Event Details


Thursday, Apr 30, 2015




Bass Lecture Hall, LBJ 2.104

Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Thursday, Apr 30, 2015  |  5:30:00   |  Bass Lecture Hall, LBJ 2.104

On April 30, 2015, the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin welcomed Lawrence Wright for a book talk on Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David. In his talk, he discussed the biblical concept of the Promised Land, introduced the three main characters of his book, and concluded with lessons to be learned from these thirteen days in September. Wright also shared with the audience surprising anecdotes from his interactions with the Carter family during the book-writing process.

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Wright began his presentation with a discussion of the biblical concept of the Promised Land, which he argued is a key element in understanding conflicts in the Middle East. The notion of a “land” promised by God to “his people” is repeated several times in both Genesis and Exodus; this Promised Land had to be fought for, since the region had already been occupied. Interestingly, Wright noted, there are no historical records of the Israelites ever having been in Egypt during biblical times, nor is there archeological evidence of their walk and fight for such a Promised Land. The only remaining vestiges are those of the Egyptian occupation. According to Wright, the most likely explanation is that the Israelites were in fact Canaanites—genetically the same as Palestinians.

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The story of the first years of Israel is marked by constant war, especially against Egypt, which had rippling psychological effects. For Jews in the region, every war heightened fears of extermination from neighboring countries. Every victory, however, increased the hopes of Jews (and even some Christians) throughout the world that the prophecy of a Promised Land was true. In contrast, for Muslims in the region each defeat was a sign that God had turned against them because of their lack of piety. This belief, said Wright, partly explains the rise in religious extremism.

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In this context of persistent warfare, three main characters played a vital role in forging a treaty that surprisingly has not since been violated. On the one hand, one of the top priorities of American President Jimmy Carter’s administration was to bring peace to the Middle East, despite the advice of his closest supporters. On the other had, Egyptian Anwar Sadat had a similar goal in mind when he announced in front of the Egyptian Parliament that he was willing to go speak before the Israeli Knesset if that would help avoid the killing of more Egyptians. But it would be hard to convince Israel’s Menuhin Begin, whose mission had always been the expansion of Israel.

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From the thirteen days that these three figures spent at Camp David, Wright explained, there are three main lessons to be learned. The first one is that there are no perfect partners for peace. Despite the very different backgrounds of Carter, Sadat, and Begin, the three shared political courage that led them to the negotiating table against the advice of their supporters and constituents. For Wright, moreover, timing isn’t everything. When talks at Camp David took place, Carter was suffering political troubles and his advisors firmly opposed his participation in peace talks. Similarly, Sadat was practically alone in believing that peace with Israel could be achieved. The timing could not have been worse but, nevertheless, peace prevailed. The third lesson that today’s policy makers should keep in mind, concluded Wright, is the crucial role that the United States played to achieve a fair resolution. In this case, the U.S. used its leverage and the unwillingness of Israel and Egypt to harm their relationships with the U.S., to come up with an “American plan” that even today is used as a point of reference in peace talks between Israel and Palestine.

Lawrence Wright is an author, screenwriter, playwright, and a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is a graduate of Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the American University in Cairo, where he taught English and received an M.A. in Applied Linguistics in 1969. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1971, Wright began his writing career at the Race Relations Reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he went to work for Southern Voices, a publication of the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, Georgia, and began to freelance for various national magazines. In 1980, Wright returned to Texas to work for Texas Monthly. He also became a contributing editor to Rolling Stone. In December 1992, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, where he has published a number of prize-winning articles, including two National Magazine Awards.

Wright is the author of one novel, God's Favorite (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and eight nonfiction books, including City Children, Country Summer (Scribner's, 1979), In the New World: Growing Up with America, 1960-1984 (Knopf, 1988), Saints & Sinners (Knopf, 1993), Remembering Satan (Knopf, 1994), and Twins; Genes, Environment, and the Mystery of Identity (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf, 2006), was published to immediate and widespread acclaim, spending eight weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and being translated into twenty-five languages. It won the Lionel Gelber Award for Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Award for History, the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Time Magazine pronounced it one of the 100 best nonfiction books ever written. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Knopf, 2013), also a New York Times bestseller, was nominated for the National Book Award and won the Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. His most recent book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David, was published in the fall of 2014, and was named by Publisher's Weekly as one of the top ten books of the year.

Wright is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He also serves as the keyboard player in the Austin-based blues band, WhoDo.

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