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Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp (2014)

av Lawrence Wright

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233384,874 (4.24)3
With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright takes us through each of the thirteen days of the Camp David conference, delving deeply into the issues and enmities between the two nations, explaining the relevant background to the conflict and to all the major participants at the conference, from the three heads of state to their mostly well-known seconds working furiously behind the scenes.… (mer)

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I listened to Thirteen Days as an unabridged audiobook this last week and will share my thoughts about it. I am old enough to remember the Camp David Summit from the news and the excitement that peace in the Middle East would bring. It was reported to be the biggest peace treaty since World War II. I also remember it was very much about religion as it was about nations.

Interestingly religion was a much bigger concern for the Israelis than it was for the Egyptians. Begin used the old testament as part of his justification, going as far as calling occupied areas by their Biblical name. Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Boutros-Ghali was (and is) a Christian who was married to a Jewish woman. Osama el-Baz had a Jewish girlfriend at the time and asked if a member of the Israeli team could bring a menorah from Israel for his girlfriend.

Sadat wanted peace. In 1977, he made a speech saying he would go to Israel. Begin then issued an invitation, not expecting Sadat to accept. Sadat did accept and addressed the Israeli Knesset. He was the first Arab leader to visit the state of Israel and in a sense the first Arab leader to accept Israel’s existence. This is where the peace process begins: Egypt, the leader of the Arab world, meeting with the Israeli government. Sadat was not altruistic in his actions. He wanted a legacy of greatness and peace with Israel might be the key to greatness.

Each chapter of the book covers a day of the conference and gives a biography of one of the participants. This was the surprising part of the book for me. I knew Carter’s biography, but Moshe Dayan’s impressed me and perhaps did the most to change the opinion I had of him in a positive way. Begin’s biography was just the opposite. He was a man who had more in common with terrorists than any other member at the conference. His semiautobiographical book The Revolt written about the struggle against the British Mandate has been found in Al Qaeda camps. Begin attacked civilian targets and was the first to use simultaneous attacks as a regular tactic. His policies influenced modern terrorists. Begin, however, claimed not to be a terrorist but the opposite of terrorist, but it’s hard to call someone a freedom fighter when they target civilians. Begin played with words. He was a very intelligent person and bickered about nearly every word in the treaty at Camp David much to the ire of everyone present.

Sadat was willing to bend. Begin was not. Sadat saw the summit as a positive and Begen saw it as a trap. Sadat knew that being willing to compromise, even if no treaty would come forth, would win the goodwill of the United States. Egypt recently shocked the world when it broke away from the Soviet camp. Sadat was looking for better relations with the United States and he would get it, treaty or not. Begin, however, could quickly bring out the anger in Carter, which seemed liked a difficult task considering Carter’s reputation.

An interesting aspect of the summit was the Palestinian question. There was no Palestinian representation. Egypt was overcome with other difficulties during the thirteen days and was not an able representative of the cause. Israel did what it could to avoid the Palestinian issue. If this issue could have been properly addressed at the summit the Middle East would be different today. Since the treaty, there have been no more wars between Israel and Egypt or other nations of the Middle East. The problems have been between the stateless Palestinian groups and Israel. If peace or a responsible solution for the Palestinians could have been found the Middle East would be much different. That may have been too much to ask. Begin did not want to discuss the issue and Sadat was in enough trouble with other Middle East countries as well as with his own people. Mohammed Kamel, Sadat’s Foreign Minister, resigned during Camp David. Egypt was shunned by the Arab League until 1989 and two years later, Sadat was killed by members of his own military.

The Camp David Summit is well known for bringing Israel and Egypt together and negotiating peace between the two countries. It also helped establish Israel as a nation in the eyes of the Middle East. For the leader of the Arab world to meet with and sign a treaty with the enemy of the Arabs, did much to establish the legitimacy of Israel in the region.


Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David gives a very detailed look in the Camp David Summit and the major players in the summit. As mentioned above, I listened to the audio version read by Mark Bramhall. The reading was very good and Bramhall used a different voice for Carter, Sadat, and Begin. I did have difficulty distinguishing between Bramhall’s version of Carter’s Southern drawl and Begin’s accented English in the reading. A first class educational experience.







( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
”It is striking that, in a region as intimate as the Middle East, cultural ignorance and political miscalculation have played such perverse roles. By attacking the new country of Israel in 1948, the Arabs lost the chance to create an entity for Palestine. Through its policy of expulsion of the native population, Israel destabilized its neighbors and created a reservoir of future terrorists that was continually refreshed by new wars and population transfers.”
In surely what is the most intimately detailed report of the Carter Camp David Accords collected for public consumption, Lawrence Wright gives us a look at the men who came to that place in 1978 to wage peace. Chapter headings mark the thirteen days of talks, and within each day we are treated to the increasingly stuffy and claustrophobic internal debates which contrasted with the comfortable and laid-back atmosphere of the country playground.

As the chapters unfold, so do brief histories and biographies of the men who played a role: Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan; Israeli Minister of Defence Ezer Weizman; Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the minority coalition Likud, Menachem Begin; Egypt’s deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Tohamy; Egypt’s new Foreign Minister Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel; Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski; U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance; American first-term President Jimmy Carter.

The men are merely men, with all the ticks, scars, and faults of men. What is so breathtaking is that the lives of so many depended on these men acting like statesmen. By meeting at Camp David, all three men were taking huge political risks for their own lives and careers. One might argue that the risks never left the personal realm. None of them really took risks with the nations they represented. Carter continued to financially and politically support both countries, Begin never changed his determination to settle confiscated lands, and Egypt simply withdrew support for Palestinians it had previously protected.

Wright concentrates his focus on the Israeli and Egyptian delegations. We get a look at Jimmy and Roslyn Carter, their background and rise to prominence in Washington, and Jimmy Carter’s team of advisors, but we get a more detailed look at what was happening in the other camps as talks progressed through two weeks in September. We learn, too, of the wars fought in the name of ‘legitimate rights,’ which brought these men to Camp David.

There was a dangling thread that did not get resolved at Camp David, though two of the three parties believed it had been resolved. In the months after the agreement was signed, that dangling thread became part of the noose which helped to hang the careers of Carter and Sadat: Menachem Begin claimed he had not agreed to a settlement freeze while discussions with Palestinians continued but only for three months. Without the side letter that Carter and Sadat believed Begin had promised to produce, the concession was moot and not part of the original accord.

Begin returned to Israel triumphant, only to lose his closest advisors to resignations for his continued unwillingness to honor the spirit of the agreement he’d signed. Sadat was murdered by his own people three years later. Carter, having spent so much time on the effort of achieving the peace, had neglected his other duties and lost much support among his party and his electorate.

This was a time in Israeli-Arab relations when any observer could not be blamed for feeling despair. The Israelis were gloating and acting invincible with America’s money and support. The Palestinians were further marginalized and weakened by their loss of Egyptian backing and lack of good leadership. The conditions spelled out in the agreement continue to hold, but there is little sense of jubilation now.

This book must have been a difficult one to research and write, which only manages to shine a light on Wright’s achievement. He captures the ups and downs of high-stakes negotiation and gives us a feel for the real work involved in the process. There is little exhilaration here. Mostly there was just terror and relief.

In a final note, Wright tells the story of one of Begin’s closest advisors, Ezer Weizman, who was known to be a raging hawk in when it came to protecting Israel with military. One day his son was shot between the eyes in an engagement. At that point Weizman began to see the futility of war. Man seems determined to learn this lesson again and again, and not soon enough.



( )
  bowedbookshelf | Feb 3, 2015 |
Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David is a really well written and exciting account of the thirteen days these three leaders spent at Camp David hammering out one of the most significant agreements in human history – the Camp David Accords. The description of the personalities of the three men was the most fascinating part of the story, most particularly how their backgrounds motivated them and informed the way the approached these negotiations. It really brought into relief how damaging an adherence to dogmatic religious belief can be, but also how an enlightened religious outlook can bring about great change.

Begin, the most truculent of the three, and the most dogmatically religious, on several occasions, threatened to scuttle negotiations over what most would be consider relatively minor points, but which for him were a point of religious pride. Carter, used his religion as a way to give him strength during the negotiations which nearly broke down virtually every day, and which only succeeded due to the force of his intellect and persistence. Sadat viewed himself as a man of destiny who had been born for this moment. It was this conviction that kept him from walking out of negotiations with Begin who he had grown to despise.

The author expertly weaves the biographies of the three men, along with other major players throughout the narrative. It is through these biographies that one comes to understand the intractability of the problems plaguing the middle east. That Carter was able to pull this off was nearly miraculous, and I think underrated now as an example of Presidential leadership.

I actually don’t want to get into too much detail here because though the outcome is well known, how they got there is fascinating and reads like a thriller in Wright’s capable hands – so I will leave it there. Highly Recommended!!! ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
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Late one night in a rustic lodge on the edge of Jackson Lake, in the Grand Teton National Park, Jimmy Carter took a break from his vacation to open a thick briefing book compiled for him by the Central Intelligence Agency.
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With his hallmark insight into the forces at play in the Middle East and his acclaimed journalistic skill, Lawrence Wright takes us through each of the thirteen days of the Camp David conference, delving deeply into the issues and enmities between the two nations, explaining the relevant background to the conflict and to all the major participants at the conference, from the three heads of state to their mostly well-known seconds working furiously behind the scenes.

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