Thir­teen Days in Sep­tem­ber: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Lawrence Wright
  • Review
By – January 8, 2015

In his riv­et­ing account of the thir­teen days that led to the his­toric peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979, Lawrence Wright ana­lyzes the many obsta­cles that threat­ened to doom the con­fer­ence from the start. He presents can­did por­traits of the nego­ti­at­ing prin­ci­pals who attempt­ed to resolve the con­flict between Israel and the Arab world: Anwar Sadat, Men­achim Begin, and Pres­i­dent Jim­my Carter. Wright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Loom­ing Tow­er, his indis­pens­able account of the ori­gins of Islam­ic Fun­da­men­tal­ism, takes us through the thir­teen days of con­tentious nego­ti­a­tions that sep­a­rat­ed Israel and Egypt, high­light­ed by the per­sis­tence of Pres­i­dent Carter, who was able to cajole and threat­en both sides and ulti­mate­ly rec­on­cile the dif­fer­ences that led to Israel’s with­draw­al from the Sinai penin­su­la, Egypt’s pre­con­di­tion for the sign­ing of the peace treaty between both countries.

From the out­set of the Camp David con­fer­ence, Pres­i­dent Carter sought a com­pre­hen­sive solu­tion to the Mid­dle East con­flict, which includ­ed not only the strug­gle between Israel and Egypt but also that between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans. It became evi­dent in the ear­ly stages of the nego­ti­a­tion process, how­ev­er, that Carter had been too ambi­tious. Begin was adamant that Israel would not vacate Judea and Samaria — or what Egypt and the U.S. called the West Bank. As Wright depicts the day to day talks, Begin, with his lawyer-like approach to U. N .Res­o­lu­tion 242, drove Carter to dis­trac­tion with his nit­pick­ing argu­ments.” Wright recounts the many argu­ments Carter had with Begin, not only over the Pales­tin­ian ques­tion but also over remov­ing the Israeli set­tle­ments in Sinai — an issue that almost derailed the con­fer­ence. Sub­se­quent­ly Carter began to have doubts about Begin’s san­i­ty, believ­ing that if Moshe Dayan or Ezer Weiz­man were prime min­is­ter, there would be a peace treaty. Wright notes that Begin con­tin­u­al­ly object­ed to every remain­ing ref­er­ence to the Pales­tini­ans; in Carter’s opin­ion the Israeli leader was utter­ly uncon­cerned with their plight… reject­ing their legit­i­mate rights.’ Sadat, on the oth­er hand, seemed to Carter the more rea­son­able of the two.” As for Sadat, Wright notes that he was clos­er to Carter than any oth­er world leader and indeed he felt almost like a broth­er to him.”

At the eleventh hour as it appeared that the con­fer­ence would end in fail­ure, Begin agreed to remove the Sinai set­tle­ments but only after con­sult­ing Ariel Sharon, who assured the prime min­is­ter that their removal pre­sent­ed no secu­ri­ty prob­lem for Israel.

The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was unprece­dent­ed but sub­se­quent­ly led to Sadat’s assas­si­na­tion by Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists. Wright’s book is a primer in under­stand­ing the pro­found dif­fi­cul­ties in bring­ing about a res­o­lu­tion in the still unset­tled strug­gle between Israel and the Palestinians.

Relat­ed content:

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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