Lessons from the Thirteen Days in September

“Menachem Begin returned, triumphant, from Camp David, the president of Israel, Yitzhak Navon, asked him, “How did you succeed where previous prime ministers have failed?”

Begin replied, “It’s all in the timing.”

One of the lessons of Camp David is that timing had little to do with it. Yes, each side had incentives to seek peace in 1978, but those incentives were always present, even as Israel and Egypt collided in one war after another. The Yom Kippur War had shaken Israel out of its smug reverie of unchallenged dominance and changed the context, but peace had been available as an alternative to war from the beginning of the conflict in 1948. There were no insoluble issues standing between Egypt and Israel. Egypt chose to identify with the Arabs who rejected a small Jewish state, and so it gambled on war as a more definitive solution than peaceful negotiation. The Arabs lost that bet, and Israel grew larger and became an even greater threat. Each war planted the seeds for the next one. Each defeat made the Arabs more resolute, more defiant. Peace became contemptible. But in the case of Egypt and Israel, it was always a possibility. Egypt had to decide whether to act in its own interests or as the champion of a larger Arab cause. Israel had to sacrifice territory that provided a buffer against a sudden attack but also enlarged the imagined final borders of Greater Israel.”

Read the full essay here.

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