Digital History

The Past Three Decades: Years of Crisis - Years of Triumph

Foreign Policy Triumphs Previous Next
Digital History ID 3363



In the Middle East, President Carter achieved his greatest diplomatic success by negotiating peace between Egypt and Israel. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Egypt's foreign policy had been built around destroying the Jewish state. In 1977, Anwar el-Sadat, the practical and farsighted leader of Egypt, decided to seek peace with Israel. It was an act of rare political courage, as Sadat risked alienating Egypt from the rest of the Arab world without a firm commitment for a peace treaty with Israel.

Although both countries wanted peace, major obstacles had to be overcome. Sadat wanted Israel to retreat from the West Bank of the Jordan River and from the Golan Heights (which it had taken from Jordan in the 1967 war), to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to provide a homeland for the Palestinians, to relinquish its unilateral hold on the city of Jerusalem, and to return the Sinai to Egypt. Such conditions were unacceptable to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who refused to consider recognition of the PLO or the return of the West Bank. By the end of 1977, Sadat's peace mission had run aground.

Jimmy Carter broke the deadlock by inviting both men to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, for face-to-face talks. For two weeks in September 1978, they hammered out peace accords. Although several important issues were left unresolved, Begin did agree to return the Sinai to Egypt. In return, Egypt promised to recognize Israel, and as a result, became a staunch U.S. ally. For Carter it was a proud moment. Unfortunately, the rest of the Arab Middle East denounced the Camp David accords, and in 1981, Sadat paid for his vision with his life when anti-Israeli Egyptian soldiers assassinated him.

In 1978, Carter also pushed the Panama Canal Treaty through the Senate, which provided for the return of the Canal Zone to Panama and improved the image of the United States in Latin America. One year later, he extended diplomatic recognition to the People's Republic of China. Carter's successes in the international arena, however, would soon be overshadowed by the greatest challenge of his presidency--the Iran hostage crisis.

Copyright 2016 Digital History