The Camp David Accords were a series of agreements signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin following nearly two weeks of secret negotiations at Camp David, the historic country retreat of the president of the United States. President Jimmy Carter brought the two sides together, and the accords were signed on September 17, 1978. The landmark agreement stabilized the fractious relations between Israel and Egypt, though the long-term impact of the Camp David Accords remains up for debate.
Peace in the Middle East
The ultimate goal of the Camp David Accords was to establish a framework for peace in the Middle East by formalizing Arab recognition of Israel’s right to exist, developing a procedure for the withdrawal of Israeli forces and citizens from the so-called “Occupied Territories” of the West Bank (which would enable the establishment of a Palestinian state there) and taking steps to safeguard Israel’s security.
Egypt and Israel had been engaged in various military and diplomatic conflicts since the establishment of Israel in 1948, and tensions had been particularly high after the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
In addition, the Israelis had taken control of the Sinai Peninsula, which had been under Egyptian control, during the 1967 conflict.
Although the accords were an historic agreement between two sides often at loggerheads, and both Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1978 in recognition of the achievement (Jimmy Carter would win in 2002 “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts”), their overall significance is arguable, given that the region is still mired in conflict.
While the Camp David Accords were negotiated over a few days in the summer of 1978, they were actually the result of months of diplomatic efforts that began when Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency in January 1977 after defeating Gerald Ford.
Resolution of Arab-Israeli conflict and a solution to the questions surrounding Israeli sovereignty and the rights of Palestinians with regard to statehood had been a holy grail of international diplomacy since the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967.
Resolution 242 decried the “acquisition of territory by war”—specifically the Six-Day War of 1967—and cited the need to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.
In its role as a world power, and Israel’s biggest supporter on the world stage, the United States would ultimately play a central role in achieving these aims, and doing so became a linchpin of Carter’s platform during the run-up to the 1976 presidential election.
Historically, though, leaders in both Israel and Egypt had been reluctant to come to the table—that is, until Sadat agreed to speak before a session of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, in November 1977.
Just days after his address, the two sides began informal and sporadic peace talks that would, ultimately, result in the signing of the Camp David Accords, the first such formal agreement between Israel and any Arab nation.
It’s believed Sadat extended the olive branch to his regional rival to curry favor with the United States and its allies. Egypt’s economy had been stagnant for years, particularly since the blockade of the Suez Canal, an action taken by Egypt in response to Israel’s incursion into the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank during the Six-Day War.
Agreements in the Camp David Accords
There was such acrimony between Egypt and Israel heading into the talks at Camp David that Carter reportedly had to speak with each of the leaders separately in their respective cabins at Camp David on several occasions to reach consensus.
Still, Egypt and Israel were able to agree on a number of previously controversial matters. The resulting Camp David Accords essentially featured two separate agreements. The first, entitled “A Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” called for:
- The establishment of a self-governing authority in the Israeli “Occupied Territories” of Gaza and the West Bank, effectively as a step toward Palestinian statehood.
- Full implementation of provisions of U.N. Resolution 242, including, notably, the withdrawal of Israeli forces and civilians from West Bank lands acquired during the Six-Day War.
- Recognition of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” and the beginning of processes to grant them full autonomy within the West Bank and Gaza within five years.
The future of the city of Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and Palestinians wish to have serve as their capital, was notably and intentionally left out of this agreement, as it was (and remains) a highly contentious issue—one that has received renewed attention in 2017 thanks to President Donald Trump and his announcement formally recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
The second agreement, entitled “A Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel,” effectively outlined the peace treaty (the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty) ratified by the two sides six months later, in March 1979 at the White House.
The accords and resulting treaty called for Israel to withdraw its troops from the Sinai Peninsula and restore full diplomatic relations with Egypt. Egypt, in turn, would be compelled to allow Israeli ships to use, and pass through, the Suez Canal and Straits of Tiran, a body of water that effectively connects Israel with the Red Sea.
Notably, the treaty that resulted from the second “framework” also called for the United States to provide both countries with billions in annual subsidies, including military aid. Under the terms negotiated, Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the United States, while Israel receives $3 billion.
In subsequent years, this financial assistance has been given on top of other aid packages and investments involving both countries on the part of the United States. The subsidies as earmarked in the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty have continued to the present day.
Aftermath of the Camp David Accords
As important as they have been to diplomacy in the Middle East by laying the groundwork for cooperative (if not entirely cordial) relations between Egypt and Israel in the decades since, not everyone was on board with all of the components of the Camp David Accords.
Seeing Egypt’s formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a betrayal, the Arab League, an alliance of nations in the region, suspended the North African nation from its membership for the next 10 years. Egypt wasn’t fully reinstated into the Arab League until 1989.
Even more significantly, the United Nations never formally accepted the first agreement of the accords, the so-called “Framework for Peace in the Middle East,” because it was written without Palestinian representation and input.
Still, though the Camp David Accords have hardly fostered peace in what has been a tumultuous region of the world for many years, they have stabilized relations between two of the Middle East’s biggest powers.
Moreover, the accords laid the groundwork for the Oslo Accords, agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 that resolved significant issues and moved the region one step closer to a lasting peace that still remains elusive.
Camp David Accords. Office of the Historian. U.S. Department of State. State.gov.
Camp David Accords; September 17, 1978. Avalon Project. Yale University School of Law.
Camp David Accords: The Framework for Peace in the Middle East. The Jimmy Carter Library.