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Camp David Accords, Jimmy Carter's 1978 Middle East Peace Plan

Egyptian-Israeli history

By Ayesh Perera, Last Updated: Aug 24, 2021


Signed: September 17, 1978

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Ratifiers: Egypt • Israel

Signatories: Menachem Begin • Jimmy Carter • Anwar Sadat


The Camp David Accords were two peace agreements signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on the 17th of September 1978, following nearly two weeks of secret talks at Camp David, the country retreat of the United States president. Witnessed by President Jimmy Carter, the accords marked a milestone in the Middle Eastern peace process, and resulted in the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979.

Margaret Thatcher 1950 Election Dartford

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter and Menahem Begin at the Camp David Accords Signing Ceremony

FAST FACTS  2-Min Summary
  • The Camp David Accords were two peace agreements signed by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978, following 13 days of negotiations at Camp David, mediated by US President Jimmy Carter.
  • The accords resulted in the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979 which marked the end of hostilities and the normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel.
  • The possibility of nuclear confrontation with the USSR which the Yom Kippur War had triggered, and Carter’s commitment to peace in the region, inspired by his deep Christian faith, were among the reasons for America’s brokering of the accords.
  • Sadat’s visit to Israel and address before the Knesset marked the official initiation of bilateral negotiations between Israel and Egypt.
  • Following Carter’s invitation to Camp David, Carter, Begin, and Sadat, along with their teams, would be engaged in 13 days of tense negotiations over contentious issues.
  • The talks produced The Framework for Peace in the Middle East, and The Framework for an Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty; while the former which dealt with the Palestinian issue would fail, the latter resulted in its intended treaty.
  • The Egyptian-Israeli treaty resulted in Egypt’s recognition of Israel as a sovereign state, and the restoration of the Sinai, which Israel had captured in the Six Day War, to Egypt.
  • The normalization of relations between the two nations soon ensued, accompanied by the inauguration of regular flights and the development of trade between the two states.
  • While the Israeli public supported the accords for the most part, Egypt was ostracized by the Arab world and Sadat was assassinated for his friendship with Israel; the two nations, however, have been at peace ever since the treaty despite some challenges.
Download a PDF copy of the Camp David Accords

Background to Camp David Meeting

Bringing peace to the Middle East had long been an objective of the United States government. Yet the ceasefires it had helped effect during the intermittent wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors had not yielded a lasting solution.

Moreover, during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the United States had been brought to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Despite Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, little progress was made toward a comprehensive peace treaty in the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippur War.

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The Accords resulted in the fulfillment of both Israel’s and Egypt’s primary goals. The Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured in 1967 was restored to Egypt, and Egypt in return, became the first Arab state to formally recognize Israel.

Carter wanted to go beyond normalizing relations between Israel and Egypt, to achieve peace between Israel and almost all of its Arab enemies. This, however, did not happen. Many Arab states refused to agree to the stipulations of the Accords and openly condemned Egypt for its deal with Israel.

The two nations have been at peace with each other ever since the treaty. The Egyptian revolution of 2011, and the subsequent election of Morsi as president raised concerns for the relationship between the two nations. However, the Egyptian leadership following the removal of Morsi has been more amicable toward Israel and the relationship between Israel and Egypt has been improving ever since.

However, the presidency of Jimmy Carter which began in 1977, marked a notable shift. Granted, Carter’s term was plagued with economic woes at home and foreign policy failures abroad.

However, Carter, as a devout Christian, remained committed to bringing peace to the Middle East. He decided to replace the incremental efforts made heretofore with a more comprehensive and multilateral approach to resolve the major conflicts in the region.

Initial Overtures

Within his first year in office, Carter would meet with King Hussein of Jordan, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, Hafez al-Assad of Syria and Anwar El Sadat of Egypt.

King Hussein feared alienating the Arab world, and Syrian President al-Assad showed no interest in peace with Israel, and refused to fly to the United States. The possibility of a deal between Egypt and Israel however, seemed somewhat promising.

Menachem Begin who would take office as the Israeli Prime Minister in May 1977, did not seem entirely opposed to returning the Sinai to Egypt. Sadat for his part, had hinted at the possibility of peace with Israel even as early as 1971.

Despite the hostilities during the Yom Kippur War, Sadat did not abandon the hope of accomplishing peace with Israel. And on the 9th of November 1977, Sad

Sadat in Israel

The Israeli government soon responded to Sadat’s offer with a formal invitation via the US ambassador. He was invited to visit Israel and speak before the Knesset. On the 19th of November, Sadat became the first Arab leader to visit the Jewish state.

During his three-day visit, he would pray at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as well as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. In his speech before the Knesset, Sadat demonstrated his commitment to peace, and stated that before them lay a unique and perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to accomplish it.

While Sadat did not utterly avoid the contentious issues in his discussion in Israel, he pointed out that the two nations could readily commit to preventing future bloodshed and war. While the Israelis paid Sadat a warm welcome and responded with lavish praise, the response from the Arab world was far from sanguine.

Many Palestinians saw Sadat’s visit as a betrayal. The Syrian government openly criticized Sadat’s overture to Israel. The United States, for its part, was surprised by the visit. Sadat was perceived as solely pursuing his chief objective of reacquiring the Sinai which had fallen to the Israelis in the Six Day War, while neglecting the Palestinian issue.

For Israel however, Sadat’s move represented an appealing opportunity. Negotiation with Egypt, instead of with a larger Arab delegation which could impose more cumbersome demands, sounded more promising.

Additionally, an amiable relationship with Egypt could potentially protect Israel against many of its Arab foes. Prime Minister Begin would readily see the many advantages peace with Egypt could procure for the Jewish state.

Though his response did not seem to match the optimistic enthusiasm of Sadat, Begin did demonstrate his willingness to reconcile with Egypt and work toward a shared future of peace.

Secret Talks

Despite the willingness of both Egypt and Israel to engage in direct diplomacy, there was no official mechanism yet for such negotiations. Consequently, the two sides had to devise clandestine means for the discussions until appropriate arrangement could be made.

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Sadat’s Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami had already met each other in Morocco prior to Sadat’s visit. They would again meet in Morocco in December 1977.

Moreover, Sadat suggested that an Israeli agent be placed in the US embassy in Cairo as a secret liaison between Egyptian and Israeli leaders. President Carter however, opposed the scheme. The push for peace nonetheless, did not lose momentum. Soon, Israeli journalists were permitted into Egypt, and an Egyptian-Israeli summit was scheduled for the 25th of December in Ismailiya, close to the Suez Canal.

Camp David

Notwithstanding his objection to placing a liaison in the US embassy, Carter remained committed to ushering peace to the Middle East. Carter had won the White House by campaigning as an unpretentious outsider and honest man before an American public worn out by the scandals of Watergate and Vietnam.

He was also outspoken about his deep Christian faith and was dedicated to bring peace to the Holy Land. While Carter’s credibility remained intact, the US economy was lagging, and his administration seemed troubled.

Carter’s closest advisers warned him against diving into a potentially unresolvable Middle Eastern problem. However, Carter decided to take a monumental risk and invite Sadat and Begin to his official retreat in the Maryland mountains, also known as Camp David, in order to strike a lasting deal between the two former belligerents.

The relative seclusion of the setting, Carter hoped, would help the three men accomplish this feat. Accompanied by skillful negotiating teams, Sadat and Begin would be engaged in tense discussions from the 5th to the 17th of September 1978.

In addition to normalizing relations between Israel and Egypt, the Carter administration wanted to incorporate, and seek a solution for the Palestinian issue as well. This goal however, seemed too ambitious.

At times, the negotiations grew so intense that Begin and Sadat refused direct contact with each other, and Carter would have to intervene to diffuse the situation. Carter would for instance, hold one-on-one meetings with Begin or Sadat in one cabin, and afterwards go to another cabin to relay the details to the other.

Moreover, on multiple occasions Sadat and Begin wanted to walkout. However, Carter drew them back with personal appeals. On the tenth day of the negotiations, a particularly challenging situation arose.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Israeli settlements on the Sinai presented an apparent deadlock. The only way ahead seemed to lie in conceding the West Bank issue to Israel while requiring the return of the Sinai to Egypt.

Despite the difficulties involved however, Carter continued the talks. During this time, Carter would also take Sadat and Begin to the Gettysburg National Military Park which was close by. The American Civil War, Carter hoped, might bear a simile to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Finally, following 13 days of tense negotiations, with Carter’s help, Begin and Sadat managed to come up with an agreement amenable to both the sides. The absence of any media attention as well as the temporary seclusion against each leader’s political body back home played no insignificant role in aiding the endeavor.

The agreement comprised a framework for peace in the Middle East, and a framework for a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

The Framework for Peace in the Middle East

This first agreement established principles for accomplishing peace in the Middle East. It also dealt with the possibility of establishing self-government in the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

The political rights of the Palestinian people were acknowledged, and Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian people themselves were called upon to engage in further discussions over the matter.

The withdrawal of Israel’s military from the Gaza strip and the West Bank would ensue an election for a self-governing authority. A transitional period of five years was also agreed upon to accompany the establishment of the self-governing authority.

This framework however, avoided references to the status of Jerusalem, the Palestinian Right of Return, the Golan Heights, Lebanon and Syria. The Framework for Peace in the Middle East incurred the severe condemnation from the UN General Assembly.

The formulation of the framework without the participation of the United Nations and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and its non-compliance with the Palestinian right to self-determination, sovereignty and independence were of primary concern to the UN.

The Framework for an Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty

The second, and ostensibly more successful endeavor focused mainly on the future of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel agreed to evacuate its nearly 4,500 civilians occupying the peninsula, withdraw its armed forces from the territory, and restore the Sinai to Egypt.

Egypt, in return, accepted restrictions upon the forces it could place on the Sinai, guaranteed freedom of passage via the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal, and promised to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

Additionally, Israel agreed to guarantee free passage between Jordan and Egypt, and return to Egypt the commercially valuable Abu-Rudeis oil fields. The bargain between Israel and Egypt, hailed as land for peace, was of enormous significance to both the nations.

While Egypt managed to reacquire the Sinai, which it would never have been able to do without sacrificing potentially thousands of more Egyptian soldiers, Israel managed to procure a notable Arab ally, which it could never have obtained solely with its military might.

While the two former belligerents were transformed into regional partners, the reaction the agreement elicited was not exclusively positive.

A Peace Treaty

Though the first agreement of the Camp David Accords, condemned by the UN, accomplished little to alleviate the Middle Eastern conflict, the second pact resulted in the historic Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty which would be established on the 26th of March 1979.

Sadat and Begin would sign it in the presence of Carter at a ceremony in the White House. Begin and Sadat would receive the Nobel Prize for the Accords, and the normalization of relations would soon follow.

In February 1980, ambassadors were exchanged, and boycott laws were repealed. By the following month, trade had developed, and regular flights inaugurated. Egypt would also begin supplying crude oil to the Jewish state.

Impact and Consequences

Most Israelis seemed to support the Camp David Accords. One exception, however, was the Israeli settler movement which opposed Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Sinai.

Israeli settlers even attempted to stop the government from removing their settlements. However, the dismantling could not be thwarted, and the Sinai was eventually returned to Egypt. In the Arab world, the response to the Accords was far from sanguine.

Granted, Sadat procured sufficient support from his fellow Egyptians to enact the peace treaty and normalize Egypt’s relationship with Israel. However, Egypt which had long been the leader of the Arab world, fell out of favor with most of its neighbors, and would be suspended from the Arab League from 1979 until 1989.

Sadat’s claim that he could represent the interests of Jordan’s King Hussein amounted to a diplomatic snub. The circumscription of Jordan’s ability to reassert control over the West Bank was of special concern. Meanwhile, the Accords dismantled the united Arab opposition to Israel.

While Egypt was blamed for not pressuring Israel enough to settle the Palestinian problem, Egypt’s realignment seemed to leave a power vacuum which Iraq’s Saddam Hussein would later strive to fill. In the United States, the Camp David Accords stood out as a notable accomplishment of President Carter, and would guide American foreign policy in the Middle East for years to come.

However, at the same time, due to Carter’s failures in many other respects, he would lose his bid for reelection to the conservative Governor Ronald Reagan, and thus, would not be able to broker comprehensive peace treaties between Israel and any other Arab nations.

The Assassination of Sadat

Sadat’s signing of a peace treaty with the Jewish state following the Camp David Accords, drew the wrath of various Jihadist groups in Egypt such as al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

The Islamists who felt betrayed, called for the overthrow of Sadat’s government and the establishment of an Islamic theocracy. A fatwa for the assassination of Sadat was also procured from the cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, who would be later convicted and prosecuted for terrorism in the United States.

The Egyptian authorities were alerted to the plot to overthrow the regime. However, their subsequent crackdown of suspects missed the Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli’s jihad cell inside the military. Consequently, on the 6th of October 1981, during a Cairo parade to commemorate Egypt’s crossing of the Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, Lieutenant Islambouli would find his opportunity to kill Sadat.

While the Egyptian Mirage jets were flying overhead, Islambouli and his assassin team dismounted the truck they were riding in, threw three grenades at Sadat, and indiscriminately fired into the stands killing 11 and wounding nearly 28 people.

Sadat was immediately airlifted, but would die hours later despite attempts by nearly 10 doctors to save his life. The assassination was vehemently condemned by the United States and Israel, as well as many others in the international community.

For a while, the future of the Egyptian-Israeli relationship seemed uncertain. Sadat’s successor Mubarak did not treat Israel with the same warm amicability that had characterized Sadat’s approach. However, Mubarak would steadfastly uphold the peace treaty between the two nations, and also work toward peace between Israel and its other Arab neighbors.

Though not without its challenges, the relationship between Israel and Egypt remains mostly stable and mutually beneficial.

The Camp David Accords: Lessons and Facts

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Perera, A.. "Camp David Accords (1978)." World History Blog, Aug 24, 2021. https://www.worldhistoryblog.com/Camp-David-Accords.html.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

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