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Arts & Culture

'Camp David' Play Goes Behind The Scenes Of Historic Peace Negotiations

Anwar Sadat (Khaled El Nabawy) and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (Hallie Foote) have a quiet moment in between peace negotiations in the new play "Camp David."
The Old Globe
Anwar Sadat (Khaled El Nabawy) and First Lady Rosalyn Carter (Hallie Foote) have a quiet moment in between peace negotiations in the new play "Camp David."
'Camp David' Play Goes Behind The Scenes Of Mid-East Negotiations
Playwright Lawrence Wright On 'Camp David'
GUESTS: Lawrence Wright, playwright, "Camp David" Beth Accomando, arts reporter, KPBS

The Camp David Accords were signed almost four decades ago and many people may not remember the 13 days of intense negotiations that led up to that famous peace treaty. The Old Globe's production of the new play "Camp David" provides a behind the scenes look at those negotiations.

New Play 'Camp David' Revisits Historical Peace Negotiations
The Camp David Accords were signed almost four decades ago and many people may not remember the 13 days of intense negotiations that led up to that famous peace treaty. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says the new Globe production of the play "Camp David" provides a behind the scenes look at those negotiations.

ANCHOR INTRO: The Camp David Accords were signed almost 4 decades ago and many people may not remember the 13 days of intense negotiations that led up to that famous peace treaty. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says the new Globe production of the play Camp David provides a behind the scenes look at those negotiations.   Sometimes making history is not enough, which is why Jimmy Carter’s former media advisor and communications director Jerry Rafshoon wanted to produce a play about Camp David. JERRY RAFSHOON Because it’s dramatic and it’s accessible, and people will get the essence of what went on. What was going was that President Carter was unpopular, inflation was out of control, and the Middle East was on fire. So in the fall of 1978, Carter brought together Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin to hammer out a Middle East peace treaty at Camp David. JERRY RAFSHOON It was a regular rollercoaster. One day we had a deal, the next day it fell through. One day Begin was mad and walked away, then Sadat was mad, and the glue was Jimmy Carter trying to make peace. That’s the drama Lawrence Wright wanted to capture in the play Camp David. LAWRENCE WRIGHT Carter was deeply unpopular. And then you have Anwar Sadat that we look at as a kind of noble visionary but in his youth he was an assassin in the army, and then you have Menachem Begin who had been a terrorist leader. This is the cast of characters who made peace after four wars in 30 years? CLIP You know nthing of our problem… What was I thinking bringing an Arab and a Jew together to make peace. LAWRENCE WRIGHT The message of the play is that there’s one quality that’s required to make peace and that’s political courage. And that’s what these men had. But that’s an easier story to tell through a play than through news reports. Wright began his career as a journalist and admits there are some things you can accomplish with art that you cannot by merely reporting the news. LAWRENCE WRIGHT The thing about a play it’s so intimate. The audience is as far away from the actors as you are from me, they are right there, and the experience of watching people going through these agonizing deliberations, I think you can’t help but be there with them. There’s no distance. CLIP I laid a trap for myself didn’t I?... You were acting from your heart… In researching the play, Wright also found a character left out from most of the news coverage: First Lady Rosalyn Carter. LAWRENCE WRIGHT I had no idea how instrumental she was. She was the one who came up with the idea for Camp David. CLIP Rosalyn: You really want my advice? LAWRENCE WRIGHT What gets lost in the political discussion a lot of times is the humanity of the people that we are talking about. It’s one thing to discuss the Middle East or immigration or something like that it’s another to actually know people that are involved. For a lot of people that’s not possible but you can know them through the arts and you come to know what it’s like to be those people, and I think it’s a kind of information that’s essential to the dialogue. It’s also essential in preserving Carter’s legacy says Rafshoon. JERRY RAFSHOON The lesson today to leaders and political leaders don’t walk away from the tough things, if you walk away from the tough things or neglect them or do the things to keep you popular, you won’t have a legacy. Jimmy Carter will have a lasting legacy. There hasn’t been a war in the MIddle East since Carter left office. The accords brokered during those 13 days have held fast for nearly four decades says Wright. He hopes the story of how they were reached will inspire hope in some of the current political debates. LAWRENCE WRIGHT I think that the pessimism that one feels when looking at the Middle East is itself an enemy of peace. The idea that peace is not possible, not now, not with the cast of characters we have. If you look back at the people who made peace at Camp David and if you look back at the times it was just as difficult as what we see right now. CLIP There is no way to make peace.. LAWRENCE WRIGHT So the message of the play is that peace is possible. The play Camp David is a testament to Carter’s legacy and to the possibility of peace no matter who the cast of characters is. Beth Accomando, KPBS News. Camp David runs through June 19 at the Old Globe Theatre. And check out the new Cinema Junkie podcast on iTunes featuring the Egyptian actor playing Anwar Sadat.

Sometimes making history is not enough, which is why Jimmy Carter’s former media advisor and communications director Jerry Rafshoon wanted to produce a play about Camp David

He said, "Because it’s dramatic and it’s accessible, and people will get the essence of what went on."

What was going on was that President Carter was unpopular, inflation was out of control, and the Middle East was on fire. So in the fall of 1978, Carter brought together Egypt’s Prime Minister Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin to hammer out a Middle East peace treaty at Camp David.

"It was a regular roller-coaster," Rafshoon said. "One day we had a deal, the next day it fell through. One day Begin was mad and walked away, then Sadat was mad, and the glue holding it all together was Jimmy Carter trying to make peace."

That’s the drama Lawrence Wright wanted to capture in the play "Camp David."

"Carter was deeply unpopular," Wright recalled. "And then you have Anwar Sadat that we look at as a kind of noble visionary but in his youth he was an assassin in the army, and then you have Menachem Begin who had been a terrorist leader. This is the cast of characters who made peace? The message of the play is that there’s one quality that’s required to make peace and that’s political courage. And that’s what these men had."

But that’s an easier story to tell through a play than through news reports. Wright began his career as a journalist and admits there are some things you can accomplish with art that you cannot by merely reporting the news.

"The thing about a play, it’s so intimate," Wright said. "The audience is as far away from the actors as you are from me, they are right there, and the experience of watching people going through these agonizing deliberations, I think you can’t help but be there with them. There’s no distance."

In researching the play, Wright also found a character left out from most of the news coverage: First Lady Rosalyn Carter.

'Camp David' Program
Program for the West Coast premiere of the play "Camp David."
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

"I had no idea how instrumental she was. She was the one who came up with the idea for Camp David," Wright said. "What gets lost in the political discussion a lot of times is the humanity of the people that we are talking about. It’s one thing to discuss the Middle East or immigration or something like that, it’s another to actually know people that are involved. For a lot of people that’s not possible but you can know them through the arts and you come to know what it’s like to be those people, and I think it’s a kind of information that’s essential to the dialogue."

It’s also essential in preserving Carter’s legacy Rafshoon said: "The lesson today to leaders and political leaders — don’t walk away from the tough things, if you walk away from the tough things or neglect them or do the things to keep you popular, you won’t have a legacy. Jimmy Carter will have a lasting legacy. There hasn’t been a war in the MIddle East since Carter left office."

The accords brokered during those 13 days have held fast for nearly four decades. Wright hopes the story of how they were reached will inspire hope in some of the current political debates.

"I think that the pessimism that one feels when looking at the Middle East is itself an enemy of peace," Wright explained. "The idea that peace is not possible, not now, not with the cast of characters we have. If you look back at the people who made peace at Camp David and if you look back at the times it was just as difficult as what we see right now. So the message of the play is that peace is possible."

The play "Camp David" is a testament to Carter’s legacy and to the possibility of peace no matter who the cast of characters is.

"Camp David" runs through June 19 at the Old Globe Theatre.

Check out the new Cinema Junkie podcast featuring Egyptian film star Khaled El Nabawy who plays Anwar Sadat in the Old Globe production.