(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) By Ronald Baygents
WASHINGTON, Sept 16 (KUNA) -- While four decades of Egyptian-Israeli peace have upheld as a result of the 1978 Camp David accords, the unresolved issue of the Palestinians still looms large over the political order of the Middle East.
This was the main takeaway from a discussion held at a Sadat Forum on "the Accords' Impact on US Foreign Policy" marking the 40th anniversary of the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, began with the reading of a letter from former President Jimmy Carter, the architect of the accords. Carter, 94, recalled bringing together Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. The 13-day meeting was an "intensive and difficult negotiations" that ended with "a framework for Middle East peace." The accords "required bravery" of Sadat and Begin, Carter wrote. He noted that despite significant changes of governments in both Egypt and Israel in the last 40 years, "peace has upheld" and "countless lives have been saved." "A new political order has almost been taken for granted," said the 39th US president.
However, Carter said he had to admit "lingering disappointment" over the accords' bilateral understanding and framework for resolving the Palestinian problem in all its aspects, including the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.
Carter said he "always believed" the Palestinian issue was "fundamental" to achieving a comprehensive peace in the region and for "Israel to survive." Referring to the assassination of Sadat in 1981, Carter said he felt strongly that had Sadat lived, "we'd be in a much better place today." Sadly, the difficulties in the Middle East "are great today," Carter said, noting ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements and "fundamental differences" among the Palestinians themselves." The US still has an obligation to try to bring peace to the Middle East, Carter said, and "to succeed we must be an honest broker" who emphasizes human rights in the region. The US needs to "maintain fairness" among all the Mideast parties, he said. But the US "does not now seem to be playing the role of an honest broker," he added.
In a video from Dr. Jehan Sadat, the widow of the former Egyptian president, she noted that he "extended the hand of peace to end the cycle of war" that had marked Egyptian-Israeli relations for decades.
Sadat, who went to Jerusalem in 1977 "with an open heart and an open mind" wanted a successful peace accord as long as it did not hurt Egypt's national interests, she said. "His life was taken before he could complete his journey," she added.
The Camp David accords ended a state of war between Egypt and Israel and Egypt regained "every inch" of its territory that was occupied by Israel since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. "Every part of the treaty has continued to be upheld," she noted.
In Sadat's "breakthrough" visit to Israel in 1977, he said that he had not come only for Egypt-Israel peace, but for all the "confrontation states" in the region, Mrs. Sadat noted.
Absence was a "just solution" to the Palestinian problem, peace would "never be that durable," Mrs. Sadat recalled her husband saying back then. The second part of the Camp David accords dealing with the Palestinian issue "remains unfulfilled," and today the resolution of that issue seems even "more remote," she said.
On his part, former top Middle East assistant to Carter, who attended the Camp David talks in September 1978 William Quandt recalled that a key topic at Camp David was the role of the Palestinians and Jordan in future negotiations.
The "pivotal issue" was the "linkage issue," the Palestinian issue, Quandt said. On that score, Sadat "wanted some," and Begin "wanted none," Quandt said.
When the negotiations seemed to deadlock after three days, after which Begin and Sadat would not talk directly to one another, Carter and his team moved the process forward with a ready-made US draft that "went through 23 versions before we got an agreement," Quandt said. While Carter himself worked on the Egyptian-Israeli peace framework, Quandt said he and the rest of the US team "worked on the other part, and it was a mess." "We settled for 'we still want comprehensive peace,' and the other parties can negotiate that when this is all over," Quandt said, referring to the Palestinian and Jordanian roles as well as that of other regional players.
Daniel Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador to Egypt during the 1990s term of President Bill Clinton and was US ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005 during the presidency of George W. Bush, noted that the "vitality and strength" of the Camp David experience was hindered by other difficulties in the region at the time, including the Iranian revolution and the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
These "major changes" in the international and regional environment "diminished somewhat" the impact of the Camp David accords, and Carter was not paying as much attention to the situation in Iran because he was so focused on the Egyptian-Israeli and Palestinian issues, he said.
Discussions also focused on other impediments to achieving a wider Mideast peace at the time. These included then-Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad's refusal to go along with Sadat's peace plans, and the fact that Ronald Reagan, who defeated Carter's re-election bid in 1980, had no intention of building on the Camp David accords or achieving a Palestinian state because the accords were a Carter achievement. Quandt noted that there has been "no chance" of a significant breakthrough on the Palestinian issue in the ensuing decades "because we (the US) have not had a leader who would put pressure on Likud," the reigning conservative political party in Israel. "It is remarkable how president after president after president has been unable to make progress on core issues," including territory and Jerusalem, he said.
During the 2000 Camp David II summit among Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Clinton had no strategy other than "if you don't accept it, it's off the table," Quandt said. With Clinton then a lame duck nearing the end of his eight-year term, the summit ended with no agreement.
On her part, Ellen Laipson who served as vice chairwoman of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, member of President Barack Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board from 2009 to 2013 and member of the US Secretary of State's Foreign Affairs Policy Board from 2011 to 2014 said that the 1978 Camp David accords were "indisputably a great diplomatic achievement of the United States." Intelligence was important in "understanding the players," she said, noting that the "analytic community probably did understand that Sadat was a risk taker, while Arafat was much less so." The analytic process also looked at supporting information that was necessary for the talks to succeed, including preparing maps to understand the geographic and economic realities of the region. The intelligence channel has been "one of the anchors of continuity" over the years as the US and Mideast players changed, Laipson said.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians have over the decades had security issues "that loom very large" in whether diplomacy succeeds or not, she said. (end) rm.ag