An overview of US involvement in the Middle East Peace Process during the Carter Administration.
The following documents comprise a 10-part collection examining the Carter Administration's efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Partial success culminated with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signing the Camp David Accords
in 1978 and the resultant Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty in 1979. This curated series contains a small selection of more than several
hundred documents that will be published in fall 2018. They are drawn from published and unpublished items
housed in the Israeli State Archives, the Carter Presidential Library, and the Foreign Relations of the United States.
When the Carter Administration entered office in 1977, an early foreign policy priority was to kick-start Middle East negotiations. In this Policy Review Committee Meeting, Carter’s staff proposed a negotiating outcome that would pass through a conference, including the withdrawal of Israel’s forces to almost the 1967 borders, bringing the PLO into talks as Palestinian representatives, all the while seeking to uphold Israel's security requirements.
Following his surprise electoral victory in May, Prime Minister Menachem Begin traveled to Washington in an effort to establish a positive rapport with President Carter. While this initial meeting was cordial, each met the others’ stubbornness, a characteristic that would keep their relationship respectful but acrid for years to come.
Common to both the Labor Party and to Begin’s government was a fear that the US would pressure Israel into unwanted concessions and deny Israel its right to sovereign decision-making. It was a concern that Dayan expressed in this October 1977 meeting, and one that he would articulate on several occasions during the Camp David negotiations.
After a year in office, the Carter administration’s initiative to achieve a comprehensive Middle East peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors had stalled. At this White House meeting, Dayan reviewed Israel’s concerns about the West Bank and Brzezinski criticized Begin’s autonomy plan for the Palestinians. Begin and Carter’s mutual dislike over policy decisions continued to rise.
At this early Camp David meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman presented cogent summaries of Israel’s willingness to resolve the 1967 refugee issue and Israel’s security needs in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Sinai.
Like all other US records of conversations from the Camp David negotiations, this conversation too was a summary of what was discussed and raised, and not a verbatim transcript. From this meeting we learn that when it came time for the Egyptians to respond to the Israeli ideas, President Anwar Sadat kept very tight control over the content of his advisers’ drafts.
This meeting between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and the Israeli delegation exemplified the injection of US interests and the application of concerted diplomatic pressure on Israel. The Israeli delegation at Camp David repeatedly refused the Carter administration’s vigorous efforts to introduce new formulations that might ultimately result in a Palestinian state.
In this meeting, the contents of which have not been released by the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) but are available from the Israel State Archives (ISA), Begin clearly committed that “perhaps one military settlement” in the Jordan Valley would be established during the three months of the treaty negotiations. The extraordinarily contentious public dispute on the settlements would mar the diplomatic success of the Camp David Accords and add tension to the already fraught Carter-Begin relationship.
In the waning hours of the Camp David negotiations, the US introduced a new formulation related to the long-held American position on the areas of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the June 1967 War. Beyond saying that these areas of Jerusalem should be negotiated, Carter conveyed Sadat’s preference which called for raising an Arab flag over the Temple Mount and a description of East Jerusalem as occupied territory.
Embedded in the September 17, 1978 Camp David Accords were broad outlines for an Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty and a Framework for Palestinian autonomy. The details of both remained to be negotiated. Yet, obstacles to implementation of the Accords appeared almost immediately.
Nine days before the March 26, 1979 signing of the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty, US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud carried out an extraordinarily frank conversation. It included discussions about their bilateral relations, common fears of regional turbulence, and Sadat’s building estrangement from Arab leaders.
Signed sixteen months after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, it calls for establishment of diplomatic relations, staged Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, and American security arrangements to support the bilateral treaty.
If Egypt breaches the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty, the US will enhance its presence in the area, provide military and economic supplies to Israel, and vote against any UN resolution contrary to the treaty.