Summit of stubborn leaders carved bumpy path to Mideast peace
JOHN Godfrey Saxe said, “Laws and sausages cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The same might be said of peace treaties. Egypt and Israel have maintained a kind ofo peace for more than 35 years since the Camp David accords of 1978. Still, unrest in the Middle East, and the continuing issues with the Palestinians demonstrate thatt the agreement messily hammered out by Carter, Begin and Sadat was far from comprehensive. U.S. journalist and author Lawrence Wright has written six books, most notably The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He has also written books about Scientology, the Amish and false memories. Wright’s day-to-day account of the negotiations and the details of the two-week summit that led to Sadat and Begin sharing the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize provides many fascinating anecdotes about the leaders. However, this chronicle seems to lack some connecting ideas, and glosses over some crucial points. President Jimmy Carter is presented as a volatile but committed proponent of the advantages of peace between Israel and Egypt. He seems to have believed that the two leaders would respond to each other on a human level, and find common ground. Wright portrays him as genuinely surprised by the depth of the enmity between Begin and Sadat, often furious over their continued intransigence. Anwar Sadat is presented as a charismatic but conniving politician, trying to use the peace talks to forge a closer relationship between Egypt and the U.S. His part in the Camp David accords would cost him his standing in the Arab world, and lead to his assassination by Islamists in 1981. Menachem Begin comes off worst of the three leaders. Wright claims that Begin’s caustic stubbornness caused American and Egyptian negotiators, and even some Israelis, to despair that any agreement could come out of the talks at all. Begin’s involvement in terrorism before and after Israel’s independence is presented in more damning detail than similar terrorist activity by Sadat. So are his actions after Sadat’s death, escalating settlements in the West Bank, invading Lebanon and refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians. The most interesting parts of this book are the many vignettes with which Wright interrupts the acrid back-and-forth of the summit. Wright gives background on the careers of the three leaders and other negotiators such as Moshe Dayan, the history of the state of Israel, and the attacks by Muslim states in 1948, 1967 and 1973. However, the actual negotiations that Wright describes seem to have been a stew of demands, tantrums, ultimatums and equivocation, resulting in somewhat grudging protocols that ignored or hedged critical issues such as Israeli settlements and the status of the Palestinian people. Wright’s description of the history of the Palestinians glosses over the complicity of Arab states in their original displacement from Israel, and their continued use as pawns with which to foment antagonism to Israel by its neighbours, and by the United Nations. Wright also glosses over the role of U.S. financial aid to Egypt in procuring concessions during the accords. He mentions once the aid to Egypt that has been steady since the accords. Most historians connect the money directly to the agreements, which were otherwise not particularly in Egypt’s favour. Thirteen Days in September is a good general history of one facet of the Middle East conflict. Certainly, both Egypt and Israel have benefited from not fighting each other. The backgrounds of Arab-Israeli enmity, and the role of Palestinian leadership in attacking Israel, were not really dealt with in the narrow peace between the two countries.
Bill Rambo is a teacher at The Laureate Academy in St. Norbert.
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at