President Jimmy Carter, “The Camp David Accords,” Address to the Congress
Camp David Accords signing, The White House, September 17, 1978 (Government Press Office)

18 September 1978

The Camp David accords culminated after thirteen days of intense negotiations between Israeli, Egyptian, and American delegations. These discussions were prefaced by 18 months of American catalyzed efforts to generate a comprehensive peace among Israel and her neighbors. The Carter administration was convinced that after three years of step-step-by step negotiations under the Nixon and Ford administrations, the parties to the conflict were ready for ending their state-to-state conflicts, and particularly the Palestinians and Israelis were prepared to accept each other’s legitimacy. The pace of negotiations slowed sufficiently to prompt Egyptian President to take his case for an Israeli withdrawal from Israeli held Sinai directly to the Israeli parliament. 

While it was a jolting visit, no advance was made in his achievement to bring Sinai back under his sovereignty.  Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister, Menachem Begin accepted President Carter’s invitation to meet and discuss what Israelis and Egyptians might do to reach an agreement, exchange land that Israel had taken in the June 1967 War for a peace agreement.  Carter’s objective was to obtain not only an Egyptian-Israeli treaty but secure an Israeli promise to provide a measure of self-rule for the Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and portions of Jerusalem. The Accords emerged from difficult negotiations but did not achieve all that Carter and Sadat wanted; Israel’s Begin refused to provide land to the Palestinians for the possibility of creating a state. Only Palestinian Autonomy was agreed upon, no agreement for Palestinian self-determination was achieved. Autonomy was implemented after 1993.  

Despite the limited success of the negotiations at Camp David, the achievements were notable. The day after the agreements were signed  Mr. Carter addressed the US Congress,  with President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin present. In his speech he stressed the achievements as well as the many problems that lay ahead. Already then, the agreements were greeted by violent protests in the Arab world. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Kamel resigned. Egypt was not expected to accept negotiations with Israel.  The President announced that Secretary Vance would visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia in an effort to secure their support for the accords, but Vance’s mission proved not successful. Begin and Carter emerged from their intense discussions with a major dispute over how long Israel would suspend the building of settlements; Begin said only three months, but Carter believed he received a promise for the duration of all negotiations. On March 26, 1979, the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty was formally signed on the White House lawn. 

Ken Stein, July 25, 2023

President Jimmy Carter, “The Camp David Accords,” Address to the Congress

18 September 1978

It has been more than 2,000 years since there was peace between Egypt and a free Jewish nation. If our present expectations are realized, this year we shall see such peace.

I would like to give tribute to the two men who have made this impossible dream now become a real possibility – the two great national leaders with whom I have met for the last two weeks at Camp David – President Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menahem Begin. At Camp David we sought a peace which is not only of vital importance to their own two nations, but to all the people of the Middle East – to all the people of the United States – indeed, to the rest of the world as well. The world prayed for the success of our efforts, and those prayers have been answered.

I have come here tonight to discuss what these strong leaders have accomplished and what it means for all of us. The United States has had no choice but to be concerned about the Middle East, and to use our influence and efforts to advance the cause of peace. For the last 30 years, through four wars, the people of this troubled region have paid a terrible price in suffering, division, hatred and bloodshed.

No two nations have suffered more than Israel and Egypt. But the dangers and the costs of conflict in this region for our nation have been real as well. We have long-standing friendships with the nations and peoples of the region, and profound moral commitments which are deeply rooted in our values as a people.

The strategic location of these countries and the resources they possess mean that events in the Middle East directly affect people everywhere. We and our friends could not be indifferent if a hostile power were to establish domination there.

In few areas of the world is there a greater risk that a local conflict could spread among other nations and then erupt into confrontation between the superpowers. Our people have come to understand that unfamiliar names – Sinai, Akaba, Sharm el-Sheikh, Ras en-Nakb, Gaza, the West Bank of the Jordan – can have a direct and immediate bearing on our well-being as a nation and our hope for a peaceful world.

That is why we cannot be idle bystanders, why we have been full partners in the search for peace, and why it is so vital to our nation that these meetings have been a success. Through the long years of conflict, four main issues have divided the parties.

One is the nature of peace – whether peace will mean simply that the guns are silenced, the bombs stop falling and the tanks cease to roll, or whether it will mean that nations of the Middle East can deal with each other as neighbors and equals, with the full range of diplomatic, cultural, economic and human relations between them. The Camp David agreement has defined such relationships for Israel and her neighbors.

The second main issue is providing for the security of all the parties involved, including Israel, so that none of them need fear attack or military threats from any other. When implemented, the Camp David agreement will provide for such security.

Third is the question of an agreement on secure and recognized boundaries, the end of military occupation and the granting of self-government or return to other nations of territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 conflict. The Camp David agreement provides for the realization of these goals.

And finally,  there is the painful human question of the fate of the Palestinians who live or who have lived in this disputed region. The Camp David agreement guarantees that the Palestinian people may participate in the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects.

Over the last 18 months, there has been progress on some of these issues. Egypt and Israel came close to agreeing about the first issue – the nature of peace. They saw that the second and third – withdrawal and security -were intimately’ connected. But fundamental divisions remain in other areas – about the fate of the Palestinians, the future of the West Bank and Gaza, and the future of Israeli settlements in occupied Arab territories.

We all remember the hopes for peace that were inspired by President Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem last November, by the warm response of Prime Minister Begin and the Israeli people, and by the mutual promise that there would be no more war. Those hopes were sustained when Prime Minister Begin reciprocated by visiting Ismailiyah on Christmas Day. That progress continued, at a slower rate, through the early part of this year, but by early summer the negotiations had come to a standstill once again. It was this stalemate and the prospect of an even worse future that prompted me to invite both President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin to meet me at Camp David.

It is impossible to overstate the courage of these two men, or the foresight they have shown. Only through high ideals, through compromises of words and not of principle, and through a willingness to look deep into the human heart and to understand one another, can progress ever be made

That is what these men and their wise and diligent advisers have done during these last 13 days. 

When this conference began, I said that the prospects for success were remote. Enormous barriers of ancient history, nationalism, and suspicion would have to be overcome if we were to meet our objectives. But President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have overcome those barriers, exceeded those expectations, and signed two agreements that hold out the possibility of resolving issues that history had taught us could not be resolved.

The first of the two documents is entitled “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East agreed at Camp David.” It deals with comprehensive settlement between Israel and all her neighbors, as well as the difficult question of the Palestinian people and the future of the West Bank and Gaza.

The agreement provides a basis for the resolution of issues involving the West Bank and Gaza over the next five years. It outlines a process of change which is in keeping with Arab hopes, while also respecting Israel’s vital security interests.

The Israeli military government over those areas will be withdrawn and will be replaced with a self-government with full autonomy. Israeli forces will also be withdrawn and redeployed into specified locations to protect Israel’s security.

The Palestinians will further participate in determining their own future through talks in which elected representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza will negotiate with Egypt, Israel and Jordan to determine the final status of the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel has agreed that the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people will be recognized. After the signing of this framework and during the negotiations concerning Palestinian self-government, no new Israeli settlements will be established in this area. The issue of future settlements will be decided among the negotiating parties.

The final status of the West Bank and Gaza will be decided by the end of the five-year transitional period, as part of a negotiation which will also produce a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

These negotiations will be based on all the provisions and principles of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. The agreement on the final status of these areas will be submitted to a vote by the representatives of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, and they will have the right, for the first time in their history, to decide how they will govern themselves.

We also believe there should be a just settlement on the problems of displaced persons and refugees which takes into account appropriate U.N. resolutions. Finally, this document also outlines a variety of security arrangements to reinforce peace between Israel and its neighbors. This is, indeed, a comprehensive and fair framework for peace in the Middle East.

The second agreement is entitled “A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.” It returns to Egypt the full exercise of its sovereignty over the Sinai peninsula and establishes several security zones for the protection of all parties. It also provides that Egypt will extend full diplomatic recognition to Israel at the time Israel withdraws her armed forces from most of the Sinai, which will take place between three and nine months after the conclusion of the peace treaty.  The treaty is to be fully negotiated and signed no later than three months from now. Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat have now challenged each other to conclude the treaty even earlier.

This will be a wonderful Christmas present for the world. Complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces will take place no more than three years after the treaty has been signed.

While both parties are in complete agreement on the goals I have just described, there is one issue on which agreement has not been reached. Egypt states that agreement to remove Israeli settlements from Egyptian territory is a prerequisite to a peace treaty. Israel states that the issue of the Israeli settlements should be resolved during the peace negotiations.

Within two weeks, the Knesset will decide on the issue of the settlements. Our own government’s position on this issue is well known and has been consistent. It is my strong hope that the question of Israeli settlements on Egyptian territory will not be the final obstacle to peace.

None of us should underestimate the historic importance of what has been done. This is the first time that an Arab and an Israeli leader have signed a comprehensive framework for peace. It contains the seeds of a time when the Middle East, with all its vast potential, may be a land of human richness and fulfillment, rather than of bitterness and conflict. No region of the world has greater natural and human resources -and nowhere have they been more heavily weighed down by hatred and war. These agreements hold out the real possibility that this burden might be lifted.

But we must also not forget the magnitude of the obstacles that remain. The summit exceeded our expectations -but we know that it left many difficult issues still to be resolved. These issues will require careful negotiation in the months to come. The Egyptian and Israeli people must recognize the tangible benefits that peace will bring and support the decisions their leaders have made so that a secure and peaceful future can be achieved. The American public must also offer its full support to those who have difficult decisions still to make.

What lies ahead for all of us is to recognize the statesmanship that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have shown and to invite others to follow their example. I have already invited the other leaders of the Arab world to help sustain progress toward a comprehensive peace.

We must also join in an effort to bring to an end the conflict and terrible suffering in Lebanon. We need to consult closely with the Arab leaders, and I am pleased to say that King Hussein of Jordan and King Khaled of Saudi Arabia have now agreed to receive Secretary (of State Cyrus) Vance, who will be leaving tomorrow to explain to them the terms of the Camp David agreement, and to secure their support for the realization of the new hopes and dreams of the people of the Middle East.

For many years, the Middle East has been a textbook for pessimism, a demonstration that diplomatic ingenuity was no match for intractable human conflicts. Today we are privileged to see the chance for one of the bright moments in human history – a chance that may open the way to peace. We have a chance for peace because these two brave leaders found within themselves the willingness to work together to seek a lasting peace. For that, I hope you will share my prayer of thanks and my hope that the promise of this moment shall be fully realized. 

The prayers at Camp David were the same as those of the shepherd Kind David who prayed in the 85th Psalm, Verse 8: “Wilt thou not revive us again that the people may rejoice in thee?  “I will hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace unto His people and, to His saints. But let them not turn again to folly.”