Readers who are familiar with the Stockholm Syndrome will recall that it refers to a hostage-taking 1973 incident in that Swedish capital city. Over time, the hostages began to look to their captors as friends and protectors rather than the murderous kidnappers that they truly were.
We are seeing something similar in what I call the Camp David Syndrome. President Obama has just announced the latest effort toward crafting a Middle East Peace Settlement. That grand-sounding title is Beltway-speak for “let’s lean on Israel to gain some street cred with the Euros.” He’s chosen Hillary Clinton as his negotiator.
In 1978, Jimmy Carter brought Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin together to his mountain top presidential retreat in Maryland’s beautiful Catoctin Mountains. There, over days of intense negotiation, Carter brokered what became known in diplomatic lore as the Camp David Accords. Under those agreements, Israel agreed to withdraw her forces from the Sinai Peninsula that she had seized in the lightning Six-Day War of 1967, and re-captured during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That war had been launched by Egypt’s Sadat—showing the characteristic respect for other faiths that Muslims habitually show-- the Jewish High Holy Days of that year.
Carter hailed his achievement as something just shy of the Second Coming. It wasn’t. Carter was led up to that mountain by mounting problems on the plain below. Americans were becoming increasingly disenchanted with Jimmy’s fecklessness on the domestic front. High interest rates made home ownership impossible for young couples, long gas lines frayed nerves, and rising unemployment made everyone edgy. But Carter felt that success on the international scene could bring him and his embattled party some goodwill from American voters.
It didn’t. Barely six weeks after the media hullabaloo over the Camp David Accords, voters trooped to the polls and spanked Carter’s party. Between 1978 and 1980, voters gave Republicans 46 seats in the House of Representatives, five more seats than the GOP had lost in the watershed post-Watergate election of 1974.
Still, the myth persists that a Middle East peace agreement will translate into electoral success at home. Carter proved to be a one-trick pony. He received a sharp kick from voters in 1980. They put the pony permanently out to pasture.
What Carter achieved at Camp David is not replicable today. That’s because the Israelis in 1978 did not want to occupy Sinai. They agreed that it was an unnecessary that it did not materially contribute to their security. (Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir used to joke that the Almighty had led the Children of Abraham out of bondage in Egypt, called them to wander for forty years, and told them to settle on the only piece of real estate in the Middle East that has no oil!)
So Carter’s fabled diplomacy was not really necessary to persuade the Israelis to disgorge territory that had never been Israeli and that they did not really want. And President Anwar Sadat had a firm grip over Egypt, which one Egyptian diplomat described as the only real nation in the Arab world. “The rest are just tribes with flags,” that Arab diplomat memorably said. Besides, Sadat needed money. And the U.S. was ready to purchase a peace.
Despite the fact that Jimmy Carter got a shellacking at the polls in 1978 and 1980, Presidents persist in pursuing the brass ring, or an elusive Nobel Prize, for brokering a Mideast Peace Settlement.
Bill Clinton tried it in 2000. He was playing out an exhausted presidency, grasping for straws. He summoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the “reformed” terrorist leader, Yassir Arafat to the U.S. He tried to arrange another Camp David breakthrough. Barak made extraordinary concessions, even dangerous ones. No dice. Arafat fomented a second “intifada” against Israel. Clinton’s party lost the next Presidential Election.
Then, there was the 2007 Annapolis Conference on Mideast Peace. President George W. Bush chose that week after Thanksgiving to bring a wide range of Arab and Israeli negotiators to the U.S. Naval Academy’s historic Yard. Some of the Arab delegates refused to enter the same doorway as the Israelis had entered. Some peace talks. The best we can say for this effort is that it could have been worse. It might have lasted two days instead of just one. And Bush’s party lost the next Presidential Election.
What was considered historic about the Annapolis Conference is that for the first time all parties agreed to a “two-state solution.” Did the Arab delegates who attended, the ones who refused to enter the same doorway as the Israelis, agree that Israel would be one of those two states? Don’t ask.
What we have yet to hear is why the U.S. should want a Palestinian state to be formed in the Mideast. When the Israelis evacuated from Gaza and the local residents held elections, they promptly voted in Hamas, the terrorist organization. Hamas supporters stormed the residence of the late Yassir Arafat and stole his Nobel “Peace” Prize. Now, there’s poetic justice.
On the West Bank, Arafat’s loyal lieutenant, Abu Abbas, maintains a precarious perch. The U.S. is giving $900 million in aid to his so-called Authority for allegedly humanitarian purposes. This is where bombers use ambulances to run rockets to and from Palestinian hospitals and where children dance in mock explosive belts before PTA meetings in schools named for suicide bombers. This is what we want more of? For Peace’s sake? For Pete’s sake!
I was amazed to see President Obama come on TV so soon to call for a Mideast breakthrough. I didn’t think he was in that much trouble on the domestic front already.