The myth of Camp David hangs heavy over American foreign policy, and it's easy to see why. Of all the attempts to forge a Middle East peace, the 1978 treaty between Egypt and Israel has proved the most durable. Mr. Carter's admirers extol Camp David as an example of how one man's vision and negotiating skill brought former enemies together at the peace table, and as proof that a president can guide America toward a kinder, humbler foreign policy. Camp David was indeed Mr. Carter's one major foreign policy accomplishment amid a string of disasters including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and Ayatollah Khomeini's ascent in Iran.
But the truth about Camp David belies this myth. The truth is that Mr. Carter never wanted an Egyptian-Israeli agreement, fought hard against it, and only agreed to go along with the process when it became clear that the rest of his foreign policy was in a shambles and he desperately needed to log a success.
As presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter was sharply critical of the kind of step-by-step personal diplomacy which had been practiced by his predecessors Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. President Carter's preferred Middle East policy was to insist on a comprehensive settlement among all concerned parties -- including the Arab states' leading patron, the Soviet Union -- and to disparage Nixonian incrementalism.
Mr. Carter and his advisers all assumed that the key to peace in the region was to make Israel pull back to its pre-1967 borders and accept the principle of Palestinian self-determination in exchange for a guarantee of Israel's security. Nothing less than a comprehensive settlement, it was argued, could ward off future wars -- and there could be no agreement without the Soviets at the bargaining table. This was a policy that, if implemented, would have thrust the Cold War directly into the heart of Middle East politics. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had strained to achieve the opposite.
...For the better part of 1977, as Israel and Egypt negotiated, the White House persisted in acting as if nothing had happened. Even after Sadat's trip to Jerusalem, Mr. Carter announced that "a separate peace agreement between Egypt and Israel is not desirable."
...But by the autumn of 1978, the rest of Mr. Carter's foreign policy had crumbled. He had pushed through an unpopular giveaway of the Panama Canal, allowed the Sandinistas to take power in Nicaragua as proxies of Cuba, and stood by while chaos grew in the Shah's Iran. Desperate for some kind of foreign policy success in order to bolster his chances for re-election in 1980, Mr. Carter finally decided to elbow his way into the game by setting up a meeting between Sadat and Begin at Camp David.
Camp David worked because it avoided all of Mr. Carter's usual foreign policy mistakes, particularly his insistence on a comprehensive solution. Instead, Sadat and Begin pursued limited goals. The agreement stressed a step-by-step process instead of insisting on immediate dramatic results. It excluded noncooperative entities like Syria and the PLO, rather than trying to accommodate their demands. And for once, Mr. Carter chose to operate behind the scenes à la Mr. Kissinger, instead of waging a media war through public statements and gestures. (The press were barred from the Camp David proceedings).
Above all and most significantly, Camp David sought peace instead of "justice." Liberals say there can be no peace without justice. But to many justice means the end of Israel or the creation of a separate Palestinian state. Sadat and Begin, in the teeth of Mr.Carter's own instincts both then and now, established at Camp David a sounder principle for negotiating peace. The chaos and violence in today's Gaza proves just how fatal trying to advance other formulations can be.
Now, of course, Carter uses Camp David as his major credential for "peacemaking" even as he continues to advocate his failed policies of a comprehensive peace based on Israeli concessions and empty promises by Arabs. His recollection of Camp David includes his usual amnesia about Palestinian Arab commitments:
I was really disappointed when President Reagan dropped the ball completely. He showed no interest in the Mideast peace process after I left office and we were right on the verge of a complete success back then. We had two facets of the agreement that I negotiated with (Israeli Prime Minister Menachem) Begin and (Egyptian President Anwar) Sadat. One was the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has ever been violated in the last 30 years. The other one was a commitment of Israelis to withdraw their political and military forces from the West Bank and to let the Palestinians have full autonomy. On that part of the process, Israel did not carry out their promise and President Reagan didn’t try to enforce the agreement that they had signed and that their parliament had approved. So yes, I was disappointed.The text of Camp David shows Carter's bias:
Egypt and Israel agree that, in order to ensure a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority, and taking into account the security concerns of all the parties, there should be transitional arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza for a period not exceeding five years. In order to provide full autonomy to the inhabitants, under these arrangements the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of these areas to replace the existing military government.The autonomy that Camp David talks about is predicated on free elections in the territories, something that didn't happen until decades later.
When the self-governing authority (administrative council) in the West Bank and Gaza is established and inaugurated, the transitional period of five years will begin.
So not only does Carter take credit for Israel/Egyptian peace that he opposed, he continues to lie about the very agreements that he brokered - always to vilify Israel.
(Also see My Right Word on the same Arthur Herman article.)