Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jimmy Carter's Nobel Prize: Better Late Than Never

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Jimmy Carter's Nobel Prize: Better Late Than Never

Article excerpt

Lucille Barnes covers Washington for Middle East newspapers.

Jimmy Carter's Nobel Peace Prize was long overdue. It should have been awarded at the same time Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin shared the prize in 1978. Because of a purely procedural glitch, however, that did not happen.

A party of 80 accompanied Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, to the award ceremony. These included his children and grandchildren, and some of his former campaign aides. There was also "Boxcar" Willie Nelson, a long-time friend and popular American entertainer.

In retrospect, it would have been nearly impossible for Carter to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even then it was the most dangerous unsolved problem in the world. Carter knew this when he took office in 1977 and daringly set out to do something about it at the beginning of his administration.

It turned out that Carter, Rosalynn and his old friend Jody Powell, who subsequently became his press secretary, went to the Holy Land even before his election. The three were tracing the footsteps of Jesus and pondering what they would do when Carter became president.

This fast start caught Israel and its American defenders by surprise. Momentarily, time was also on Carter's side. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made it known that he was prepared to do anything to end this dilemma before the problem worsened. Sadat went to Jerusalem in 1977 and addressed the Knesset.

Events happened so rapidly that neither Sadat nor Begin, who was the most intransigent Israeli leader to date, quite knew what to expect. Israeli army officers later admitted they were so alarmed that they set up precautions, thinking that the whole Sadat journey might be just a trap to land Egyptian commandos on Israeli soil.

It soon was clear, however, that Sadat was quite sincere in hoping that his initiative would bring about a rapid peace. Willy-nilly, a visit to Egypt by Begin followed. The problem, of course, was that the Israelis had no intention of making peace until they had permanently absorbed the rest of the West Bank, at the very least.

Soon Begin, Sadat and Carter found themselves sequestered at Camp David, Maryland, the American presidential retreat. Very early on, Begin seemed intransigent, as usual, but Sadat left the details to be ironed out by Carter. For 13 days Carter proposed and Begin rejected. Time after time, Carter came up with a new proposal to untie the Gordian knot. Eventually, Begin seemed to yield, and the three negotiators returned to the White House with what appeared to be an agreement.

The next morning, seeming to ignore what had transpired the night before, Begin left for a scheduled fund-raising rally in New York. Jimmy Carter was persistent, however, and continued moving forward. The dilemma, of course, did not go away, and the drama continued, alternating between high hopes and deep depression.

Meanwhile new events were taking place in Iran, increasingly diverting the world's attention from Israel and Palestine. The shah of Iran fled his country and an Islamic clerical regime took over. For 444 days American Embassy staff members, people who happened to be visiting the embassy at the time, and even the acting American ambassador visiting Iran's Foreign Ministry were held captive.

The attempt to save these Americans, who were in actual peril, completely absorbed the U.S. When it appeared that negotiations had stalemated, Carter went behind the back of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and attempted a rescue effort. …

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