The 13-day negotiations conducted in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, leading to the historic Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, are on display in Lawrence Wright’s new play, “Camp David,” at Arena Stage. For readers interested in learning more about what went on in the Maryland countryside that September, we asked William B. Quandt for his recommendations on further reading. Quandt, a professor emeritus in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, was part of the U.S. negotiating team at the Camp David summit. His own book on the subject, “Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics” (1986), provides a gripping behind-the-scenes look at the histrionics and ultimate resolution. As Post reviewer Donald Neff wrote, Quandt’s “grasp of the nuances of policy making and negotiating is masterly and the picture that emerges is convincing, a haunting record of a flawed process by flawed leaders.”
By William B. Quandt
The Camp David Accords were of great importance, setting the stage for the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty the next year. That treaty stands as a major turning point in modern Middle East history, and yet there are relatively few books that deal with these historic events. The best place to start is with memoirs of the three key leaders.
Carter’s “Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President” (1982) devotes several chapters to the diplomacy of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, including a day-by-day narrative of the summit. Carter reveals himself as intensely committed to peace in the Holy Land, combining a strong dose of idealism with determined realism. His admiration for Sadat and his frustration with Begin come through clearly. Carter kept a detailed diary during those days and draws liberally on it in his memoir. Additional insights from two other key American participants in the negotiations can be found in Cyrus Vance’s “Hard Choices: Critical Years in America’s Foreign Policy” (1983), and especially Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Power and Principle: Memoirs of the National Security Adviser, 1977-1981” (1983).
Sadat also wrote a memoir, “In Search of Identity: An Autobiography” (1978), but it does not cover the Camp David negotiations. Instead, Sadat tells the story of his life and explains why he decided to go to Jerusalem to meet with the Israelis in November 1977, a crucial event along the way to Camp David. For added Egyptian perspective, albeit a critical one, on the Camp David talks themselves, one should consult the memoir of Sadat’s foreign minister, Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel, “The Camp David Accords” (1986). Kamel’s disillusionment with Sadat and with the accords led him to resign. Nevertheless, the book draws on a great deal of inside information and documentation that is otherwise unavailable.
The third key player at Camp David, Menachem Begin, did not write a memoir, but his foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, did: “Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations” (1981). Like Carter, he provides a day-by-day account of the summit. Dayan did not always agree with his strong-minded prime minister, but he is fair in his portrayal of him and provides deep insights into Israeli politics as well.
There is one additional serious academic book on Camp David, Shibley Telhami’s “Power and Leadership in International Bargaining: The Path to the Camp David Accords” (1990), which argues convincingly that major shifts in the global and regional balance of power led Sadat to conclude that good relations with the United States were essential, and that the price of that relationship would have to be peace with Israel. This, more than the interplay of personalities, frames the strategic setting in which the negotiations took place. There is much to be said for this “structural” view. But Telhami acknowledges that the role of individual leaders cannot be ignored, and he gives Begin in particular high marks for his skill as a negotiator, a judgment with which I concur, as much as I found his style intensely annoying.
Finally, anyone seriously interested in the Camp David Accords now can read the original documents, the transcripts of meetings, the diplomatic cable, and the intelligence reports that led up to the summit. They are collected in a massive volume, skillfully edited by Adam M. Howard, “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977-1980,” Volume VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977-August 1978 (2013). The volume is also available online, which will save you several inches of bookshelf space. The volume that will cover the Camp David Summit should be available in late 2014.