Essay on Israel and the Arab world

Both Sadat’s personality and his political position affected his bargaining success at Camp David. Having had little negotiating experience before this time, Sadat was too trusting of his counterparts (Telhami, Pew Study 55). Most importantly, he relied too heavily on his personal friendship with Carter and entrusted the Americans with too much information on his bargaining position. In effect, Sadat showed Carter his cards and even allowed him to play out the hand. But Carter had his own incentives to craft an agreement, and he did not want to appear to favor one side over the other. It was therefore politically difficult and against U.S. interests to maintain Sadat’s hard line Arab 8
position for long. Not surprisingly, Carter did not play the hand as conservatively as Sadat might have wished (Telhami 648).

The centralized political system in Egypt limited Sadat’s leverage in the negotiations and likely led to bargaining mistakes. As the President, he wielded ultimate decision-making authority and the political power to influence public opinion. Shibley Telhami quotes from Carter’s memoirs: “The people of Egypt could be easily manipulated by Sadat, and their beliefs and attitudes could be shaped by their leader”¯ (640). Therefore, Sadat could not credibly reject a certain agreement on the grounds that he could not mobilize domestic support behind it. Because everyone knew that his hands were not tied politically, he had little room to maneuver strategically. Also, this concentration of power led to overconfidence. Sadat would often override the better judgment of his advisors, sometimes even to the point of causing public humiliation (Telhami 640). One example of such behavior was his costly decision to divulge his bargaining position to Carter over the explicit protest of one of his top aides (Telhami, Pew Study 58). Thus, Sadat’s penchant for overly trusting his counterparts and his strong position in the Egyptian government harmed his ability to negotiate an optimal outcome for his country.

Begin was more practiced at bargaining and was able to view his interests both from the level of technical detail and grand strategy. For instance, Telhami states that while Begin often frustrated his counterparts by arguing over minutiae of wording in a proposed agreement, he would not lose sight of the larger goal of maintaining a working relationship with them (Pew Study 58). In addition, Begin kept his personal and business interactions with his counterparts strictly separate. While he maintained personal friendships with some of the other leaders, he was careful not to reveal information that could undercut his bargaining position. Sadat complained that after all the work he had done for peace, Begin did not trust him (Princen 63-4). Most likely Sadat was right; Begin’s political career developed in an Israel that had experienced only adversarial relationships with its Arab peers. This tradition prepared Begin well for playing hardball at Camp David.
Israel’s more decentralized governmental structure also benefited Begin in the bargaining process. As Prime Minister, he was the leader of the party that controlled the Knesset, the legislative body where most of Israel’s political power resides. Any agreement that was reached at Camp David would have to be ratified by the Knesset and supported by the Israeli people, and there was skepticism about the peace process in both arenas. So several times Begin was able to use the strategy that Sadat could not, namely to avoid certain concessions on the grounds that they would not be palatable among his domestic constituency. Additionally, many of the other Israeli delegates were also high-level Knesset members and had power of their own. These advisors could not be ignored like their Egyptian counterparts if Begin wanted to maintain his control over the Likud party. Thus, the political atmosphere led to more of a team effort by the Israelis and a more balanced decision-making process within the delegation (Telhami 641). 9

To complete the portrait of the interaction among the key players at Camp David, it is important to examine Jimmy Carter’s role, both as he perceived it and as it played out in reality. He saw himself as a facilitator, and he approached the talks from both moralistic and problem-solving standpoints. First, Carter’s strongly religious background caused him to see the Middle East peace process as the responsibility of the United States. America held the moral obligation to use its power to find a resolution to what Carter considered a solvable problem. He believed the actors that perpetuated the situation to be generally well-intentioned and felt there existed a possible settlement that would leave them all satisfied. Second, his training as an engineer led Carter to approach the bargaining process as a problem-solver. All of the components for an agreement were on the table, and as the mediator his job was to assemble them correctly and propose a workable solution (Princen 58-62). This was a somewhat narrow view of his task, and arguably he later abandoned it when he began to offer U.S. concessions to make settlement more attractive to Begin.
The view of Carter as merely a facilitator is not entirely accurate. Regardless of his official role, Carter’s personal interests and U.S. national interests required that he be an active player in the bargaining. Telhami makes a distinction between a mediator, who works towards any agreement, and a participant, who works towards an agreement that specifically addresses his or her interests (631-2). In the Camp David case, this framework presents a false dichotomy. Since finalizing any treaty was simultaneously working in the best interest of himself and the U.S., Carter satisfied both roles. As previously stated, Carter had sunk a large amount of political capital into the peace process, and he needed to demonstrate results to save his presidency. U.S. national interest revolved around promoting stability in the Middle East to shore up its relationships with Israel and the Arab world, as well as to ensure future access to oil resources. Any treaty that addressed even the least controversial topics at Camp David would have helped to achieve these goals. Thus, the coincidence of personal and national interests guaranteed that Carter would be an active third party throughout the negotiations.

Several lessons for international diplomacy can be gleaned from these points. First, while a basic level of trust between negotiating partners is beneficial, one should not rely too heavily on it. One should especially avoid ceding control of one’s agenda to another party, as Sadat did. Regardless of any personal relationship or mutual understanding that may exist between the parties, each player always has his or her own interests and should be expected to follow them. While it may benefit two parties with mutual interests to work together, each should maintain the power to “play their own hand.”¯ Second, political systems have an important impact on diplomacy. In general, a leader who has a large amount of centralized decisionmaking power has very little leverage in international negotiations. Conversely, a representative leader of a decentralized government has much more ability to avoid unwanted concessions by blaming his or her domestic constraints. 10

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