Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright likes to be at the cross-section of religion and culture. He has written about al-Qaida, Scientology and now, what happened behind-the-scenes at the Camp David Accords in 1978. His book, Thirteen Days in September, takes a look at what Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin wanted to gain—and what they had to lose.
Wright tells Fresh Air today that both Sadat and Begin came close to walking out and how President Carter reacted:
"Implicitly, [Carter] was threatening war because he was saying that if there’s another war, [the U.S.] is going to be on Israel’s side and Egypt will be alone and friendless in the world. It was a very sobering moment. Carter told me that he had never been angrier in his entire life. It was clear that he made a real impression on Sadat. Sadat had already ordered the helicopter; he had packed his clothes; he was out of there. He was worried that he was going to be asked to give up too much at Camp David and he wouldn’t be able to justify it when he got home.
[Begin] didn’t really have a position. He didn’t want to agree to any of the terms that Carter was putting forward. Finally, he began to realize that he was going to have to agree with something in order to preserve the relationship with the United States. Carter told him that if he left Camp David, he was going to make sure that the American people knew who was to blame [for the collapse of the peace talks]. He was going to go to Congress; he was going to lay it on them.
One of [Carter’s] speechwriters was told to draw up a speech in which Carter was going to ask the Israeli people to overthrow their government, through a vote, but imagine! You can’t believe how that would be received in Israel or even the Congress of the United States. Things had gotten so personal at the point. Carter believed so strongly that peace was worth it, but he was about to blow everything to smithereens — if either of these men walked out, they were going to pay a price and he wanted to make sure they knew it.”