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American leaders have tried and failed for years to broker a peace agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, a goal that after a summer of violence may seem as distant as ever. But 30 years ago, an unlikely trio of leaders from the United States, Israel and Egypt were able to forge a peace agreement at Camp David that still shapes the Middle East region. Kojo chats with author and journalist Lawrence Wright about the men behind the Camp David Accords and what lessons from their story can be applied to current efforts to bring peace to that part of the world.
- Lawrence Wright Author, "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David" and "The Looming Tower" (Vintage); Playwright, "My Trip to Al-Qaeda"
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from THIRTEEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER by Lawrence Wright. Copyright © 2014 by Lawrence Wright. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Some of the brightest and most motivated leaders in modern history have been vexed by the challenge of achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East, an aspiration that after a summer of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, may now seem as distant as ever. But more than 30 years ago, a trio of unlikely leaders from Israel, Egypt and the United States forged a peace agreement so durable that it still shapes the face of that entire region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo why were Israel's Menachem Begin, America's Jimmy Carter and Egypt's Anwar Sadat able to achieve an agreement at Camp David that's eluded so many men and women before and after? And what lessons from their story can we apply to the turbulence that still defines that part of the world? Joining us to talk about this is Lawrence Wright. He is a journalist and author, staff writer for New Yorker magazine. His latest book is "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David." He joins us from studios in Austin, Texas. Larry Wright, thank you for joining us.
MR. LAWRENCE WRIGHTHi, Kojo. It's good to talk to you.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Do you think we're likely to see another historic compromise like the Camp David Accords any time soon? What role do you think the U.S. and our president could play? 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com. Or send us a tweet @kojoshow. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDILawrence Wright, so many things about the world have changed since 1978. But the violence that consumed Gaza this summer is very much a part of a cycle that's been spinning in the Middle East for what seems like an eternity. It's almost as -- like the standoff between Israel and Palestine is one of the few things about the world that has not changed. The Camp David Accords were one of those rare moments when the equation for peace changed for the entire region. How would you compare the world in which that pact was created to the one in which we are now living?
WRIGHTYou know, I think we'd do well to look back at a time when peace was actually achieved, because it wasn't very much different from now. You know, it -- maybe even worse. There was -- the wars had just been very fresh. And the last war was in 1973, only four years before the Camp David Summits began.
WRIGHTAnd the men who went to Camp David were very flawed individuals. They weren't perfect in any means. So I think the mental inertia that sometimes overcomes us when we think about Arabs and Jews and that they're locked into some kind of eternal struggle -- we have to set that aside and remember that it is not impossible. And three, you know, halting, faulting leaders in the Middle East managed to achieve something that has lasted until this day. And it can be done again.
NNAMDIIs there something that those men who agreed to meet at Camp David understood then about what was going on around them, that leader involved in peace negotiations since then have not? This was, as you pointed out, a meeting that took place in a very turbulent time, months after Israel responded to attacks by invading Lebanon.
WRIGHTYou know, I think that what they finally understood, even though it was very difficult, that peace really was, you know, better than the alternative, which was unending strife. And imagine how much worse things would be in the Middle East if Egypt and Israel were not at peace to this day. One lesson you learn from spending time in the Middle East is that things can always get worse and rarely do get better. But in this case, you know, the entire region is safer because of this treaty.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Our guest is Lawrence Wright. His latest book is "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David." Larry Wright is a staff writer for New Yorker magazine. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Your first crack at documenting this story came in the form of a play performed here at Arena Stage.
WRIGHTThat's right. Yeah.
NNAMDIWhat was it about the history here and the characters involved in it that you felt made for a good dramatic expression?
WRIGHTWell, I was approached by Gerald Rafshoon, who was Jimmy Carter's media advisor in the White House. And he was, you know, he asked me if I would consider writing a play. It was -- his pitch to me was, when a born-again Christian, a pious Muslim and an Orthodox Jew go behind closed-doors for 13 days and emerge with the only durable treaty in the region, it was very interesting to me. But I didn't know that much about Camp David, although I had lived in Atlanta when Carter was governor and when he ran for president. And I had lived in Cairo, teaching at the American University when Sadat was there. And as a reporter, I'd been to Israel on several occasions.
WRIGHTSo I was very intrigued. And I thought that, you know, when I did the play, I would research it as I would a New Yorker story or a book, by going and interviewing all the people that I could and reading all the documents. And fortunately, the Arena State in Washington commissioned that and understood the vision that I had. And it's very unusual, I think, for a playwright to go off to Israel and Egypt and that kind of intense research. But I think it paid off because we had a wonderful time with that production.
NNAMDIAnd most of the people who attended it also viewed it favorably. The Washington Post had a favorable review of it. It said, basically, that it's an antidote to "The House of Cards." That it shows an American politician who wants to help something other than himself -- no selfish, no sinister motives. Do you think that's accurate?
WRIGHTWell, you know, I think that -- Carter told me that he felt that God had put him into the presidency in order to bring peace to the Holy Land. And I think each of these leaders had religious motivations as well as political ones. I think, you know, it's interesting though. You know, there were three men of religion who had been brought together to solve a problem that religion, itself, had largely caused.
NNAMDIWhy were you -- why did you feel compelled to expand on the work that you started with the play, after you did all of that research for the play? What pieces of history did you feel were important to share with an audience in a different way, or with a readership in a different way?
WRIGHTWell, you know, Kojo, there weren't very many books about Camp David. There was one by William Quandt, which is very fine. It's a diplomatic history. And there was one in Arabic by Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel, who was Sadat's foreign minister, who resigned at Camp David. But other than that, you know, the shelf was pretty much bare. And this was one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the 20th century that seemed so under chronicled. And yet, you know, what a moment, that these inadequate individuals could rise above their own past and their prejudices and achieve something so momentous. So I thought, you know, as much as I enjoyed doing the play, I thought there was much more to say.
NNAMDILet's consider the three central characters in the story. Jimmy Carter was not exactly riding a high tide of popularity at this point in his presidency.
NNAMDIHe'd grown up in the South, where he rarely came into contact with either Arabs or Jews. What was the root of his willingness, outside of Devine guidance, to put so much of his presidency on the line for the Middle East?
WRIGHTWell, you know, he had been a very studious Bible student. And he started teaching Sunday school when he was 18 years old as a mid-shipman at Annapolis. When I met him, he had just finished teaching his 550th Sunday school sermon. So he continues to do it in Plains. So he, you know, he was very interested in the Holy Land. When he was a boy, he probably knew the contours of the Holy Land better than he did those of the United States. And he, you know, as you say, the only Jew he knew was his uncle, Louie Braunstein who was an insurance salesman in Chattanooga, who could chin himself with one hand. And that made a huge impression on young Jimmy Carter.
WRIGHTAnd the first time he met an Arab was at the Daytona 500, when he was governor of Georgia. But he and Rosalynn did go to Israel in 1973. And they were very stirred by their experience there. Golda Meir was the prime minister and she lent them a station wagon. And they drove all over Israel and into the West Bank. And he got to wade into the River Jordan. And they came back determined to do whatever they could for the country of Israel.
NNAMDITo what degree were the three men, both Jimmy Carter and the two others, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat -- to what extent were they shaped by their own faiths?
WRIGHTWell, you know, when Sadat came to -- to set the scene, 1977, Sadat went to Jerusalem to speak to the Knesset. Now this was an earthquake in the Middle East. There was no other Egyptian leader -- no other Arab leader, who would acknowledge the existence of Israel or promote the idea that peace with Israel was possible or even desirable. And so Sadat deciding to break the psychological barrier, as he saw it, and fly the very short flight from Egypt to Israel, he told the Knesset that he was -- he felt that God had placed him in that position, much as Carter would later say. That he had the history and burden of his people on his shoulders. And that it was his Devine responsibility to take account of that.
WRIGHTBegin, you know, very different experience. He, you know, he -- his parents were killed in the Holocaust, along with his brother. He came from a little Polish town called Brisk. And his first memory was of Polish soldiers flogging a Jew in a public park. He became a terrorist leader when he got to Palestine. And he had a, you know, a very violent background. But he, more than any of the people at Camp David I think, was marked by this sense of responsibility -- that the burden of his people was in his hands. I think, as obstinate as he was at Camp David, he was also terrified of making a mistake. His entire political career had been about enlarging the land of Israel and making a home for Jews in the only place they felt safe in the world.
NNAMDIReligion at the center of so much of what's going on in the part of -- in that part of the world now, and in a way, Anwar Sadat signed his death warrant when he signed the Camp David Accords. What do you think he understood about the kind of fundamentalism that was growing in Egypt and the Islamic world at the time? And what do you think he may have failed to understand?
WRIGHTYou know, I was in Egypt when Sadat became president, after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser. And Nasser had rounded up the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and thrown them in prison. And when Sadat came into power, one of the very first things he did was free the Muslim brothers. He thought he was inoculated because he was himself a very pious Muslim. He had the prayer mark -- they call it zabiba -- on his forehead, which at the time, people -- it wasn't that common. None of my female students in the university was covered at that time. And now they all are.
WRIGHTBut there was a wave of conservatism that was growing in Egypt even before the Camp David Accords. But afterwards, the anger that was stirred up by Sadat's decision to make peace with Israel helped fan those flames. And I don't think he really calculated the danger to himself. And he didn't realize that radical Islam had taken a stronger turn inside those prisons. And when those people came out of prison, they were far more radical than they had been when they came in.
NNAMDIA lot of people want to weigh in on this discussion. You can do so by calling 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're talking with Lawrence Wright, journalist and author, about his latest book. It's called "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David." We go to George in Berlin, Md. George, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GEORGEThank you for taking my call, Kojo. I'm not a Middle East expert, although I served in the United States Navy in the middle '50s after one of the wars over there. But I do have adult recollections of some of the things that were said and done at the time of Camp David Accords. One was that when Sadat went to Israel, he was asked if he felt safe. And Menachem Begin spoke for him and said, when a man is on a mission he doesn't consider his life.
GEORGESecondly, Sadat was on record as saying that the Arabs were prepared to fight Israel until the last Egyptian. He recognized how his country was being used and chewed up. And Israel was bombing Cairo, shooting down Egyptian planes all over its own soil and so forth and so on. But my recollection, the thing that really cut the deal was when the United States offered to pay each country -- and I forget whether it was 2 or $2.5 billion a year -- for the peace accords. And we're still paying both of them. Thank you.
NNAMDIDo you think we bought that peace accord, Larry Wright?
WRIGHTWell, we have been -- as George pointed out, we have been paying each of these parties. In the case of Egypt 2.5 billion and Israel receives 3 billion and the Palestinians half a billion. And it's an expense to the American taxpayer, there's no question about it. On the other hand, outright war imposes far greater costs on our economy and the rest of the world. But it is true that we made the piece a little easier for each of them to swallow.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll return to our conversation with Lawrence Wright about his latest book "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David." Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for New Yorker magazine. You can still call us though at 800-433-8850. How do you reach a compromise? Are you always willing to give something? How about when strong convictions or your core beliefs are at stake? Tell us what you think, 800-433-8850 or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Lawrence Wright. He joins us from studios in Austin, Texas. He's a journalist and author whose latest book is "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David." Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for New York magazine. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. You can shoot us an email to email@example.com or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDILarry Wright, you write about how Carter essentially Begin and Sadat trapped at Camp David, backed into a corner. He said they would pay a price if they walked away. What ultimately happened when these men were at Camp David that allowed them to move forward? Begin wouldn't even loosen his tie at first.
WRIGHTYeah, well, I don't think he ever took off his tie. But, you know, when Begin arrived, he's the one who could easily have walked away. He felt he had nothing to lose. And he only intended to stay two or three days. To be fair, Carter thought it'd all be over in three days. Sadat came wanting to get Sinai back at a minimum. And he also wanted a comprehensive piece.
WRIGHTSo, you know, Carter had a mistaken notion when he began Camp David. He thought that he could just get these two honorable men alone. And they would come to know each other and they would like each other and they would trust each other. And they would find their own way to peace. But by the end of the third day he had to physically separate them. They couldn't be in the same room at all. Rosalind said, you could hear them screaming at the top of their lungs. They were just so angry. They detested each other.
WRIGHTAnd eventually Carter realized he was going to have to do something he didn't want to do, which was to put forward an American plan. And once he did that, once he put America on the table, the relationship with America was also on the table. So when, for instance, Sadat threatened to leave, he had ordered the helicopter, he had packed his bags, Carter told me he had never been angrier in his life. He went to Sadat and said, if you do this the relations with our countries will be over. Our friendship will be at an end and Egypt will be alone and friendless in the world. Do you really want to do this?
WRIGHTIt was a sort of come-to-Jesus moment (laugh) in Carter's terminology. And when Begin also threatened on a couple of occasions to leave, Carter said, I will make sure that the American people know who's responsible for the failure of the talks. I will tell the congress. And he also even had his speech writer write a speech in which Carter was going to call on the Israeli people to vote down their government. He was very determined to hold their feet to the fire. And eventually that was critical because these two countries could not make peace with each other. But they were willing to make concessions to the United States that would allow them to get the peace they both wanted but couldn't agree upon.
NNAMDIWhich brings us to the question from Paris in Fairfax, Va. Paris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PARISHi, Kojo. I'm fan of your show. I'm just (unintelligible) about like the peace that could not result any justice. If the justice is by taking over the occupation and right of refugees to return to Israel, that should be done. And for sure the security of Israel should be important. But if the continue to support Israel unconditionally without any pressure on it to give up what is right for Palestinians won't be as able -- won't be able to get to peace.
PARISAt the same time, at the time of the Camp David Accords Egypt didn't have -- Egypt had a strong army and was able to defend itself and fight for itself. But now the case is Palestinian, we don't let them have any arms to defend themselves. And that changed the balance in the field. So Israeli's don't care at all to get any accord with anyone when they have the upper hand. Thank you.
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to go to the aspect of it, Larry Wright, in which Paris said that there is unconditional support of the U.S. for Israel. The perception was even then that there was unconditional support but President Carter obviously put that on the line. How is the hardball that he played at that time different from what Barack Obama has tried to do during the past six years or so?
WRIGHTWell, I think that in -- since Camp David the American approach has been to reassure Israel that there is safety in peace. And in some respects I think the -- from the Arab perspective we have not -- we're not longer an honest broker. But I want to say something about, you know, when Paris began his...
WRIGHT...question about mentioning justice. Peace requires real compromises. And the word justice is certainly invoked many, many times. But if there is going to be a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, both sides are going to feel the pain. And you can look at the Camp David agreement between the Egyptians and the Israelis. Neither side loves this treaty. It's bitterly resented in many respects on both sides. And I think that's just an indication of how hard it was to negotiate that treaty because it was so painful, the sacrifices that each side had to make.
WRIGHTThat will also be true in the case of the eventual treaty that will have to be nailed down between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And a quest for real justice or absolute justice is just going to get in the way of that.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Paris. You also note that President Carter was, in a way, naïve. Did he plan this strategy ahead of time or develop it on the fly, so to speak? Was he prepared for the difficulty of the talks who indicated that he thought that they would end in three days, instead it took thirteen?
WRIGHTNo. I think he was surprised by, you know, the way things developed. And of course he hoped not to have to put forward an American plan. But there was one in the drawer. And, you know, he had a technique that he developed back when he was in the school board in Plains, Ga. of negotiating with different parties. And he calls it the Single Text Document where he would write out on a legal pad what he thought would be a fair resolution of the quarrel. And he would try to incline each party toward that.
WRIGHTAt Camp David on the fifth day when he began to work on the American plan, there was already an idea that his people in the State Department had worked out. And he took that and he wrote out on a yellow legal pad about 30 different areas that needed to be some kind of agreement in order to have the accords work. And that was the first draft of what eventually became 23 drafts. And he kept this document absolutely under his control.
WRIGHTBut he would go from one side to the other, sometimes several times a day, trying to find language on each of these issues that would begin to narrow the differences. And then when one side would -- and the other would both agree, that particular issue would be taken off the table. And in that way he began to frame the eventual accords. And then the differences that were still remained at the end were quite stark. But in light of the advantages of peace, they began to assume their troop apportion which was considerably smaller than the two sides had thought at the beginning.
NNAMDIWould you say that the way things ended up, in a way, caused Sadat to be more of a hero and how much he gave for the sake of compromise and for what somebody called the ultimate sacrifice that he made?
WRIGHTWell, Carter always believed that Begin made the greater sacrifice because, you know, the Sinai Peninsula had been a historic concourse for Egyptian armies invading Israel. And it -- for most Israelis they thought of it as a strategic barrier between them and the main force of the only Arab country that really threatened Israel's existence. So for Begin to give that up in return for a piece of paper that called itself peace, that was a tremendous sacrifice on his part. And it was very, very difficult for him
WRIGHTEverybody in the Israeli delegation was far more in favor of peace than he was. And they continually argued and tried to promote the idea. And finally, you know, he was willing to -- he couldn't bring himself to -- the formulation in his very careful language that he said to Carter, you know, the Sinai was -- had a number of Israeli settlements on it. And that was a huge issue at Camp David. And he said that, I would never personally recommend the dismantling of the settlements.
WRIGHTAnd Carter heard the trapdoor inside that formulation and said, well, would there be a way that, you know, we could take it to the Knesset and present it to them. And then you wouldn't have to personally recommend it. And Begin said essentially, that would not be impossible. So that's the way it worked out. Begin didn't have to go back on his pledge to never retreat and never withdraw those settlements, but he allowed it to happen but without actually putting his name on it.
NNAMDIOnto Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, your turn.
KENYes. Earlier in the conversation the question was framed, what's different between then and now? And in my view several things and, well, not even touch the subject of a radicalized Arab population. First, in those days, both the United States and the former Soviet Union, which seems to be the elephant in the room in this conversation, had a very strong interest in seeing the minimization of the chaos in the area. And the second thing is that in Sadat you had somebody who prior to the Camp David Accords was still seen as a war hero. And he was a courageous and unusual political leader. And those things are simply not in place today.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Larry Wright?
WRIGHTYeah, I think we often look back at Sadat as this, you know, idealist with his wide wings spread wide and he flew over to the Knesset and, you know, like the dove of peace, you know. This man, a far more interesting and paradoxical figure than, I think, we see him as now. When he was young he was a great admirer of Hitler. Even after World War II, after 10 million people were dead, he continued to express his admiration for Hitler. He had been a political assassin. During World War II he joined what he called his murder society, which essentially they would kill British soldiers who were drunk and alone on the streets of Cairo. And he was a Nazi collaborator with a couple of Nazi spies.
WRIGHTSo this is a man that had a very problematic past. And likewise Menachem Begin had been the head of Irgun which had blown up the King David Hotel killing 91 people and had been responsible for the massacre of the Palestinian village Deir Yassin, which opened the gates to the Diaspora that continues to destabilize the countries in the region and has added so much to the problem of terror.
WRIGHTThese were men with blood on their hands, very problematic individuals. And yet -- and, you know, Carter himself was a weak and unpopular president and yet they all exceeded themselves and surpassed their own limitations at Camp David. What they each had in common that may be lacking today is great amounts of political courage.
NNAMDIIf you go to our website kojoshow.org you will find an excerpt from Lawrence Wright's book. It's called "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David." Lawrence Wright is a journalist, staff writer for New Yorker magazine. Have you gotten to know another cultural faith besides your own? Did it help you to understand their point of view maybe on a contentious topic? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. We move on to Bill in Vienna, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLYes. Back to that -- the issue of what was achieved at Camp David and what could be achieved today. What -- I just want to make sure that this is recognized. Likud, even as Begin was signing Camp David, Likud was starting a policy in the West Bank, of encouraging and actually subsidizing Israeli settlements. Likud has always -- it seems pretty clear to anyone who studies the area -- tried to create a situation where -- or pursue policies where a situation would be created that there'd be enough settlement in the West Bank where no Israeli regime could negotiate it away.
BILLAnd the gentleman was just talking about how Begin was committed to the settlers of the Sinai. Well, that's really just a small fraction compared to what the settlers in the West Bank would be. So I just thought maybe he would address that issue since he was talking about Begin's role in Camp David, what would a similar -- let's just take Netanyahu. Does he really think that Likud and Netanyahu have any real intention or serious intention of giving up Judea and Samaria?
NNAMDIFormer President Bill Clinton was accidentally caught on a live mic recently talking about attempts for peace between Israel and Palestine. He was heard saying, Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the right man for the job. How would Begin have done in that job today, as you respond to the question we got from Bill, Larry Wright?
WRIGHTWell, you know, if you go back in history to the Camp David moment, there was a -- first of all, Camp David Accords, there are two parts of it. One is the peace between Egypt and Israel that has never been violated in 35 years. And the other is Israel and the Palestinians is a kind of roadmap to -- for the Palestinians to decide their own future. And every attempt since Camp David has been an effort to finalize the Camp David Accords which had never been fully implemented.
WRIGHTSo on the question of settlements, the very last night of the Camp David summit, Saturday night, Carter and Begin and their advisors met until very late at night, and perhaps they were all exhausted, and things were said that are still argued over to this day. But Carter believed, at the end of that night, that he had gotten Begin to agree to stop settlement activity in the West Bank until the resolution with the Palestinians had been resolved.
WRIGHTAnd he also believed that Begin would provide a letter stating his intention the next day. And the next day was the day they were going to sign the accords in the White House. The next day, Aharon Barak, who was one of the chief Israeli negotiators, later became the chief justice of the supreme court in Israel, handed Carter a letter, and it didn't say at all what Carter thought he had gotten.
WRIGHTEssentially it said that Begin would consider it, and, you know, during a three-month period there might be a settlement freeze. That's not what Carter thought he had gotten, and he advised Barak that -- he reminded him of what they said, and Barak, he says, agreed with him and promised to bring another letter the day after the signing ceremony.
WRIGHTWell, that letter said exactly the same thing that the first letter had said. Now, both sides, Carter told me, he said as soon as Begin got back to civilization, he began lying about it. And to this day he's very bitter, and I don't know exactly how the Middle East might look different had, had he actually extracted that concession from Begin. Begin's delegates say he would never have agreed to such a thing. The evidence is that he did go back, and settlement building began robustly not long after that.
WRIGHTSo, you know, if -- Barak himself was the only one at Camp David who said we should stay until we work out this Palestinian portion of it. But by that time, everybody was torn to pieces, and nobody else had the heart to do it. And perhaps there was a lost opportunity. I don't know if Begin today would be any different from the Begin in 1978, who resisted Carter entreaties about resolving the Palestinian dispute.
NNAMDIIn our caller's mind, the relationship between Begin and Netanyahu is Likud and the settlements. Is it?
WRIGHTYeah, that's fair. I mean, Begin was really the founder of Likud. Ezer Weizman was at one point his political chief, and he organized Likud. And the kind of political agenda that Begin had has continued to be expressed in Netanyahu's view. But there are interesting differences, Kojo. I think it's interesting to go back and look at abandoned ideas. One was that Begin thought the West Bank, which he always referred to as Judea and Samaria, the Jewish homeland, that Israel could annex that but then allow all the Arabs there to choose whether to be full Israeli citizens or not.
WRIGHTWell, that's not on the table anymore, but, you know, it's a one-state solution, essentially, something that is not even talked about now. Aharon Barak said that he had put forward the idea at Camp David of a confederation of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. That's another idea that doesn't get much attention these days. People continue to talk about a two-state solution, and everybody says they want it, but it if was really that wanted, I think we would see two states now.
NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation. If you have calls, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850, or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComing up at 1:00, TV beyond black and white. The fall television season promises an unprecedented cast of diverse characters, but an outcry over stereotyping is causing drama off-screen. Our panel of TV critics weighs in today at 1:00 on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We are talking with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright about his latest book. It's called "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David." Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for New Yorker magazine. You can call us at 800-433-8850. One of the more touching moments in the 19 -- in these talks, there's a field trip to Gettysburg, to the battlefield.
NNAMDIWhat was it about that moment that you found so significant?
WRIGHTWell, it was intriguing because Carter was at that point, you know, a very low points. Talks had essentially broken down, and he decided that if he could take these two men, these two leaders, to Gettysburg, where, you know, this vast battlefield, where they could contemplate the cost of war, 50,000 men fell at Gettysburg in three days. And Carter was very well-versed on it. In fact his grandfather, Littleberry Walker Carter, had fought on the Confederate side. He was in Pickett's Charge.
WRIGHTAnd I think it made a difference first of all that they came to appreciate that Carter understood the cost of war and that the South had been affected for more than a century by the cost of it. The other thing is that at one point Begin, who was isolated even in his own delegation at that point, people were so angry with him for being so resistant, as they were examining the cemetery where Lincoln made his famous address, suddenly Begin began to recite the Gettysburg Address.
WRIGHTAnd Rosalyn Carter was just shaking with emotion, and she thought that maybe at last he understands the value of peace. It -- I don't know if it was a turning point, but it was a turning point in the perception toward Begin.
NNAMDIOn now to Webster in Falls Church, Va. Webster, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WEBSTERYes, after the peace accord was signed, there was a state dinner, and the United States Army Band Strolling Strings were playing. And my friend was playing accordion, and his name was Alex Smith. And Begin was really negative when the Strolling Strings entered the room. And my friend began to play a Jewish lullaby, and you could see Begin's face just -- all the negativity just melt away, and he began to smile and became very cordial and warm. I just thought that was really something really interesting to share.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that with us. Do you know anything about that, Larry Wright?
WRIGHTI don't know about that, but, you know, I know that during Camp David, there were two Shabbats, and the one, he invited Carter to come to Camp David, come to the Israeli meal. And they sang old songs, he and one of his advisors from the underground, that nobody else knew. And he had a -- Begin had a very sentimental side to him. You know, he enjoyed talking about his grandchildren. And if I could just intersperse...
WRIGHT...the mention of grandchildren, you know, this was funny. We're talking all about this policy and so on, but the last day, when, you know, the networks had been alerted that the president was going to make an address that evening, they were going to interrupt the Emmys, and the tables were being set up in the East Room of the White House and so on, Carter had to write a letter, a side letter for the accords. There were many side letters that had no standing legally in the accords, they just expressed differing perspectives of each side that they hadn't agreed upon.
WRIGHTAnd Sadat had asked Carter to write a letter about East Jerusalem and restating America's position on that, which the position is that that's occupied territory. And so Carter did so, quoting U.N. ambassadors going back to Arthur Goldberg, to that effect. And on that Sunday, that letter got into Begin's hands, and he told Carter you must, you know, you've betrayed me, you must withdraw this letter.
WRIGHTAnd Carter was flummoxed. The letter, he explained, had no standing in the accords. It was simply American policy. And Begin said you must withdraw it, and Carter said I can't do that, I made a pledge to Sadat. Well, this is more important. And Carter refused to do it. So Begin said the signing is off, and no accord. And, you know, this was hours from the moment when they were supposed to be sitting down in the White House signing the papers.
WRIGHTAnd Carter went back to his cabin more despairing than he'd ever been in his life. There had been a photograph made of the three men sitting on the porch of Aspen Lodge, the presidential cabin, and Carter had copies made up for Begin's grandchildren. And his secretary, Susan Clough, had thoughtfully called Israel and gotten the names of Begin's grandchildren.
WRIGHTAnd so Carter had inscribed them personally to each one and signed it love Jimmy Carter. And then very reluctantly he realized he had to return to Begin's cabin and give him the photographs. And Begin was packed up and ready to go, and he was absolutely frigid. His relationship with Carter was over. And it was essentially hello, Mr. President, and goodbye. And Carter handed him the manila envelope with the photographs inside, and Begin glanced at them.
WRIGHTAnd he noticed the name of his granddaughter Mikal (sp?) and then, you know, his grandson Yonatan (sp?) . There were nine of them. And as he began to look at the inscriptions, he started to weep. And Carter also began to cry, and he said I had hoped to sign this is where your grandfather and I made peace in the Middle East. And then he walked back to his cabin to tell Sadat that the signing was over. And the phone rang, and Begin said he would sign.
NNAMDIThat's a fascinating story about an individual's relationship with family. I mean, we know about relationships with faith but relationship with family.
WRIGHTWell, you know, history turns on sometimes, you know, very personal things like that.
NNAMDIThis is true. Here is Jen (sp?) in Washington, D.C. Jen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENHey, Kojo, love your show as always and certainly appreciate this man's effort at illuminating an important time in a history with a man who has certainly been on a quest for peace his whole life, President Carter. But I've got say, you know, I'm so sick, I'm so sick of this conflict, and I don't -- I know I'm not alone. I'm so sick of hearing about it, about the petty back and forth and the petty killings and the -- just going on and on.
JENI mean, even 40 years from Carter, but then thousands of years in the history back. And we're, we are constantly putting ourselves in the middle of this ongoing, childish spat that -- and we have problems here at home. We have serious, serious problems here at home. And it -- apparently nothing we have done, bending over backwards, doing kindly, you know, what would Jesus do, things like Carter says, and nothing works. We have -- I'm sorry, I'm sick of hearing about it.
NNAMDIJen, how about what's in the news this week? The United States is now conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to combat the Islamic State. Do you feel better about that?
JENI must say to a certain degree I believe that the rise of radical Islamism is -- or the radical Islamic state is due to this ongoing support of a country that cannot seem to make peace with its neighbors. And...
NNAMDIWhat do you say to that, Lawrence Wright? To what extent is what we're witnessing now in the world an outgrowth of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians?
WRIGHTIt's a factor. You cannot deny that this dispute has real geopolitical consequences. And I share the frustration that Jen expresses. I mean these are -- if you're talking about the population of Israel and the West Bank, we're talking about 10 million people. It's like the population of L.A. County. Just imagine how much mischief has been let loose in the world because of the inability of these people to not be able to achieve peace.
WRIGHTBut I think the frustration and the despair that is so often expressed, that Jews and Arabs are eternal enemies and must always be at war, is itself a big problem and a big obstacle to finding peace. You know, just it happens, Kojo, that I'm the same age as Israel. I was born in 1947, when the U.N. decided to partition the mandated Palestine into Israel and what was going to be the country of Palestine.
WRIGHTAnd in my lifetime, you know, I grew up in the segregated South, and we have a black man president. I grew up in an era of Apartheid, and that's gone. I grew up in the Cold War, and the Soviet Union is dissolved. So history can change. And all of those seemed to be immutable facts of history at the time, that they would never change. They can change, but we do have to put attention onto this region because these -- this conflict has consequences that go well beyond its borders.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we are almost out of time, Lawrence Wright, but we have a caller named Bill, who couldn't stay on the line, who wanted to talk about the talents of Lawrence Wright as an accomplished piano player. Bill says he has warm thoughts of Lawrence Wright at Madam's Organ.
WRIGHTThat was -- my band came up to play in Washington, and Madam's Organ was one of the highlights of our life because the fire marshal had to prevent people from coming in. We were really having the best night as a band that we'd ever had.
NNAMDIBill, thank you for reminding us that Lawrence Wright has another life, so to speak, here in Washington, D.C. What's next for you, Larry Wright?
WRIGHTI'm working on a pilot for HBO, a series set in Texas politics. So that's plenty to draw from on that front.
NNAMDIOne final, quick question from Kat (sp?) , who says your guest stressed that each side has to give up stuff. Please ask him what the Palestinians have that they could give up. I know of things that Israel could give up, but I'm not sure about the reverse. You have about 30 seconds, Larry Wright.
WRIGHTWell, their, you know, their ideas about right of return, they're going to have to be modified for the Palestinians to achieve a peace that Israel will accept. And Israel will also have to accept Palestinians having a legitimate state of their own, not a handicapped, weakened entity that would be a permanent drag on the region.
NNAMDILawrence Wright is a journalist and author, staff writer for New Yorker magazine. His latest book is called "Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David." Lawrence Wright, thank you for joining us.
WRIGHTKojo, it was a great pleasure. Thank you.
WRIGHTAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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