Common Grounds

Lessons Learned from Mediating the Camp David Accords

November 09, 2016


By: Nicolas A. Hoffman, MA

      Conflict Management & International Economics

      Executive Director at


"For the past few years Nicolas has been writing on issues ranging from conflict and mediation analysis, foreign policy in the MENA region, to human rights issues. With regards to his work at the Muslim Public Affairs Council focused, he focused on writing human rights reports on countries (MENA and South Asia) that claim to be Muslim via their legislation through Islamic and secular lenses. Said publications’ focus is on democratic indicators, constitutional rights/legal rights, civil liberties issues, women’s rights, minority rights, ease of doing business, and migrant/refugee rights."

Lessons Learned from Mediating the Camp David Accords

Understanding the context prior to the talks, in its initial phases, and its evolution are key to understanding and bridging the gap between theories of mediation and its implementation in practice due to the talk’s evolving nature. It is the evolving nature of the Camp David Accords, which is of interest due to the fact that it first starts off, from the standpoint of mediation, following in line with the classical framework of mediation (the usage of low amounts of coercion), and then said framework has to readjust due to the breakdown in the process of ownership between Egypt and Israel. Additionally, it is this break down in owning the process that leads the US to break away from the classical framework of being a passive mediator that led them to take a more coercive role of the process of ownership, which as a result saved the peace process. The lessons learned from this talk serves to show that 1) formulaic strategiest hat rely on everything going well can lead to inflexibility in the peace process and hence facing potential failure, and 2) adopting a less formulaic and more middle ground approach to an issue allows for more wiggle room for mediators, hence the possible range of success increases.


It is the goal of this paper to demonstrate role of actor’s perceptions during the events leading up to the Camp David Accords and during the talks; additionally, said perceptions shaped how the mediator and its team formulated its mediation process. The final aspect of the paper will cover outcomes of the Camp David Accords and its implications for the peace process between Arab states and Israel.


Historical Perceptions between Arab States and the State of Israel


Prior to going on to the Arab-Israeli war, the subsequent Egyptian-Syrian offense against Israel, and failed Geneva talks, it is essential understand the origins of the mistrust between Arabs and Israelis. Said perceptions will set the tone for generations to come.


Putting aside, the most commonly cited issue that was and still is the Palestinian question, from the perspective of the Arab states and its peoples is that of viewing Israel as beingin collusion with western imperial powers. Furthermore, stemming from the Creationof Palestine and the subsequent violent conflicts, the Arab states had the perception that the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict was of an existential threat. One could assume that, from the perspective of the Arabs, if Israel was capable of defeating multiple Arab states andannexing parts of their land that “peace” could only be solved through a violent struggle. Arab foreign policy and military policy, one could say, is a display of fighting off an existential threat because of its tendency to seek out unilateral victories against the Israelis. It is not only until the stalemate created by the failed offensive by Egypt and Syria against Israel that all of theactors involved came to the realization that solving said existential threat could not actually besolved by using an armed struggle, but by some sort of peace process, which in this case was the US mediation effort. Similarly, Israel from the beginning viewed their position in the world as one of an existential threat as well.


While the Arab states sought to defeat its existential threat by reinstating Palestine as awhole, Israel on the other hand sought to expand its territory, which in effect would create asecurity buffer zone. Said strategy of annexing land in order to create a security buffer zone hasbeen Israel’s solution to their own perceived existential threat of being erased from the map12345678.


The Road from the Arab-Israeli War to the Camp David Accords


As a result of building tensions between Arab states and the state of Israel lead to the Arab-Israeli war, which was an overwhelming victory for Israel. Not only was it anoverwhelming victory for Israel, said victory lead to Israel annexing new territory, which added to its security. The actors involved in said conflict were Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. The territory annexed came from Egypt (the Sinai Peninsula), Syria (the Golan Heights), and from Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza). With the result of the Arab-Israeli war, the Arab perception of Israel beingan illegitimate imperialistic state had beens olidified.


Even though the Arab perception of Israel and of the conflict had become solidified to anextent, five months after the conflict in June Arab states accepted Resolution 242 passed by Security Council, which states that all states within the region have a right to exist securely withinits original boarders. The acceptance of Resolution 242 produced two interesting results: 1) The first being that for the first time the Arab states by accepting it showed a willingness to recognize the state of Israel. 2) A year after the passing of the resolution, Israel officially accepted it, whichis of great importance because it requires that all territory gained by war must be returned in order to peace to truly exist910.


Following the passing of Resolution 242, U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers promoted a similar resolution which was supported by Egypt and initially supported by Israel; however, shortly after Israel’s support of the U.S.’ initiative, Israeli support both at the Government and domestic levels ended support for it11.


At this point, in 1972, with the declining support of the U.N. and U.S. resolutions from the state of Israel there was a perceived sense that a degree of durable peace was not possible. However to the surprise of western powers, especially the to the U.S., a break through in conflict was made possible by Egypt expelling all of the Soviet advisers. From the perspective of President Sadat, by expelling the Soviet advisers, he hoped that this would signal Egypt’s willingness to negotiate a peace settlement between Egypt and Israel. Initially, the U.S. and its top-levelofficials (President Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and so forth…) did not take much interest in Egypt’s signaling its willingness to negotiate and even just build friendly relations overall.


Finally, the U.S.’ lack of interest in Egypt’s willingness to negotiate and build up relations was not taken seriously due to the fact that the U.S. did not see Egypt as a state that was not neither domestically influential nor internationally influential. In typical U.S. foreign policy, they would not be interested in building relations with a state until it had something to offer in return.


Additionally, the U.S.’ lack of willingness to take Egypt seriously was also an outcome of the stable, but chilled, relationship that the U.S. built with the Soviets during the era of détente.


From the Israeli perspective, concerning Egypt’s willingness to engage with the U.S. stirred up Israeli fears of Egypt reducing their relationship with the U.S. and the west as a whole. Even with the reality of the U.S. not taking much interest in Egypt and its lack of being ahegemonic figure in the region, Israel fell prey to its paranoia of being a Jewish island in apredominantly Arab region.


At a superficial level, one would surmise that based upon current set of perceptions would sustain the current stalemate between the actors involved, which turned out to not be the case. To the surprise of the international community in 1973, both Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel in an attempt to retake lost Arab land and to restore their image as beinga regional force. This was a major shift in perception especially for Egypt and not for Syria, because of Egypt’s support of the U.N. Resolution 242 and U.S.’ Rogers Plan to a perception that: 1) peace could no longer be obtained through proper channels of communication, and 2) Egypt, including Syria, could have possibly perceived that the time span from the last major conflict had given these two states enough time to build up their offensive military capabilities. With these perceptions in mind, both Egypt and Syria had the perception that they could actually win an armed conflict, which in reality was not the case because the armed conflict of 1973 ended in a stalemate with Israel. It is at this point in the time line of the post 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict that all of the actors directly involved finally understood that this conflict could not be solved via a traditional military victory, but only through a mediated peace process.


The conflict having relapsed in 1973, the U.S. and the Soviet Union viewed the relapse in the armed conflict between Egypt, Israel, and Syria as being a security threat to their foreign policy and a threat to détente. Initially the U.S. brokered a short-term disengagement plan, but in the long run, both sides perused multiple failed talks in Geneva to solve the on going conflict. The failures in the Geneva talks were plagued by not by the willingness to talk, but by the issues of the actors focused on positions and not interests, the Arab states’ use of the Palestinian question to their own advantages, and the failure to seek a common interest1213.


After various failed talks, at the behest of President Carter, President Sadat in 1977 sought to open a dialogue with Israel by speaking at the Knesset. In response to Egypt’s willingness to start a dialogue, Israeli Prime Minister Begin went to Egypt state his state’s proposal for solving slightly over a decade of conflicts. To the dismay of the U.S., the Soviet Union, Egypt, and Israel neither side would accept each other’s proposals for peace. In effect, both sides viewed each other as being ungrateful for not being open enough, so the relations between Egypt and Israel fell apart. In the mind of President Carter and his administration, they viewed this situation as being of historical importance and sought to act immediately by inviting both sides to Camp David in order to finally put the conflict to rest14151617181920.


Expectations of the Talks, its Format, its Strategies, and Bargaining Points


The effects of the previous rounds of interaction between the actors on the perceptions and expectations of Camp David Accords were as such:


  • U.S. Perceptions & Expectations: Because of the lesser role that the U.S. played in the conflict at the beginning of the conflict, this time around they sought to play the premier role in attempting to broker a solution. This necessity to lead the talks came from the U.S.’ interest in obtaining the geopolitical advantage in region, which would give the U.S. an advantage over the Soviet Union. Furthermore, being the leading or only mediator would allow the U.S. to be perceived at an international level as being the state that solved the perceived centuries old conflict between Arabs and the Jewish people.
  • Egypt’s Perceptions & Expectations: In looking President Sadat’s opening moves in the past, he was interested in growing closer to the U.S. by privately requesting that the U.S. take an active role in the mediation and by attempting to create a rapport with President Carter when meeting with him. Getting closer to the U.S. for Egypt, based upon their perception, means that they could possibly obtain military, political, and even economic support from a partnership with the U.S., which would ultimately solidify their place in the region’s geopolitical hierarchy.
  • Israel’s Perceptions & Expectations: Inversely, Israel sought to reduce the active role of the U.S. in the Camp David mediation process due to the fear that Egypt was attempting to reduce its own standing with the U.S., which could potentially see its military, political, and economic aid reduced that it received from the U.S. Like Egypt Israel came into the talks expecting to maximize and expand its gains21.


The U.S.’ Format and Strategies for the talks:


  • The Camp David Accords was to take place in an isolated setting in order to reduce outside pressures over the mediators the Egyptian and Israeli delegations. The U.S. this time around did not want the peace process being hijacked by domestic politics as it was in other rounds of negotiations. Ultimately, this setting choice would be effectivein reducing the outside effects over the actors. However, this format choice in the end would still not ultimately protect the Egyptian and Israeli delegates from having to respond to domestic politicians questions about the accord that they agreed to and signed. This is a possible effective format if one wants to get diplomats to agreeon issues, but not an effective one for building up domestic support.
  • The next important format choice, which is also a strategic choice as well, is that of the U.S. limiting the actors involved in the talks. From the perspective of the U.S. mediation team, the success, to an extent, relied upon weeding out any or all actors that would have a spoiling effect on the talks. The actors that were not invited to the talks were the Soviet Union, Palestine, and Syria. The Soviet Union was not brought on due to the U.S.’ interest in obtaining more geopolitical influence over the Soviet Union. The lack of Syria’s presence during the talk was a result of Syria not signing on to Resolution 242 and the Rogers plan; additionally, Syria throughout the years made it clear that it would not negotiate with Israel anymore, and that the only way to solve the Arab-Israel iissues was through a traditional military victory. If Syria had been at the talks then they would have had a huge spoiling effect, hence possibly destroy the one chance that President Carter had to broker a peace deal. Even though this format and strategy can be effective, it can also end up taking key players out of a round of talks that can ultimately endanger the peace process. An example of this is the most recent Geneva talks between the U.S. and its allies and Syria and its allies. Initially Iran, an ally of Syria, was invited to the round of talks, but due to the U.S.’ policy towards Iran they ended up uninviting Iran from the talks, which ended up making the talks a failure. Allowing Iran to stay would give Syria some level of security, and it would include Iran who is a key player in the current Syrian civil war. Making sure that the right players are involved is key to any talks.
  • When mediating, President Carter sought to maximize the U.S.’ gains by seeking a solution that was in bargaining range. This goal was accomplished by individually bolstering his friendship with Sadat and with Begin, which allowed President Carter to more easily suggest options to both sides. Additionally, by being friends with both sides, he was able to find out the actual interests of the parties, which then allowed him to get past the issue of solely focusing on the positions of each side. Furthermore, by building up a friendship with each actor President Carter was able to strategically use emotions in order to put pressure on an actor to get a result (e.g. getting upset at the Israeli Prime Minister for not taking the process seriously or threating to end U.S. relations…). The strategic use of friendship and emotions can be extremely useful if done properly. If the actors being subjected to the psychological manipulation figure the strategy out, then the mediator can be viewed as being manipulative and unreliable, hence the possible failure of the talks could occur.
  • Near the end of the Camp David talks, the U.S. used the carrot and sticks strategy by sweetening the peace deal for Israel by promising military aid in the form building it military bases within Israel’s original territory in part for returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The use of carrots and sticks can be effective in sweetening or ripening a situation.
  • The final strategy, and important one, is President Carter’s use of creating a joint treaty amongst all of the actors involved. This has important effects: 1) by creating one document, it forces all of the actors to work together on the treaty instead of coming with competing positions, 2) because all of the actors are working together, there is a higher chance of finding out what the interests actually are, and 3) in a way having a single document can give the actors the perception that they all own the process. The final aspect of President Carter’s one document strategy was to claim ownership if the negotiations were to fail. This allowed for the actors involved feeling less pressure when it came to facing the fear of failing2223.


Bargaining Positions:


The first set of issue at hand was normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel. Each side agreed in general, but to the extent of normalization of relations, they differed greatly. For Egypt, they wanted the least amount of normalized relations with Israel in order to obtain the maximum possible advantage over Israel, which would allow Egypt to maximize it gains and bring back a palatable result to the Arab states. On the other hand, Israel sought to maximize relations with Egypt and obtain a peace treaty. Israel by normalizing relations with Egypt and obtaining a peace treaty it could neutralize the military threat posed by Egypt. Secondly, depending on the level of normalization of relations and the type of peace treat it could affect the level of militarization of Egypt. For Israel, a high level of relations with Egypt also entails a desire for a highly demilitarized Egypt, which in the eyes of the Egyptian negotiation team was unfavorable (they wanted the opposite scenario). The demilitarization especially applied to Israel returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Israel only felt safer with a smaller border if the security concerns could be resolved, hence the importance of demilitarizing Egypt in the Sinai.


The third and fourth issues needing to be resolved was that of the return of Arab lands to its rightful owners, and the issue of the Palestinian question24.


The Talks


During the first meeting between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, both actors brought their initial proposals with the perception that they might persuade the other side. The outcome of their first meeting lead to both of the actors disagreeing with each other’s proposals. After the first meeting, neither side decided to meet face to face. In response, President Carter and his team decided to implement the strategy of creating one document and they implemented the use of President Carter’s friendship building in order to obtain the actual interests of each actor.This new strategy was vastly more effective when compared to the more classic style of bargaining, which involves each actor to bring a proposal. Classical bargaining tactics, especially during conflicts, can lead actors to act in a zero-sum manner, hence reducing the bargaining zone.


As the talks went on, the U.S. through its interactions with both Egypt and Israel, they had come to the realization that not only do they have to create one document, but also the documentis going to be only able to cover the most essential issues (Egyptian and Israeli security, the Sinai Peninsula, and the return of normal relations) between the two conflicting actors. As a resultof the simplification of the bargaining points, the most important issue of the Palestinian question had to shelved and saved for a later round of talks (Camp David Talks 2000).


The immediate impact of the Camp David Accords concerning normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel came in the form of Israel giving back the Sinai and giving up its settlements in exchange for the U.S. bolstering Israel’s military strength and satisfied their security concerns by building two air bases in the Negev desert. Additionally, the return of the Sinai de requirea demilitarization of it, which was accepted by Egypt due to it receiving its lost territory25.


In the short-run the Camp David Accords was a success in normalizing the relations between two states that would go on the have warmer relationship, but in the long-run due to itintentionally shelving the of the Palestinian question it would leave the status of the Palestinians unresolved until current day. This unfortunately is the greatest failure of the Camp David Accords. Withthat said, from the point of view of the mediating team, it was either have no peace agreement as a result of pushing for the Palestinian question to be resolved, which is not acceptable to the state of Israel, or obtain a lesser peace deal that would keep the region relatively stable without solving the Palestinian question. Overall the accord was a general success with regards to its results and with regards to developing a successful mediation strategy for managing competing actors.



1 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445

2 Faure, Guy Olivier & Rubin, Jeffrey Z., “Culture and Negotiation: The Resolution of Water Disputes,” Sage Publications.

3 Clayton, Nicola S, Salwiczek, Lucie H, & Dickinson, Anthony, “Episodic memory,” (2007), University of Cambridge.

4 Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum, “Thirteen Days After Twenty-Five Years,” (2003).

5 Stefanucci, Jeanine K, O’Hargan, Shawn P, & Proffitt, Dennis R, “Augmenting Context-Dependent Memory,” Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, Volume 1, Number 4, Winter 2007, pp. 391–404.

6 Hall, Richard H, “Explicit and Implicit Memory,” (1998).

7 CIA, “Arab Leadership Perceptions of the US,” (1976).

8 Bevan, Jennifer L, “Dyadic perception of goals, conflict strategies, and perceived resolvability in serial arguments,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 31(6), PP 773–795, 2013.

9 Resolution 242 (1967) of 22 November 1967.

10 Israel accepting this resolution is of interest not only because they are recognizing that peace can only be obtained by returning annexed, but also because returning annexed land directly violates their security policy of annexing land in order to create a safer Israel. One could question this action and assume that Israel was only accepting the resolution in order to save face at the international level. This possibility, in light of Israel’s current behavior and current events would support the idea that Israel overall has a historical tendency to make false gestures at the international level, but at the domestic level has an entirely different view.

11 Korn, David A., “US-Soviet Negotiations of 1969 and the Rogers Plan,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Winter, 1990), pp. 37-50.

12 Fisher, Roger & Ury, William, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (revised edition),” (2011), Penguin Books. Chapters: 2-4.

13 CIA, “The Situation In The Middle East: The Arab Peace Offensive,” (1977).

14 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445

15 Office of the Historian, “MILESTONES: 1961–1968,” (2013).


16 BBC, “How 1967 defined the Middle East,” (2007).

17 BBC, “Legacy of 1973 Arab-Israeli war reverberates 40 years later,” (2013).

18 Al-Arabiya, “The Legacy of the 1973 October war in Egypt and Israel,” (2013). Egypt-and-Israel.html

19 USIP, “Making Peace Among Arabs And Israelis: Lessons from Fifty Years of Negotiating Experience,” (1991). PDF Pages: 16-19.

20 Al-Jazeera, “1967 Arab-Israeli War Timeline,” (2009).

21 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445

22 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445

23 Fisher, Roger & Ury, William, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (revised edition),” (2011), Penguin Books. Chapters: 2-5.

24 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445

25 Telhami, Shibley, “The Camp David Accords: A Case of International Bargaining,” (2011), Pew Case Study 445





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