How Peace with Egypt Came About
President Carter is remembered as the president who engineered the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The agreement with Egypt is one of two lasting agreements between Israel and an Arab state (Jordan being the other one).
Does the credit really belong to Jimmy Carter? According to Arthur Herman, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, the credit really belongs to Anwar Sadat. Most of Carter’s foreign policies were failures and in the case of Israel and Egypt, Carter also followed a flawed policy. He aimed for a complete solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, including a solution to the Palestinian problem. Sadat, on the other hand, insisted on ignoring the Palestinian problem and focusing on an agreement regarding only Israel and Egypt.
In Herman’s words:
Camp David worked because it avoided all of Mr. Carter’s usual foreign policy mistakes, particularly his insistence on a comprehensive solution. Instead, Sadat and Begin pursued limited goals. The agreement stressed a step-by-step process instead of insisting on immediate dramatic results. It excluded noncooperative entities like Syria and the PLO, rather than trying to accommodate their demands. And for once, Mr. Carter chose to operate behind the scenes à la Mr. Kissinger, instead of waging a media war through public statements and gestures. (The press were barred from the Camp David proceedings).
Above all and most significantly, Camp David sought peace instead of “justice.” Liberals say there can be no peace without justice. But to many justice means the end of Israel or the creation of a separate Palestinian state. Sadat and Begin, in the teeth of Mr.Carter’s own instincts both then and now, established at Camp David a sounder principle for negotiating peace. The chaos and violence in today’s Gaza proves just how fatal trying to advance other formulations can be.
Step-by-step diplomacy instead of a complete solution may be a better way to approach the ongoing conflict. Israel has tried for years to solve the problem in one fell swoop and has not succeeded at all. In fact, these attempts have usually exacerbated the conflict. It is worth trying something new.