Gerdes, Daniel L. The Possibility of Peace: Israeli Public Opinion and the Camp David Accords, Hamline University Departmental Honors Projects, 2015.
Advisor: Nurith Zmora
The Camp David Accords, September 5-17, 1978, were a momentous development in Middle East relations. For over 30 years Israel and her neighbors weathered periods of warfare and aggression, but when leaders from Egypt, Israel, and the United States descended on Camp David in the United States for two weeks of peace negotiations everything changed. Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin became the first leaders in the Middle East to negotiate peace after decades of war between the two countries. This research discerns the changes in Israeli public opinion on the peace process with Egypt that occurred between the 1973 Yom Kippur War (the last major conflict between Egypt and Israel), and the 1978 Camp David Accords. Understanding these changes helps bring to light new aspects of the peace process that have not received as much scholarly attention in the past—in particular, the changing discussion within Israeli society. This research examines the public debate in Israel prior to the accords, and specifically the role of the press in disseminating commonly held political beliefs of the general Israeli public. This project centers on analyzing articles from four major Israeli newspapers which represent different audiences in Israeli society to shed light on the changing perspectives held by Israelis from 1973 to 1978. Five major events were identified for this period: the 1973 war, the military disengagement after the war, the visit of Sadat to Jerusalem, before the Camp David conference, and after the Camp David Conference. Articles were selected from the various newspapers reflecting public opinion about each event. Each article was analyzed with special attention paid to changes in arguments, opinions, and messages over time from various political perspectives in Israel. Scholars claimed that Sadat’s famous 1977 visit to Jerusalem was the defining moment in the change of public opinion on peace with Egypt; however, my research shows a gradual shift in public opinion toward peace starting after the 1973 war. These changes in discourse about peace can enhance understanding of the effects of public discourse on foreign policy and peace negotiations in the Middle East; they could also help explain the tremendous difficulty in achieving lasting peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors.