Egyptian President Sadat Says Agreement with Israel Urgently Needed
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (left) embraces Defense Minister Ezer Weizman in Haifa in April 1979. (credit: Ya’acov Sa’ar, Israeli Government Press Office, CC BY-SA 3.0)

July 13, 1978

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat invited Israel’s Foreign Minister Ezer Weizman to meet with him and Egyptian Defense Minister Mohamed Abdel Ghani el-Gamasy in Salzburg, Austria.  According to Weizman, Sadat requested the meeting to prepare for the upcoming conference of U.S., Israeli, and Egyptian foreign ministers that was planned for July 17-20 at the Leeds Castle near London. However, Sadat’s real motivation was to signal the urgency of reaching an agreement with Israel.  Already six months had passed since his visit to Jerusalem.

In a three and a half hour private meeting with Weizman, Sadat emphasized the need for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, Sinai and Gaza.  (In this meeting he did not emphasize withdrawal from the Golan Heights.)  He wanted to show the Arab world that his bold visit to Jerusalem in November would result in Israel’s withdrawal from recently acquired territory.  According to Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel, though Sadat felt that the meeting with Weizman was fruitful, he feared Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s intransigence would preclude any real progress.

Describing the meeting to American ambassador Sam Lewis, Weizman said that he encouraged Sadat to meet with Begin directly.  In his words,

The system by which we communicate, where we see each other once in a blue moon, and the papers in Egypt are full of blasphemy, and the only character they would like to see is yours truly, that the Prime Minister [Begin] is an unavoidable not even necessity, that the Foreign Minister [Moshe Dayan] is an unwanted character – this will not go on.

Weizman proposed that each side should appoint a negotiating team, and isolate themselves for a week until they reached an understanding. As it turned out, roughly eighty percent of the Camp David Accords was drafted as key points by the negotiators during the six months that elapsed before the Camp David summit in September 1978.  Most of the Accords detail were written after the Leeds Castle conference. The key drafters of the Accords were high-ranking U.S. State Department officials Alfred (Roy) Atherton and Hal Saunders.