Although American foreign policy recognized the U.S.’s special relationship with Israel, it also acknowledged that peace in the Middle East was essential for international stability. Thus, American diplomatic leaders continually tried to improve relations between the competing sides.
Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Egypt’s ( and other Arab nations) foreign policy had been built around destroying the Jewish state. In 1977, in an act of political courage, Anwar el-Sadat, Egypt’s leader, decided to seek peace with Israel. Sadat risked alienating conservative anti-Israel factions in his country and the rest of the Arab world. 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.
In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter attempted to negotiate a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. He invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, for face-to-face talks. For two weeks, 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. These agreements were officially titled the “Framework for Peace in the Middle East”, but they are commonly called the Camp David Accords.
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-Israel Egyptian soldiers assassinated him.