The Play’s the Thing

Menachem Begin, President Carter and Anwar Sadat

This past weekend, I had a chance to see Lawrence Wright’s play at Arena Stage about the Camp David peace summit of September 1978. As a refugee from the other Camp David summit, in July 2000 (the one that didn’t work), my expectations going in were pretty low.
Camp David is an uplifting and heroic tale. But it should not be turned into an exercise in sentimentality, let alone a poster child for today’s Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking or a prescription for Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts. The 1978 summit succeeded not because of particular processes that can be replicated, but because the right people were in the right place at the right time. None of this exists today. There’s no Begin, no Sadat, and no Carter, and I wonder sincerely whether the terms of a doable deal could ever be reached. (The announcement of a unity government between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization on Wednesday doesn’t seem to have helped anything.)

Therein lies both the triumph of the first Camp David summit — and Wright’s play — and the tragedy of current peacemaking efforts.