin could have been giving a speech to Irgun followers in 1946. The session was filmed at the time, but there are no clips from the Jerusalem theatre included in the documentary, Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace.

I tried to indicate in my last blog what an amazing military and political leader Sadat had been. My own sense is that the film failed to convey the enormity of his role. As a military leader, he rivals Churchill for he had to remake a demoralized and dysfunctional military organization, depoliticize it and give it a sense of purpose and pride. He succeeded. In this blog I want to focus on Jimmy Carter. For he does deserve great credit for both initiating the Camp David talks and for personally mediating between two very opposite personalities, one of whom Carter detested. How did he do it? What does the documentary contribute to help us understand how the Camp David Accords were concluded? What happened in the thirteen days of negotiations at Camp David that allowed President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel to sign an accord on 17 September 1978 at the White House to agree to end the state of war between Egypt and Israel? How do you pull off a peace accord when one of the leaders, Menachem Begin, is contemptuous of both Sadat and Carter and where Sadat despises and Carter comes to hate Begin?

One form of credit must be given to all three leaders – all three were very courteous gentlemen, even when they were separated by bitter differences. More specifically, Jimmy Carter was a true southern gentleman. He may often not hear what is really being said and somehow manage to convert what his said into his own predilections, but he was always the ultimate in consideration in ensuring that others had and were enabled to voice their views no matter how he weighed those views.

One might have expected that back door channels would be irrelevant now that direct talks between the leaders of the two states had been initiated. In fact, Leon Charney, an American lawyer who became an agent for Ezer Weizman’s book, not only played a small role in feeding information to Weizman that Sadat was sincere in wanting to make a peace deal based on return of the Sinai to Egypt, but during the Camp David discussions he served as the conduit between Ezer Weizman and Robert Lipshutz who had been close to Jimmy Carter for many years, had served as the treasurer in Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign and then served as counsel to President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1979. That back channel was critical in overcoming personality blockages as well as figuring out how to get around roadblocks, such as the insistence that all land be returned to Egypt in exchange for peace and that provision be made for a settlement on the Palestinian issue.

As background, hinted at but not detailed in the documentary, Wolf Blitzer when he was a reporter for The Jerusalem Post contacted Robert Lifshutz and told him that there was a predominant narrative about Lipshutz circulating in Israel that Lipshutz was anti-Israel and even anti-Jewish even though Lipshutz was Jewish. Blitzer introduced Lipshutz to Leon Cheney who was close to Ezer Weizman. The film is particularly strong on the back channel developed from Carter to Lipshutz to Cheney to Weizman and from Lipshutz to Stuart Eizenstat who played the most important role in the senior White House staff in communicating to the Jewish community leadership in American and through them back to Begin. The back channels helped break down problems and determine what was possible and what was impossible. Strengthened by the information he received, especially on Begin’s views, Carter was able to come up with proposals that Ezer Weizman could sell Begin on directly. However, by focusing almost exclusively on the role of the back channel, the whole sense of perspective is lost.

Further, although this was a back channel that worked superbly, the same back channel was unsuccessful when it was used to deal with the American hostages held by Iran. Leon Charney got word from Austrian Prime Minister, Kreisky, that, because Kreisky had a close relationship with Yasser Arafat, that channel could be useful in negotiating the release of the hostages. After all, Khomeini had given the American embassy in Tehran for the Palestinians. Charney contacted Lipshutz, who was by then no longer White House Counsel, who told Jimmy Carter. Carter arranged to have Charney and Lipshutz fly to Vienna to see what could be done. Charney flew to Israel to get the Israelis on board and Charney fed back to the White House that, “Provided you keep us well informed, we want to cooperate and help you get the hostages out.”

That back channel opening failed because the Carter White House thought that utilization of that back channel would have amounted de facto recognition of the PLO. In my estimation, this was an error by the White House and could possibly have allowed Carter to win a second term. Cy Vance had convinced Carter that the risk was not worth it when the whole point of back channels is that you can take such risks because Carter could deny everything. The film, in this case, missed an opportunity to show the importance three critical elements: 1. personal long term trust; 2. intimate contact; and 3. sidetracking spoilers to make back channel diplomacy effective. The second was only present in small part and the third aspect was lacking.

There is another source that somehow was not used in the film. On the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Camp David Accords, a year after Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, on 17 September 2003, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held a forum chaired by Lee Hamilton from the Woodrow Wilson Center on the topic that, though it did not include Lipshtiz, did include many of the participants including, President Jimmy Cater, Vice-President, Walter Mondale, William Quandt, the member of the U.S. National Security Council who was the best informed of the Americans on Middle East issues, Elyakim Rubinstein who had been the assistant director of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski U.S. National Security Adviser to the President, Aharon Barak then Israeli Attorney General and subsequently Chief Justice on the Supreme Court of Israel, Harold Saunders U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, Hamilton Jordan U.S. Chief of Staff to the President, Jody Powell U.S. Press Secretary to the President, Samuel Lewis U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Hermann Eilts U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Osama el-Baz Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of Egypt and, representing the back channel, Leon Charney, who, as was his custom, rarely spoke. Rosalyn Carter was also present for it was she who planted the idea in Jimmy’s head of inviting Begin and Sadat to meet at Camp David and was both present and active in the whole process. Osama el-Baz, Sadat’s adviser could not be there because he was at the time actively involved on behalf of President Mubarak in dealing with the Palestinian resort to violence, but he appeared on a video hook-up.

In that forum, Carter recalled the meetings after the historic visit of Sadat to Jerusalem between Sadat and Begin at Ismailia and between representatives of the two sides at Leeds in Great Britain that ended not only in failure but in acrimony, hostility and bitterness between the two leaders, though the wide-ranging discussions did allow the Americans to grasp the opportunities for compromise and define the pitfalls so important in allowing the Americans to write the first draft of the Camp David Agreement that was forged immediately after Leeds and produced at a strategic moment at Camp David. The film omits this context.

Sadat had his ambitious agenda. Carter had a modest one of simply setting an agenda for a fuller peace process and conference. Begin was amenable to Carter’s modest goal. As the film shows, the attempt to get Sadat and Begin to talk directly was a complete failure. The two ended their first discussions in a shouting match. Carter began a process of shuttle diplomacy within the confines of Camp David. When faced with failure on the 11th day, Ezer had pressed for another try and Aharon Barak became the key to writing a compromise to which both Begin and Sadat could agree on the settlement issue.

Barak was clear that Camp David would “never, never be possible without the involvement, the care, and the dedication of President Carter.” But Barak also threw a few sly and gentle digs at Carter, complimenting him for his mastery of detail, but also referring to his arguments with Carter over detailed wording when Carter was neither a legal specialist not an expert on the Middle East. This is not in the film. Second, though alluded to in the film, an important difference is that the Egyptians were split but led by a forcible personality who believed primarily in attitude and commitment. The Israelis believed in detailed preparation and, in that regard, Carter personally, in contrast to the American delegation, was ill-equipped. The Israelis had a peace plan and a solution for the Palestinians based on autonomy that was in accord with the Egyptian position. The Israelis came with draft agreements and fallback positions. They also had a detailed knowledge of the position of the Egyptians. Carter came with a genial smile and very deep convictions.

Critical to these negotiations, and absent in many, was trust in the integrity of the negotiators and honesty on each side quite aside from differences in interests and principles. Since the film emphasizes the back channels rather than the direct discussions and the roles those played in advancing the direct channels, these factors are underplayed in the film. But the back channels could not have been successful without first having that trust. If the back channels were only used to get around the enormous distrust between Begin and Sadat, they would have proven insufficient. What Carter, Sadat and a good part of the Israeli negotiating team brought was persistence combined with the creative imaginations of both Sadat’s and Aharon Barak.

What happened is that the real negotiations took place between Barak and el-Baz and then both the front channels and back channels used to sell the deal to Begin. When I was involved with the negotiations on the refugee issue when Canada gavelled the talks, I was told by our Canadian ambassador who led the talks that I would never succeed as a diplomat because I had been taught through my philosophical training to use clear and distinct ideas. A diplomat had to master the art of creative ambiguity. Barak and el-Baz were masters at that craft. Carter was trained as an engineer and was not facile with equivocation. Barak and el-Baz formulated ambiguous wording at a level of abstraction just sufficient to obscure their differences, but not so abstract as to be meaningless. But Carter was patient, indefatigable, dedicated and had a strong sense of mission that, whenever the negotiations flagged, managed to give them a new spurt of energy. Barak and el-Baz not only negotiated, they engaged in dialogue, told stories, explained background. Back channels are of little help in the hard slugging of negotiations themselves or providing the necessary dialogue that allows negotiations to be fruitful.

Carter deserves enormous praise. But he was often misguided – such as in his initial stress on the Geneva route. The U.S Ambassador to Egypt, Hermann Eilts, erred in this regard in giving credit to Jimmy Carter`s letter to Sadat urging a bold step as a key to the Jerusalem visit when historical documents seem to sustain a story line that Sadat went to Jerusalem in spite of American policies on the peace process. Eilts claimed correctly that when Jimmy Carter became president, he shifted from a stress on a step-by-step approach that had characterized the previous administration to a comprehensive approach. Eits believed even twenty-five years later that this shift had an enormous impact. I, and I believe most historians, would argue that the impact was negative for any comprehensive approach at that time was doomed to failure. The Geneva effort was a dead end.

It may be true that Carter gave up the comprehensive approach only when Assad of Syria did not agree to take part even when Carter supported Assad`s call for a united Arab delegation. Carter`s letter to Sadat encouraging a bold step was not even a catalyst in Sadat`s initiative. Sadat had already been on that route. Jimmy Carter`s accession to Assad`s push for a united Arab delegation only accelerated Sadat`s efforts. As the American ambassador to Syria said, President Sadat did not want to mortgage Egypt’s foreign policy to the lowest common denominator. Sadat decided to move ahead separately. Carter`s answer to this interpretation is revealing because he claimed that America was bound by United Nations resolution that called for an international conference to be headed by the United States and the Soviet Union. Carter simply evaded the question and narrated the details of his many efforts to get Assad aboard before, in fact, conceding, that Assad was inflexible. Carter conceded that his administration `by default` placed our eggs in the Sadat-Begin basket.

Even given that the timing was propitious for an agreement, and even given the extra assistance provided by the back channel, Carter does deserves enormous credit for his commitment and voracious persistence backed up, as Samuel Lewis has remarked, by an unusually united Defence, State, and Intelligence departmental coherence that matched the Israeli briefs in its detail. As Sam Lewis has said, “without that daily concentration of the president driving a process to a conclusion as quickly as possible, you’re not likely to get there, because something is going to blow it out of the water.” Persistence was needed. Timeliness was a prerequisite. So was detailed preparation and coherence. The Americans provided all four. Further, even if both Begin and Sadat were strong leaders, Begin was hard to negotiate with for the best of diplomats.

Because of the focus on the back channel in the film which only dealt with a few issues that were blocked where behind the scenes maneuvering could help, look at the long road the negotiators had to travel in thirteen days. Menachem Begin, who had dedicated his life to a deep belief in the greater Israel, at a minimum, an Israel between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, had to agree to subscribe to UN Resolution 242 requiring Israel to withdraw from occupied territories. Begin had to subscribe to the principle that territories could not be acquired by force, and, in the case of Egypt, the withdrawal from all of the Sinai captured in the Six Day War. He had to agree to withdraw security forces to defined enclaves. The Israelis had to give up their advanced defence positions, including three airfields. Begin had to set the precedent of giving up 14 settlements, including the large infrastructure that had been developed at Sharm el Sheikh and Yamit (the latter with over 3000 settlers). Sadat had to agree to the part of its territory being returned to be demilitarized – a problem later for securing the Sinai from Palestinian terrorists and militant Bedouin as well as leading to the creation of the tunnel economy into Gaza. Sadat had to swallow the humiliation of having a foreign peace force on Egyptian territory and to limit how close his own troops and military, including artillery and tanks, could come to the Israeli border.
Of course, the greatest effort in creative ambiguity was over the surrender of the settlements as Begin had vowed never to return a Jewish settlement. Aharon Barak`s skills were really tested. This was the issue in which the back channel efforts were so effective in allowing Begin, a man of great principle, to keep his vow, by allowing the Knesset and not himself to agree to surrender the fourteen settlements. Without this final concession, the Camp David talks would have ended in failure. Begin got his way in agreeing to full autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs as a people but not a nation but without full self-governing authority over their own land which, for him, only the Palestinian Jews were entitled to have. Unfortunately, the film does not have and cannot take the time to convey the enormity of this leap for a leader of Begin`s ilk.

This was the biggest issue on which Sadat had to compromise. Neither the Americans nor the Israelis recognized his sincere belief in trying to advance this issue for they thought, given their realist assumptions, that he was negotiating simply to provide cover for himself. But he was a firm, both for his own political survival as for the success of the peace talks, in his belief that progress on the Palestinian front had to be in tandem with peace on the Egyptian-Israeli front. Both the Americans and the Israelis let him hang naked and exposed on this issue because the Palestinians were not part of the compromise. With his own contribution, the Israelis and the Americans had boxed Sadat into a suicidal cul-de-sac where he was forced to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians who were not present and for whom he could never be a legitimate negotiator, but unless he negotiated on their behalf, there never could be an Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. That compromise alone would turn Sadat into an enemy for those who believed that no Muslim was entitled to cede Muslim territory to Jews.

Further, the peace negotiations had to overcome other obstacles that belonged to neither Sadat nor Begin. Jimmy Carter had then and continued to have a commitment to the principle that all settlement activity by the Israelis was illegal. This was the case even in his interpretations of the discussions twenty-five years later. Elyakim Rubinstein, who was a mandarin and not a party ideologue, had to remind Carter diplomatically that this was his belief and not that of every American administration as he mistakenly insisted. Further, in agreeing to Camp David, Israelis were agreeing to a new base line but for Palestinians who were not part of the agreement, Camp David was an extreme of surrender and not a starting point. Israelis were signing a deal on the issue of Palestinians without a Palestinian quid pro quo.

Finally, contrary to the advice of the Americans, both the Israelis and Egyptians insisted on a deadline for converting the Accords into a full agreement. As we shall see in our discussion of the path from the Camp David Accords to the Camp David Agreement, that deadline initially allowed for wasted time and later became an obstacle itself to an agreement. The film was unable to provide any sense of the dilemmas deadlines pose between their ostensible purpose in preventing endless discussion and their contribution to making discussions endless.

NEXT: The Camp David Peace Agreement

Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace.Part I: Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem.06.05.13

Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace                                                            06.05.13

Part I: Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem


Howard Adelman

The title of today’s blog is taken from the documentary directed by Harry Hunkele called Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace which I saw at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival but was too busy to write about it during that busy film week. The film is available on Netflix or on a DVD. It is not a new film; an early version was shown at the 2009 Monte-Carlo Television Festival, premiered at the Abu Dabai Film Festival in October 2010 and was screened at Cannes in 2011. The title also belongs to the book of one of the important individuals involved as a back channel conduit featured prominently in the film, Leon H. Charney, and from whom the director clearly borrowed a great deal in dealing with the Camp David segment.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been long and appears intractable. In these types of conflicts, military forces and diplomats alone rarely achieve peace. Complex approaches are used involving a multitude of agents in addition to diplomats and soldiers – academics, human rights activists, conflict resolution experts, businessmen. These are referred to as Track II initiatives. They bring parties together and can focus on joint projects and building trust even when the parties are technically at war. They also offer a parallel path for contacts. Track I and Track II efforts can be clandestine or open. The use of clandestine contacts, dubbed back door channels through trusted private individuals or politicians, has been a part of virtually every peace negotiation in history. This film purports to focus on those back door channels. Having been involved in several Track II efforts, some clandestine, I was very interested in seeing the film.

The documentary is about the efforts and personalities who brought together first Anwar Al-Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, then the Camp David Accords and finally the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that followed. The film, as the subtitle indicates, is also about the consequences of such peace efforts to the principals involved. The film contends that all three principals, Anwar Al-Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter at Camp David, paid a huge price for making peace before the finale focuses on allusions to the present with clips of Obama presumably from his speech in Cairo.

Let me deal with the conceit, indeed, distortion, that all three leaders paid a great price to make peace. Unquestionably, Sadat did. He was assassinated for signing the Camp David Peace Agreement. In fact, the film slides over the fact that his Prime Minister resigned over the issue and most of his advisors refused to attend the signing ceremony. This is important for it was relevant to whether Israel could be confident that a peace agreement would hold. It did hold, but it turned out to be a cold peace that today is under threat of unravelling.

The suggestion is made that Begin also paid a high price. His colleagues, who had accompanied him through his long years in the underground and in the wilderness of the opposition, accused him of betrayal according to Hunkele. Further, as he stalled on the second half of the peace agreement dealing with the Palestinians, Ezer Weisman resigned from his cabinet – though the film does not deal with these events. The filmmaker believes that Begin then invaded Lebanon in 1982 to prove to everyone he was not a softie or an appeaser, and, following that calamitous decision, in 1983 withdrew into isolation as a seriously diminished individual, ended as a recluse and thus became a victim of signing the Accords.

I do not even find this argument plausible, but perhaps some case could be made for it.  The film never even tries to make the case. This is not true for the explanation of Jimmy Carter losing the bid for re-election. In the Q&A that followed the showing, Harry Hunkele was asked why, if Jimmy Carter played such an important role in making peace, he developed so much ill will in the Jewish community in America. Hunkele presumed the questioner was referring to Carter`s statement about Israel being an apartheid state, and said that he believed that this was a result of Carter becoming frustrated with Israeli intransigence on the Palestinian peace front.

It is hard to believe that this is what he actually said. It only indicated to me that a director can make a very effective and powerful film, especially out of such historically important material, and still be relatively ignorant about the subject matter he is covering. Carter did not just make one statement about apartheid. He wrote a book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a polemic against Israel, Israeli politicians and Israeli Jewish and gentile supporters in America based on distortions, misinformation and exaggerations that help sabotage rather than advance peace. And it is not just an aside. Carter’s obsession with Israel and his hatred of Begin have never abated.

What about then? It is certainly true that Carter`s support in the American Jewish community fell from 72% in his first election bid to 45% in his bid for re-election. But to connect that fall in support to Carter`s facilitating the Camp David Accords and subsequently the Camp David Peace Agreement is more than a stretch. Look at the facts. 

Carter no sooner took office than he alienated the Jewish community by calling for a Palestinian homeland. Such a vision might be considered prophetic, not simply because I held that view at the time, but it ran strongly against both community beliefs and the back door efforts underway in the seventies to make a deal with Jordan. Second, in the Spring of 1978, Carter sold Saudi Arabia America’s top fighter, the F-15; recall that Mark Siegel, who helped initiate the Holocaust Museum in Washington and forge Carter’s generous policy towards Soviet Jews, resigned from Carter’s White House staff over the issue. Third, Zbignew Brzezinski, who was Carter`s Security Advisor and plays a prominent role in the film, worked with Carter to get Sadat and Begin to attend a Geneva Conference with the goal of producing a comprehensive and all-encompassing peace agreement, an initiative that both Sadat and Begin regarded as foolish and incapable of producing results. Fourth, after Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 `behind Jimmy`s back`, Carter had to reverse gears and remake his strategic approach. Carter deserves credit that he did change his approach and took the lead in inviting Begin and Sadat to Camp David against the advice of his closest associates.

Carter also deserves credit for the effective and determined role he played in Camp David, quite aside from all his mistakes. He also has to be given enormous credit, again in spite of his many fumbles, for helping translate that peace accord into a full-fledged peace agreement. At that time, his support within the Jewish community was strong. But the Jewish community, like the American community in general, turned against Carter on all kinds of grounds – his handling of the Panama Canal issue for one. But most of all it was over the failure to rescue the American hostages in Iran that stood in such blatant contrast to the successful Israeli efforts at Entebbe a few years before and his failed negotiations to bring the hostages home.

The Iran Hostage Crisis was sufficient to ensure his defeat. But there were other reasons which guaranteed a landslide victory for Reagan. The Soviets marched into Afghanistan on his watch just after he signed an arms control treaty with Leonid Brezhnev. The American military was perceived as having been gutted so that America could no longer project strength abroad to intimidate adventurism. The American economy was in a shambles suffering from both high inflation and stagnation – stagflation. I spent five days with President Carter in Atlanta over African issues in the 1990s at the CarterCenter. I came to Atlanta with little knowledge of him and a general appreciation for what he accomplished at Camp David.

I left totally disillusioned and convinced that the impression of his fellow leaders in NATO of him as incompetent – obsessed with a combination of high moral principles and meticulous mastery of details that were often irrelevant – had been correct. In my five days with him, he displayed a quite stubborn determination to get his way whatever the objections raised to his proposals for dealing with a particular African problem. In spite of his mastery of facts, he never let an inconvenient fact falsify a conviction he held. His understatement, impish smile and sparkling eyes disguised his powerful will. He was always simplistic even though he had a great capacity to know all kinds of minute details on a subject. He projected a combination of 100% dogmatic assurance who liked to be surrounded by sycophants while underneath being very insecure and uncertain, a state of mind which he covered with dogmatic adhesiveness. The Jewish community – like every other community – had a great many reasons to vote against him. Camp David was unlikely one of them. Rather than paying a price for Camp David, Camp David is perhaps the only action that saves Carter from total ignominy.

Part of the problem of the film is that it covers three phases of the peace process instead of concentrating on the last two where Carter was most effective after the parties themselves arranged the Jerusalem visit in spite of Carter’s deeply flawed and distracting if not destructive Geneva efforts. The back door channels to achieve the first stage could have been easily covered without getting into distractions. Given that the first five minutes of the film are taken up with a silly cartoonish and potted history of the conflict from the split between Abraham’s two sons thousands of years ago to the 1970s that mixed historical film footage with computer-generated imagery was enough to drive you out of the theatre. The film could have started with the October 1973 war and its legacy.

We are approaching the 35th anniversary of 17 September 1978 when President Jimmy Carter brought President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel together to the White House to sign the Camp David Accords, the document outlining how they would subsequently agree to end the state of war between the two countries and also attack the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film could also have begun much more organically with the historic victory of Menachem Begin over Shimon Peres that thrust all us peaceniks into deep doldrums and a sense that we would never get peace. How then did the first major breakthrough come with Egypt? What role did clandestine contacts play? Such a focus, if one obtained access to the right persons, could not help but be a powerful film.

In the first phase of the process to set up the historic visit of Sadat to Jerusalem, I happened to be living in Jerusalem; I was a Lady Davis Visiting Professor at Hebrew University for 1977-1978. Though I managed to wangle my way into the Jerusalem Theatre to hear Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, I knew nothing at the time of the convoluted back door efforts that had been used to bring about that historic visit. But even before those back door processes through Romania and Morocco could be explored, setting the context of the implausibility of pulling off such a venture is critical.

My own knowledge of the backdrop came from Aziz Sidqi who was Prime Minster of Egypt from 1972 until after the Yom Kippur War. We spent four days together in Amman at a conference and the two of us spent a day off hiking through the hills of Jordan. He was a bright economist with a PhD from Harvard, but with a very jaundiced view of politics. When we went on that hike, he had taken time off from his business as a candy importer. He had been driven from office by orchestrated protests by a cabinet colleague against price controls he had lifted as part of a comprehensive effort to free up the rigidities of the Egyptian economy. In 1973, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, he was in London with his wife who was due to be operated on the next day. Sadat summoned him back to London. Two hours before the war started, he, as Prime minister, was informed. Prior to that, Sadat had told only the Defence Minister and the Minister of Intelligence.  

Sadat was determined to change the ground rules, get back the Sinai and go to war since it seemed that the Israelis, particularly Golda Maier, was not receptive and could not hear his back door overtures. Win or lose, the Sinai campaign would change everything. Against the overwhelming advice of his associates, in spite of the détente in place between the US and the USSR since 1972, and in secrecy with few knowing, he decided to go to war in October. His intelligence service projected that the war would cost the lives of 30,000 Egyptian soldiers. He himself expected 10,000 dead. He wanted change and took the risk. The initial attack cost just over 200 Egyptian soldiers lives.

And change came, even though Israel finally recovered from the not-so-surprise attack if the Israeli government leaders had heeded the signals. In the end, Sadat suffered a profound military defeat. However, it was a diplomatic and political victory. Israel’s post-1967 sense of invulnerability was crushed. Egyptians hailed the defeat as a great military accomplishment just because they so successfully broke through the Bar-Lev line and did not suffer nearly the number of casualties predicted. His domestic and worldwide prestige was enormous. He had earned a great deal of political capital. He had also developed a deep personal emotional motivation to pursue peace which the film does deal with – the loss of his son-in-law in the October War. He now had to find parties on the other side that could hear his message.

In spite of America’s deafness to his back door approaches to Washington that rivalled the auditory blockages in Jerusalem, Sadat had also decided to realign with America rather than the USSR, move strongly towards a more open economy, rebuild his army with superior western arms (and correspondingly fewer troops) and redefine foreign policy in terms of placing a priority on Egyptian rather than Arab interests. The 1973 war would be Egypt’s last war with Israel. Military preparations would accord with that objective and shift the threat perception once a peace agreement could be concluded, at great savings to the Egyptian economy. The first and second disengagement agreements of 1974 and 1975 between Egypt and Israel, the joint Egyptian-Israeli patrols in the Sinai, the attendance of Egyptian and Israeli academics at conferences together and the joint experience of Israeli and Egyptian officers taking the same advanced military courses in Britain and America bore enormous fruit in creating pockets of background trust. (See the account of Ahmed Fakhr of his relationship developed over a year in London with General Ari Brown of the IDF who had been an aide to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.)

These initiatives had allowed Sadat to seed his rapprochement plan at lower levels. These were different aspects of Track II (though not back door) diplomacy underway. Some reference to these initiatives would have made clearer why and when clandestine moves on either Track I or Track II are necessary and helpful since that is the subject of the film. The opportunity was lost. It was important to state that Sadat was not just interested in peace with Israel but in a total realignment of the region and, in particular, Egypt’s new efforts to enable Egypt to foster peace in the whole region, west and south as well as east, and to secure Egypt’s most vital interest, the waters of the Nile. Given what subsequently took place in Sudan and then Libya, Sadat was very prescient. 

Further, in addition to the economic domestic agenda, Sadat had a political domestic agenda for which these moves were prerequisites. Sadat directed the military to stay out of politics on all levels and moved ballot boxes out of military bases as a key step towards democratization, a multiparty system and a freer civil society.

It is against this background, most of which was accessible to Mossad, that Sadat renewed his primary back door peace initiative by planning to go to Jerusalem. Now that much of the Israeli archives are open from that period and can be accessed on the internet, the secret documents are available for all to see. As suggested by pictorial images and interviews with a veteran journalist in the film, on 4 September 1977, two and one-half months before Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem on 20 November, Ceausescu met secretly with Begin in Romania where Begin was told with certain conviction that Sadat wanted a high level meeting between Egyptian and Israeli representatives. Whatever the awful character of Ceausescu as a dictator, Romania was the only country behind the iron curtain that had not broken diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War. Further, Ceausescu was a reliable intermediary with a formidable ability to recall conversations in great detail. In the same meeting – this was 1977 – Ceausescu told Begin that Arafat was willing to recognize Israel in exchange for recognition of the PLO and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Israel immediately stepped up another back door channel through Morocco’s King Hassan II and confirmed what they had been told by Ceausescu. This is also in the film. A disguised Moshe Dayan flew to Morocco and his entourage was housed in the king’s official guest house next to his private villa with a secret back door specifically designed for back door diplomacy. I thought the director missed a chance to introduce a cartoon version of all this literal back door diplomacy, including a caricature of Dayan in disguise. Dayan met with Prime Minister Hassan Tohami. Mossad made meticulous notes of the meeting. This was an initiative without American involvement because the Americans were stubbornly pursuing a wrong track. The message was clear. The Arab countries wanted to curb Palestinian radicalism because it was infectious and posed a danger to their regimes. Peace was necessary and the opening to that route was now available through Egypt. 

The highway for Sadat to travel to Jerusalem had been built. In spite of the snipers placed in locations around the airport lest a Trojan Horse arrive, something I did not know until I saw the film, Sadat came and won the hearts and minds of the majority of Israelis. The doorway to peace had been opened.

Next: Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace – Part II: The Camp David Accords