Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Temple Micah.
Micah Reader in January 2017 by Brenda Levenson
The United Nations’ recent vote condemning Israel’s settlements policy, and President Obama’s decision to abstain, makes Lawrence Wright’s 2014 book, “Thirteen Days in September” a welcome read. It is a reminder that once upon a time, peace was reached through negotiations between two presumably antagonistic leaders.
The 1979 Camp David meeting between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat was engineered by President Jimmy Carter. Begin’s autonomy plan, presented to Carter after Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977, the first Arab leader to do so, was that the Palestinians would continue to live on the West Bank and choose to be citizens of Israel or Jordan. Israeli military presence would remain. “None of the surrounding Arab countries favored the creation of Israel, but they were also opposed to a Palestinian state,” notes Lawrence Wright. Of all the Arab leaders, Anwar Sadat alone realized the economic benefits that peace with Israel would bring to Egypt, and had the courage to act upon it. It was anticipated that the conference would last a week, but difficulties between the two partners extended it to thirteen days, with President Carter’s role changing from “facilitator to catalyst…. someone with new ideas….willing to go beyond pleading and persuading,” says Wright. Of the two men, Sadat, who had much to win, appears to be the most pliable. Some of our readers thought that “Begin did not come out good,” an opinion many of us did not share. As the author points out, Begin had trained as a lawyer and thus saw every line written and every word spoken in a legalistic way.
Our readers were unanimous in declaring the book excellent. “It is focused, he [the author] starts in the early days of Israel and then moves along with history,” observed one person, while another drew light on Carter, listing his flaws and mistakes as president of the United States, while pointing out that he had been “a remarkable governor of Georgia at the time of the Civil Rights movement.” Carter, he added, was successful in brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, a peace that has held since and continues no matter the ups and downs along the way and Camp David will always remain his major achievement. Sadat’s courage cost him his life. He was assassinated in 1981.
Is the book “repetitive?” Perhaps, but reading every detail of every day’s discussions, going back and forth, agreeing, disagreeing, tempers flaring, participants threatening to pack up and leave, Carter at times despairing that anything would come out of the meeting, contribute in giving us a sense of the difficulties that emerged at every point, at the suspense that hung in the air, even though we know how “the story ends,” in other words making us feel that we were there. A few passages of the book lighten the complexity of most pages as Brzesinski and Begin are seen playing chess together. An anecdote about Dayan’s attraction to women and Ben Gurion’s reaction, bring to mind how the Hebrew Bible serves Israeli leaders! Questions were raised about Israel’s historic legitimacy as a Jewish state and by other aspects of the Torah that Orthodox Jews view as truth. Our house biblical scholar came to our help by answering all points with her usual aplomb and knowledge.