Camp David: Forty Years Onward
2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Camp David Accords – a first-of-its-kind peace treaty between Egypt and Israel brokered by the United States that pioneered amicable Israeli relations with other countries in the region. Roughly forty years ago, U.S. President Jimmy Carter stood alongside Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, all three of them warmly shaking hands and boasting proud smiles over the work accomplished through the long discussions. It was a big accomplishment for President Carter to realize and initiate the first step towards peace in the politically unstable Middle East.
Carter reflects on his peace efforts in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which chronicles his travels to the Holy Land and narrates his interactions with Palestinians and Israelis – political figures and civilians alike. He provides a detailed account of the negotiations leading up to the peace agreement, especially given Sadat and Begin’s “personally incompatible” natures. Perhaps with that in mind, he notes the United States’ crucial role in achieving peace in the Middle East, expressing that, “In order to resume this vital role, the United States must be a trusted participant, evenhanded, consistent, unwavering, and enthusiastic—a partner with both sides and not a judge of either.” Carter acknowledges the U.S. as a necessary mediator in the region, urging it to practice impartiality.
Forty years on, we’ve moved out of the frying pan and into the fire. The United States’ current role in the region seems to have evolved significantly from the one envisioned by Carter.
In December 2017, the US formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by announcing its decision to relocate its embassy. Shortly after, Vice President Mike Pence made a trip to the Middle East, visited Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, spoke to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi about continued US support for a two-state solution and gave the Israeli parliament a similar speech about prospects for peace, all the while promising efforts to expedite the relocation of the embassy, painting a contradictory picture.
The U.S. has been at the forefront of the peace process for decades, mediating not only between Israel and Palestine, but between Israel and other Arab states, too. Much like the dynamic of the Camp David Accords, President Bill Clinton oversaw the Oslo Accords between Israelis and Palestinians in 1993, and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty between King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin the following year. The recent embassy move is an obstruction to peace. By formally recognizing severely disputed territory as the principal city of Israel, important enough to host the US Embassy, the move contradicts everything that came before: Camp David, the Madrid Conference, the Oslo Accords, the Wadi Araba Treaty.
In light of the move, and as a demonstration of their anger and frustration, Palestinian officials refused to meet with Pence. Pence’s visit is then a failure in the practice of impartiality; it is in stark contrast with Carter’s earlier efforts to actively engage both sides of the narrative. President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to meet with Pence seemingly strips the U.S. of its notorious title as peace broker: a testament not only to the exponentially deteriorating so-called prospects for peace, but an American presence that is not evenhanded, consistent, unwavering, or enthusiastic.
Back home, the first bill passed by the United States Senate this year was not an attempt to reopen the government that had been shut over the Mexican border wall dispute, but an anti-boycott, divest, and sanction bill that, in simple terms, gives state and local governments the authority to oppose the boycott of Israel as one of the bills that constitute the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act. While being an arguably unconstitutional encroachment on free speech, it is also noteworthy that in the midst of a government shutdown, Republicans in the Senate prioritized legislation about Israel.
While the US has without doubt remained an active player in the region, it maintains a presence that is becoming increasingly less diplomatic. Last December, President Trump vowed to withdraw all 2,000 American troops from Syria, but the complete withdrawal is a promise on which he seems to be backtracking. In September 2017, he met with Mahmoud Abbas to express his continued commitment to peace, but two months later he declared the infamous embassy move. This haphazard interference is inconsistent, inconsiderate, and does not seem to have the region’s best interest at heart. Four decades after Camp David, and the future of the Middle East peace process looks as bleak as ever.