On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter meets with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. For two days, the president and Mrs. Carter played host to the prime minister and his wife during the Israelis’ first trip to Washington, D.C. The meetings with Rabin led eventually to the Camp David peace talks held between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Rabin’s replacement, Menachem Begin, in 1978.
Carter, who taught Sunday School until he became president, admitted to a “deep religious interest in the Holy Land” and made stability in the Middle East a priority of his administration. The Middle East peace negotiations he sponsored differed from previous attempts in that, in addition to meeting with Israeli representatives, he invited representatives from Arab nations to speak on behalf of the Palestinians displaced by Israeli settlements. In this way, he was able to explore tentative but seemingly promising negotiations between the historically hostile Middle East factions.
During their March 1977 meeting, Carter tried to reassure the Israeli prime minister that any Middle East peace talks would focus on securing defensible borders for Israel and would require that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) recognize the existence of Israel. Rabin, fearful of Arab domination of the talks, listened to Carter’s proposal to facilitate further negotiations between Israel and Egypt, but ultimately rejected it. Carter later recalled that although he, his wife, Rosalynn, and the Rabins shared a pleasant dinner that evening, he was “not encouraged.”
Nevertheless, through the end of 1977 and into 1978, Carter extended invitations to other Middle Eastern leaders, including Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, to discuss the volatile Arab-Israeli conflict. Carter’s sincere friendship with Sadat, and Begin’s receptivity to Carter’s suggestions, moved the talks forward and the delicate Middle East peace process inched ahead. In 1978, at Carter’s presidential retreat, the president witnessed Begin and Sadat’s signing of the Camp David Peace Accords. The Accords consisted of two agreements that set the framework for further negotiations to resolve armed conflicts between Israel and Egypt, and to establish an autonomous area for Palestinians within Israel’s contested borders. Two years later to the day, Carter acknowledged that “real peace does not come with a single treaty” and embarked on a follow-up trip to Egypt.