Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace

by Lawrence Wright

Paperback, 2015

Call number

956.04 WRI



Vintage (2015), 464 pages


History. Politics. Nonfiction. HTML:A dramatic, illuminating day-by-day account of the 1978 Camp David conference, when President Jimmy Carter convinced Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to sign a peace treaty�the first treaty in the modern Middle East, and one which endures to this day.  With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright takes us through each of the thirteen days of the Camp David conference, delving deeply into the issues and enmities between the two nations, explaining the relevant background to the conflict and to all the major participants at the conference, from the three heads of state to their mostly well-known seconds working furiously behind the scenes. What emerges is not what we've come to think of as an unprecedented yet "simple" peace. Rather, Wright reveals the full extent of Carter's persistence in pushing peace forward, the extraordinary way in which the...… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mybucketlistofbooks
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David is a really well written and exciting account of the thirteen days these three leaders spent at Camp David hammering out one of the most significant agreements in human history – the Camp David Accords. The description of the
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personalities of the three men was the most fascinating part of the story, most particularly how their backgrounds motivated them and informed the way the approached these negotiations. It really brought into relief how damaging an adherence to dogmatic religious belief can be, but also how an enlightened religious outlook can bring about great change.

Begin, the most truculent of the three, and the most dogmatically religious, on several occasions, threatened to scuttle negotiations over what most would be consider relatively minor points, but which for him were a point of religious pride. Carter, used his religion as a way to give him strength during the negotiations which nearly broke down virtually every day, and which only succeeded due to the force of his intellect and persistence. Sadat viewed himself as a man of destiny who had been born for this moment. It was this conviction that kept him from walking out of negotiations with Begin who he had grown to despise.

The author expertly weaves the biographies of the three men, along with other major players throughout the narrative. It is through these biographies that one comes to understand the intractability of the problems plaguing the middle east. That Carter was able to pull this off was nearly miraculous, and I think underrated now as an example of Presidential leadership.

I actually don’t want to get into too much detail here because though the outcome is well known, how they got there is fascinating and reads like a thriller in Wright’s capable hands – so I will leave it there. Highly Recommended!!!
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LibraryThing member bowedbookshelf
”It is striking that, in a region as intimate as the Middle East, cultural ignorance and political miscalculation have played such perverse roles. By attacking the new country of Israel in 1948, the Arabs lost the chance to create an entity for Palestine. Through its policy of expulsion of the
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native population, Israel destabilized its neighbors and created a reservoir of future terrorists that was continually refreshed by new wars and population transfers.”

In surely what is the most intimately detailed report of the Carter Camp David Accords collected for public consumption, Lawrence Wright gives us a look at the men who came to that place in 1978 to wage peace. Chapter headings mark the thirteen days of talks, and within each day we are treated to the increasingly stuffy and claustrophobic internal debates which contrasted with the comfortable and laid-back atmosphere of the country playground.

As the chapters unfold, so do brief histories and biographies of the men who played a role: Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan; Israeli Minister of Defence Ezer Weizman; Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the minority coalition Likud, Menachem Begin; Egypt’s deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Tohamy; Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel; Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance; American first-term President Jimmy Carter.

The men are merely men, with all the ticks, scars, and faults of men. What is so breathtaking is that the lives of so many depended on these men acting like statesmen. By meeting at Camp David, all three men were taking huge political risks for their own lives and careers. One might argue that the risks never left the personal realm. None of them really took risks with the nations they represented. Carter continued to financially and politically support both countries, Begin never changed his determination to settle confiscated lands, and Egypt simply withdrew support for Palestinians it had previously protected.

Wright concentrates his focus on the Israeli and Egyptian delegations. We get a look at Jimmy and Roslyn Carter, their background and rise to prominence in Washington, and Jimmy Carter’s team of advisors, but we get a more detailed look at what was happening in the other camps as talks progressed through two weeks in September. We learn, too, of the wars fought in the name of ‘legitimate rights,’ which brought these men to Camp David.

There was a dangling thread that did not get resolved at Camp David, though two of the three parties believed it had been resolved. In the months after the agreement was signed, that dangling thread became part of the noose which helped to hang the careers of Carter and Sadat: Menachem Begin claimed he had not agreed to a settlement freeze while discussions with Palestinians continued but only for three months. Without the side letter that Carter and Sadat believed Begin had promised to produce, the concession was moot and not part of the original accord.

Begin returned to Israel triumphant, only to lose his closest advisors to resignations for his continued unwillingness to honor the spirit of the agreement he’d signed. Sadat was murdered by his own people three years later. Carter, having spent so much time on the effort of achieving the peace, had neglected his other duties and lost much support among his party and his electorate.

This was a time in Israeli-Arab relations when any observer could not be blamed for feeling despair. The Israelis were gloating and acting invincible with America’s money and support. The Palestinians were further marginalized and weakened by their loss of Egyptian backing and lack of good leadership. The conditions spelled out in the agreement continue to hold, but there is little sense of jubilation now.

This book must have been a difficult one to research and write, which only manages to shine a light on Wright’s achievement. He captures the ups and downs of high-stakes negotiation and gives us a feel for the real work involved in the process. There is little exhilaration here. Mostly there was just terror and relief.

In a final note, Wright tells the story of one of Begin’s closest advisors, Ezer Weizman, who was known to be a raging hawk in when it came to protecting Israel with military. One day his son was shot between the eyes in an engagement. At that point Weizman began to see the futility of war. Man seems determined to learn this lesson again and again, and not soon enough.
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