- Awards & Honors
- About AFSA
BY BRYAN PARNO
The Bible promises, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (The Youth Bible - NCV, Matthew 5:9). The historic Camp David Accords shine as an example of the modem US Foreign Service's key role in negotiating peace around the world. The story of America's foreign policy often contains towering figures moving mountains and confidently managing global affairs. However, a closer examination reveals that "FSOs [Foreign Service Officers] can work quietly behind the scenes ... to achieve diplomatic and economic goals through skillful and subtle diplomacy that may take years to yield success", success often snatched away by a political appointee (Ngo). The Camp David story involves many famous figures that tend to gamer the credit for the successful peace talks. Yet many of the diplomats who labored for peace, long after the "celebrities" had despaired of any agreement, deserve commendation as well. Everyone, from the diplomat who toiled day after day in a foreign country to lay a foundation for peace, to the second assistant editor who spent hours revising the twenty-second draft of a possible proposal, contributed to the precedent shattering accords at Camp David. These unsung heroes seldom receive their rightful acclaim, but America, along with the world, appreciates the fruit of their labors.
Previous American administrations, from Johnson through Ford, committed to breaking the deadlock resulting from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. However, most of these efforts centered around unified solutions. such as Johnson's failed Five-Point Program. Under Richard Nixon, National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, (later Secretary of State) adopted an incremental approach that made modest steps toward peace, eventually culminating in the Sinai Agreement, signed in September, 1975 (PRESIDENTS, Jimmy Carter Library). By the end of 1976, however, both President Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance concluded that "the step-by-step approach had exhausted its potential and that it was time to renew the pursuit of a comprehensive peace" (Vance 163).
During his administration, Carter evinced serious interest in brokering an agreement between Egypt and Israel. He received daily reports on the Middle East situation from the State Department and made many of his key decisions based on that information (Carter, 4). In this respect, the US Foreign Service played an indispensable role. Before the mediations began, Carter studied books specially prepared for him by the State Department regarding the two leaders about to convene at Camp David. The books revealed their "family relationships, religious beliefs, early experiences, health, ... how [they] responded to pressure, and what [their] hobbies and personal habits were", all of which proved invaluable during the negotiations (Carter 12). Only the "unique combination of interpersonal and diplomatic skills" found in the foreign service made these crucial, intimate details readily available to the President (Ngo).
Having virtually pioneered shuttle democracy during the 1967 Cyprus crisis, Secretary of State Vance used his considerable diplomatic skills to lay the groundwork for the Camp David meeting (Vance 168). Initially, Vance traveled to Egypt and Israel with confidential letters to Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin, inviting them to attend a meeting at the presidential retreat, Camp David. Both leaders agreed, and Vance arranged the meeting (PRESIDENTS, Jimmy Carter Library). Throughout the Middle East proceedings. Vance relied on Roy Asherton. the assistant secretary for Near East and South Asian affairs (NEA), and Hal Saunders, the director of intelligence and research (TNR). These two diplomats had studied Arab-Israeli problems for over fifteen years, and according to Vance, "Their disinterested, patient, and imaginative policy analysis and support were vital to our participation in the peace process" (Vance 165).
Sadat and Begin arrived at Camp David accompanied by a host of advisors and assistants. With 66 officials cooped up together for two weeks, the camp's exquisite grounds soon resembled what Begin called "a concentration camp deluxe" (Butler 39). After only three days, Carter decided that Sadat and Begin were "personally incompatible" and decided to avoid any further confrontations. This decision left the weight of the remaining ten days of negotiations on both sides' teams of advisors (Carter 15). According to Vance, the American delegation split into a political group and a professional group, each negotiating with its respective Israeli or Egyptian counterpart. The professional group, composed of members of the foreign service, "provided expert advice, analyses of the sides' positions as they evolved, and draft formulations to bridge the differences" (219).
Over the first weekend, a top White House official described how "it became apparent that both sides would welcome an effort by the US to break the deadlock" (Butler 39). Thus, the advisors from the State Department began work on the first of twenty-three drafts of a US compromise agreement. Each new draft provoked criticism from one side or the other, sometimes from both. Disputes ranged from military security to the semantics of UN Resolution 242 which forbade the acquisition of territory through war. American advisors had to smooth over each difficulty, often finessing a solution (JSOURCE). Sometimes they forged brilliant answers to the delegations' demands. For instance, Begin had promised to protect the Israeli settlements on the Sinai Peninsula, but Sadat considered the return of the Sinai territory an essential part of any agreement. American diplomats creatively negotiated an agreement whereby Begin would leave the removal of the settlers to a vote by the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament). This allowed him to keep his promise, but also satisfied the Egyptians (JSOURCE). On several other points (e.g. Palestine's fate) the diplomats relied on vague wording to induce mutual agreements. The hard work of all three negotiating teams allowed their respective leaders to emerge from seclusion for a historic signing at the White House. With President Carter as a witness, Begin and Sadat signed two agreements. The first dealt very specifically with the future of the Sinai and peace between the two countries, to be concluded within three months. The second provided a general framework for a permanent solution to the West Bank and Gaza Strip dispute. Six months later, Egypt and Israel signed a formal peace treaty, the first ever between Israel and an Arab nation. However, the agreements about Israel's relations with the Palestinians soon fell victim to squabbles over semantics and shifting political tides. Even today, the issue of a Palestinian homeland remains a thorny problem with no easy solutions (Carter 17-18).
Thus, the US Foreign Service rightly takes pride in its accomplishments at Camp David. It provided vital information to the President, allowing him to understand and interpret his counterparts' actions. During the actual negotiating, all three sides relied heavily on their diplomatic advisors, since personality conflicts between Begin and Sadat made a high-level agreement unlikely. Also, the constant barrage of US compromise proposals, painstakingly assembled by American professionals, helped break the gridlock between the two sides. Egypt and Israel reached a comprehensive agreement in only thirteen days thanks to the "courage, skill, and determination of the negotiators or.. both sides, aided by the US team" ( Vance 235 ). Although the United States' reliance on vagaries to reach an agreement on Palestine failed to achieve a permanent solution, the lasting peace between Egypt and Israel stands as a testament to the power of peacefully negotiated relations. The success of these accords continues to inspire peace efforts today, and offers the world hope for a peaceful tomorrow.
Butler, David. "Inside Camp David". Newsweek 2 Oct. 1978: 39-49.
Camp David Accords. Presidential Sites IDEA Network (PRESIDENTS), and the Jimmy Carter Library. 26 Jan, 2000.
Camp David Day By Day. The Jewish Student Online Research Center (JSOURCE). 22 Feb. 2000.
Carter, Jimmy. Talking Peace - A Vision for the Next Generation. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1993.
Ngo, Laura. Inside a US Embassy. 26 Jan, 2000.
Vance, Cyrus. Hard Choices - Critical Years in America's Foreign Policy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.
The Youth Bible - New Century Version. Word Publishing, 1991.