Sum­mit of stub­born lead­ers carved bumpy path to Mideast peace

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Bill Rambo

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

Camp David

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