What are the Camp David Accords?

Jerry Renshaw

As one of his top foreign policy initiatives, then President of the United States Jimmy Carter was determined to restart the Mideast peace process. The first approach was to revisit the 1973 Geneva Accords — a flawed agreement that came on the heels of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Carter's hopes were for a multilateral, comprehensive agreement that would involve a Palestinian delegation in the talks. Though the Camp David Accords resulted in another flawed treaty, there were lasting positive consequences as well.

The Camp David Accords helped give rise to a different worlwide perspective on Egypt.
The Camp David Accords helped give rise to a different worlwide perspective on Egypt.

To lay the groundwork for the talks, Carter visited with Anwar Sadat of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan, Hafez al-Assad of Syria, and Yitzhak Rabin of Israel. The playing field took a tilt with the election of Menachem Begin's Alignment party in Israel. Though Begin was a vocal advocate of the Camp David Accords, he was also firmly opposed to any pullout from Israel's West Bank. The Israeli prime minister was willing to negotiate on many other concessions, even returning the Sinai to the Palestinians, but he stood firm on the West Bank.

One of the first initiatives came from Egyptian President Sadat, who broke with his Arab neighbors and Communist sponsors by offering to travel anywhere, "even to Jerusalem," to discuss terms. His decision was driven by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) initiatives to help Egypt's struggling economy, as well as a desire to put Egypt's own self-interests ahead of those of neighboring Arab states. Among the American negotiating teams, much of the burden fell on Carter himself to act as intermediary and help broker much of the agreement between Sadat and Begin, who weren't even on speaking terms. After 13 days of sometimes-tense negotiations, the framework for 1979's Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty was in place.

The final agreement had three parts where the first part called for an autonomous self-governing authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the second part, withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula was included — Israel returned the land to Egypt in return for normalized diplomatic relations between the countries. The third part of the agreement included substantial economic, military, and agricultural aid to both Egypt and Israel. Military aid was a coup in that it took Russia out of the picture when it came to Egyptian armaments.

Generally, the Camp David Accords led to a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, and a completely different perception of Egypt in the Arab world; Egypt was expelled from the Arab League from 1979 to 1989. It disintegrated the united Arab front by taking a key player out of the picture. Also, it led to a vacuum in the region that gave rise to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, and made the Palestinian issue the focus of any future Arab/Israeli policy. The Camp David Accords also made Sadat such a pariah that he was assassinated in 1981.

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