Point of View on Camp David 25th Anniversary Event

by Michael Van Dusen, deputy director, Woodrow Wilson Center

Oct 30, 2003

The September 17 meeting at the Wilson Center commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Camp David Accords was precisely the kind of meeting that the Wilson Center thrives upon. We cherish history because we feel it informs critical public policy issues with which we are grappling today. And, we can learn much from getting a wide spectrum of people into the same room talking about a common problem. The policymakers, the Middle East experts, the press, those immersed in domestic issues, and scholars; each can inform the other.

It was an honor for the Wilson Center to host President Jimmy Carter, the Carter Center, and several of the negotiators who spent the better part of two weeks in 1978 at Camp David trying to hammer out an agreement that would help remake much of a strife-torn region. It was refreshing to hear the insights of a dozen or so of the participants in the Camp David process. They reflected on the ups and downs of the negotiations that they were intimately involved in a quarter of a century ago and gave their views, based in part on those negotiations, on the violence and tensions in the Middle East today.

And there can be a little hope and some measure of optimism in hearing the negotiators reveal how close they were to defeat, failure, and the collapse of the talks, how certain issues simply could not be nailed down if any consensus was to be reached, how everyone had some degree of trepidation for the security and safety of the negotiators who were taking many risks, and how eventually the dogged negotiators were able to find a way to an agreement.

Camp David was also about leadership: President Carter's determination to take American mediation as far as he could, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's willingness to rewrite a key relationship with Israel's largest and strongest adversary in the region, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's vision for peace based on mutual respect and territorial integrity. Huge risks were taken in the end because these leaders saw how much they had to gain by making peace. The Wilson Center was proud to help salute this accomplishment.

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