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But in September, Arafat sent word that he could not accept , largely because of Syrian pressure—he was then in Lebanon where Syria could indeed squeeze the PLO—but he did add that he might be able to accept if we could guarantee a Palestinian state, with him as its president! This was so far from anything that we were prepared to do that it convinced Carter and Brzezinski to put the PLO issue to the sideline for the moment, while concentrating on getting the Arab governments to agree to a negotiating framework.

This development deserves more attention than Jensehaugen and most other authors who write on the topic have given it. Jensehaugen is right on the mark, however, in underscoring the importance of the U. In brief, this was the moment when domestic politics suddenly intruded on our diplomatic deliberations. Carter was not much inclined to worry about the ups and downs of public opinion, but he could not ignore the outcry that came in the wake of the joint statement. At a crucial meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, he agreed to back away from the joint statement if Dayan would agree to use his influence to calm the heated atmosphere in the American Jewish community.

It is easy for those of us who are not politicians to say that Carter should not have caved, but politics is, after all, the art of the possible, and he must have concluded that he could go no further without more domestic support for what he was trying to do. This almost certainly would not have worked in practice, but it did show some flexibility on the part of the PLO. But when Sadat saw Carter back down a few days later under pro-Israeli pressure, and after receiving an earnest request from Carter for his support at a crucial moment—the handwritten letter of October 21, —Sadat concluded that Carter had exhausted his ability to push the Israelis further.

Sadat was also worried that a Geneva conference without prior agreement on basic principles would turn out badly, not least of all because of inter-Arab differences.

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Up until this time, we had underestimated the extent to which Sadat and Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad had come to distrust one another. But when Sadat decided in November to go to Jerusalem on his own, it was clear that any remnant of a united Arab front, or of Egyptian-Syrian cooperation, was finished. If there was a moment that can be identified as the point at which we began to seriously rethink the chances of continuing with our comprehensive approach, this was it.

Jensehaugen is very good at explaining this in his narrative. Carter and his team were not much impressed, but Carter was reluctant to pour cold water on it, especially since Begin was winning plaudits in Congress for his supposedly generous offer. This proved to be a major shift in our approach, and was probably never discussed in enough detail before it became part of our new vocabulary. I now believe that this was a more important development than most analysts have noted, and Jensehaugen does a good job of spelling out how it happened.

His speech to the Knesset, if taken seriously, made it seem as if he would demand a very tight link between the two. But in private, Sadat would sometimes imply that while he would seek significant linkage, he would settle for something symbolic at best. In the context of the time, this was just one more bit of evidence, and not a decisive piece. And months later, at Camp David, Carter invested most of his time and effort in working out the details of the bilateral agreement, while the rest of us wrestled with Begin and his assistants over the tortuous and obfuscatory language dealing with the Palestinians and Jordan.

Jensehaugen pays due attention to the lead up to Camp David and then to the thirteen days themselves.

Prof. Ken Stein, Emory University and Center for Israel Education | JCPA

He has the basic story well in hand. I sometimes felt, however, that he had a tendency to portray things as either fitting a model of comprehensive peace, or a totally separate Egyptian-Israeli agreement. Until quite late in the day, we were still trying for something in between. We hoped that we could get Begin to agree that the withdrawal principle of UN Resolution would, eventually, be applied to the West Bank and Gaza, even if only after a transitional period; and we hoped to get a freeze on settlement activity.

In the end, we got neither, and it might not have made much difference even if we had. But that was what much of the struggle with Begin at Camp David was all about. I did produce such a draft, and Carter did consider going public with it if the summit were to collapse. But he was not willing to give up on getting the Egyptian-Israeli peace, even if it meant putting the Palestinian issue on ice for an indefinite period. With Iran on the verge of revolution, it was almost inconceivable that any president would willingly let the Egyptian-Israeli peace slip away because of a larger commitment to a comprehensive peace.

At the end of the day, politics does matter in diplomacy.

The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Carter was constantly being told by his political advisers that he was spending too much time on the Middle East, that he was using up too much political capital, and all for naught. It is easier for those of us who focus intensely on the Middle East and who could foresee the many loose ends that still needed attention after Camp David to say that Carter should have done more. I have thought and said much the same.

But we academics and policy advisers are not politicians and do not have to worry about being reelected. So I am not so sure that there was much more that Carter realistically could have done to secure more than the Egyptian-Israeli peace. As Jensehaugen correctly says, we will never know because he did not try. At some point, I believe, Carter came to the conclusion that Begin could not be pushed to do much of anything on the Palestinian issue, and that Sadat was much more concerned with Sinai and his new relationship with the United States than with anything else. And that was essentially true.

So Carter ended up acting much more like a realist politician than the idealist who initially hoped to bring about a comprehensive peace to the Middle East. As an historian of American foreign relations and U. In fact, by my count there have been precisely zero references to the United States in the series.

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  5. It offers a necessary reminder that however central Americans feel themselves to be in the middle of many international events, in reality most global disputes are driven by their own internal factors. Such lessons remind me why I have increasingly concluded that close study of the history of American foreign relations ultimately can tell us more about the people, society, and system from which they emerge than about daily events in faraway lands.

    Jensehaugen seeks to distinguish his work in part by zeroing in on the extent to which Carter was willing to pressure Israel to make concessions on the Palestinians. Ultimately, Jensehaugen faults Carter for repeatedly going to the edge of a confrontation with Begin, only to back away at the last minute. This tendency moved the Palestinian issue to the sidelines, which is where Begin wanted it. In failing to set a precedent for American policy to act firmly against Israeli demands that were not consonant with U.

    It lay in three interconnected areas. First, he saw a comprehensive peace between all regional antagonists, resolving all outstanding issues, rather than the step-by-step approach, as the only way forward for regional stability. Second, that meant addressing the Palestinian issue—if not creating a Palestinian state for which, to be clear, Carter never advocated while in office , then in devising some other acceptable outcome. Third and finally, all of this meant having the Soviet Union on board, with Washington and Moscow collaborating to ease the friction in an area where they had most recently in October nearly come into catastrophic confrontation with one other.

    Jensehaugen devotes considerable time to , a year sometimes overlooked by diplomatic historians eager to re-examine the September Camp David Accords. But two issues continually bedeviled U. First, in order to convene a Geneva peace conference, which all parties understood to be the optimal forum for multiparty talks, as co-chairs the United States and Soviet Union needed to agree on the broad contours of such a meeting.

    Although my own research suggests that Moscow was genuinely interested in coming to terms, Carter faced a Washington establishment for which close cooperation with its Cold War foe was anathema. Carter faced intense political criticism as he and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance tried to forge a joint approach.

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    Second, Carter felt that the Palestinians had to have a role in any Geneva conference—no comprehensive solution was feasible without addressing their very real concerns. The Carter White House considered this pledge to mean it could not have direct contact with the PLO, even though the text did not explicitly say that. Such an agreement meant that the Palestinians—the PLO or otherwise—would need to participate in negotiations and Israel would need to withdraw to the lines.


    It was ultimately a political and diplomatic disaster for Carter. He was pilloried on Capitol Hill and in the press for appearing to work so closely with the Soviets. And Israel and its American supporters objected vociferously to its contents. Faced with such an intense backlash, Carter backed down and ultimately effectively repudiated the statement.

    It killed the comprehensive approach and, going forward, Carter focused on bilateral Egyptian-Israel negotiations because that looked like the best he could get. I agree. Fundamentally, however, the concrete policies he pursued were animated by strategic concerns.

    His book raises important questions about the efficacy of American diplomacy in the Middle East. While it might be taken for granted that the United States is the central outside power in the Arab-Israeli dispute, smaller powers have been startlingly successful at bending Washington to their wills. But the result of such myopia is perpetual Middle East conflict and depleted American leverage.

    Issues remain unresolved, largely because regional actors cannot or will not come to terms. Occasionally, the focus on the Palestinians can be somewhat awkward only because the nature of the diplomacy at the time was such that all of these issues were completely interconnected. Did he succeed in changing the conversation on the Palestinians in U.

    Or did he affect public perception of a people known to most Americans at that time chiefly as refugees and, yes, terrorists? Still, Arab-Israeli Diplomacy under Carter justifiably places his novel efforts at resolving this thorny conflict at the center of his administration. Carter is 94 years old and it seems fair to wonder how his epitaph will read.

    On the Arab-Israeli dispute, will he be recalled as the man responsible for securing a lasting Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty? But, of course, wholly favoring one conclusion over the other is unsatisfactory. His enduring legacy on the Middle East is probably that he illustrated the strengths and limitations of applying the power of presidential authority and prestige to diplomatic machinations.

    That Carter was unable to fulfil his original goal of securing a comprehensive Middle East peace, however, says more about the intractability of the regional conflict than it does about the aptitude of the 39 th U. As any author will know, there is a certain level of anxiety surrounding reviews. We want them, we need them, we fear them.

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    Since Arab-Israeli Diplomacy under Carter is my first book, I was surprised, almost shocked, when this Roundtable was proposed, and particularly when I saw who was to take part in it. While all the four reviewers are excellent academics whose reactions are well founded and highly appreciated, it is particularly daunting to have my analysis reviewed by William B. This is because he not only wrote the book on the subject, but he was also part of the Carter team those forty years ago.

    Having read all four reviews, my anxiety has dissipated.

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    There are areas of disagreement, but I would have expected no less. I will try to address the most central of these. While it is undeniably true that President Jimmy Carter had a religious background that influenced his outlook—as pointed out by Maia Hallward—I stand firmly by my decision to not dwell on it. More often than not, the personal trait in question could equally lead to the opposite policy—let us not forget that George W.

    Bush was also a born-again Christian and certainly not a radical when it came to the Palestinian question. It is also true that I could have focused more on U. One of the main reasons for not doing so was quite simply that Strieff had done such a good job of analyzing this in his work. Some of the reviewers Hallward, Strieff point out that there is a paradox in the weighting of my book, in that while my stated focus is the Palestinians, large sections of the book deal with negotiations of which the Palestinians were not a party, that is the Egyptian-Israeli talks.

    I completely agree, but I find that this paradox actually illustrates one of my main arguments—that the Palestinians were talked about, but not with. While I agree with many of the contemporary parallels that could have been drawn, as raised by Hallward, I find myself taking the stance of defending history as a subject.