One of the biggest recent news stories is Trump’s cancellation of a surprise summit with Taliban leaders and the Afghanistan president at Camp David. I am no longer surprised at the criticism towards the President, but I was shocked this time at the nature of the criticism. I assumed the disapproval would come from canceling a meeting that had potential to end the conflict, but instead he was chastised for agreeing to hold the meeting in the first place, especially at Camp David. Congresswomen Liz Cheney tweeted that no member of the Taliban should ever set foot at Camp David and she is a Republican. As always, I am not here to comment on the president’s foreign policy decisions, but historically speaking Camp David has always been used for meetings such as this, especially when dealing with Middle Eastern Issues.
After years of war and conflict between Israel and the Arab nations, Egypt and Syria both launched an attack against Israel in 1973 which became known as the Yom Kippur War. Caught by surprise, the Israelis were initially pushed back. Eventually they called up reinforcements and turned the tide back in their favor and won the war.
Not able to defeat Israel militarily, the Arab nations of OPEC went with plan B and used the war to justify driving up oil prices. They also refused to sell oil to the U.S. until Israel pulled out of new lands and recognized Palestinian rights. Henry Kissinger began flying to the Middle East to broker a peace but found it difficult to get the sides to meet. Israel did not want to give up land and Arabs nations did not want the Palestinians thinking they were forgotten.
To solve the crisis, President Jimmy Carter invited Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to a two-week secret meeting at Camp David. The three men worked towards a peace that saw the passage of the Camp David Accords, in which Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula as well as from Gaza and the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank were allowed to self-govern, setting up a possible separate Palestinian state and a recognition of Israel’s right to exist by Egypt. Though Sadat won a Nobel Peace Prize, the rest of the Arab nations, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yasser Arafat, denounced the Accords. The peace plan was partly responsible for Sadat’s assassination.
Jump forward several years. After the first Gulf War, relations between Israel and the Palestinians were still non-existent. H.W. Bush tried to bring both sides together, but Israel refused to talk directly with Arafat and the PLO. Arafat was a Palestinian who grew up in both Israel and Egypt. He first made a name for himself smuggling in arms to the Palestinians to use against the Israelis. In 1958 Arafat founded Al Fatah, a militant freedom fighting organization to some, a terrorist organization to others. Al Fatah has been responsible for many terrorists strikes in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon, though they saw themselves as revolutionaries defending their people. In 1964 Al Fatah took over control of the PLO, which is an umbrella organization for many different Palestinian liberation groups and Arafat became the chairman. It is understandable why Israelis refused to meet with the PLO who they saw as terrorists.
However, in 1993 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat secretly met in Oslo. They surprised everyone when they announced they had reached an agreement known as the Oslo Accords. Then in 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Arafat, and President Bill Clinton met at Camp David to work out a further peace. Nothing came from the meeting, but it was seen as a minor success in that they were at least talking.
For us today it is difficult to compare Arafat to the Taliban leadership. By the time he died, he was celebrated by some, but for years he was seen as a leading terrorist. To Israel, and even some Jordanians and Lebanese, he was always seen as a terrorist. To America, the Taliban is a serious terrorist threat.
I am not saying whether or not Trump should have invited the Taliban to Camp David. Each can judge that. What I am saying is that historically Speaking bringing together different sides, even if those sides are responsible for violence, is not a new concept at Camp David. Presidents Carter and Clinton are celebrated for doing much the same thing as a way of creating peace in the Middle East. Today we are in such a rush to criticize that we don’t always think first. Maybe before our leaders go on the attack, they should study their history first.
Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at http://www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.