Interview with President Jimmy Carter: Camp David Accords

In the third episode of a five-part series, former President Jimmy Carter looks back on his work forging the Camp David Accords. Learn more about international negotiation in this podcast from


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Female Speaker 1: In celebration of the reopening of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the former president's 85th birthday, we sat down with Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter to talk about the highlights of his presidency and his hopes for the Carter Center.

Female Speaker 2: Well, you have quite a legacy of mediating and perhaps the Camp David Accords would come to mind. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and what that was like?

President Carter: Well, when I became president, there had been four wars. Excuse me, when I became president, there had been four wars in the previous 25 years, all of them attacks on Israel led by Egypt, which was the most formidable Arab country in military capability since they were supplied with weapons by the Soviet Union, Russia, at that time. I thought that the Mid East was a very important place for America and for the Soviet Union and was the most likely place that we could actually erupt into another world war. I decided to make my best effort to resolve the problem between Israel and Egypt and hopefully between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Jordan and Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon. Just a few days after I became president, we began working on this. I knew I had to do it the first year I was in office or it never would get done. I met with all the leaders and eventually was able to bring the two very courageous leaders to Camp David. They despised each other. They had, as I said, been at war, and both sides had killed the young men and women of the other side. They had bombed each other and condemned each other with published statements. But they came - Menachem Begin from Israel and Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt. The men were quite different. Shortly before I went to Camp David, I went on vacation, and I had two enormous books prepared for me by psychiatrists and psychologists and historians analyzing psychologically Begin and Sadat. So, I memorized those books before we got to Camp David and learned the difference between the two men and what they had in common, so when I got to Camp David, I knew how to deal with them as best I could learn in advance. Anwar Sadat considered himself to be my personal friend, and he maybe trusted me too much. Menachem Begin was suspicious of me, and he didn't trust me enough. That was a difference them, basically, when we got to Camp David. All the Egyptians thought Sadat was too easy in making concessions and compromises. And all of the Israeli delegation - about 50 on each side - thought Begin was too stingy or too reluctant to make concessions for peace. And because the two men were so different, I was able eventually to kind of interweave them so they worked out eventual compromises and success. I tried to have the two men negotiate with me personally for three days in a little room in my cabin. They were so incompatible that we couldn't make any progress, so for the last 10 days we were at Camp David, I never let them see each other. So, I went back and forth to Begin and negotiated. I'd go to Sadat and negotiate. They would go to sleep. I would have to continue to keep on working, and we did this for 10 days and eventually worked out an agreement that led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt 30 years ago, not a single word of which has ever been violated. We still have a way to go between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria and Lebanon, but I hope that will come under President Obama.

Female Speaker 2: And we had heard about your one sheet method, actually, and we were wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

President Carter: Yeah. Really, it wasn't a sheet. It's a one document method. Other negotiators or mediators have had an inclination to tell one side one thing and to tell the other side something different in order to try to get them somehow to come together. I decided when I became a mediator that I would just have one document, one text. And what I would do, in the case of Camp David and other negotiations, is to try to understand in advance both sides and try to draft myself on my own computer, or back in those days on a tablet of paper, what I thought was a fair agreement. Then, I would take that same paper to Sadat, and he would look it over and say, "I can't agree to this. I can agree to that." Then, I would take the same document exactly to Begin and say, "Sadat agrees with this. He doesn't agree with that." And then as they agreed, then I would improve the document to include fewer and fewer disagreements as we agreed on a few things, and so I've done that. But I convinced both sides in every case of mediation that I was telling both sides exactly the same thing, so they could trust not only me, but trust the other side as well. And we would narrow down the disagreements until the final day, when hopefully in most cases, a complete agreement on every issue would be reached. That's not always possible. It was at Camp David, but I've had other efforts when it wasn't quite possible to reach agreement at that time. Sometimes, we went back again and tried and had success. Sometimes, we were not able to prevent, unfortunately, a war.

Announcer: Be sure to tune in every Wednesday in September for more of our interview with President Carter. To learn more about the Carter Center and its mission of waging peace, fighting disease and building hope, visit And as always, for more on this and thousands of other topics, visit

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Topics in this Podcast: U.S. history, American history, Egyptian history, interviews, President Jimmy Carter, U.S. presidents, Israeli history