Symphonie Pastorale: Camp David, the presidential retreat, has all the amenities of a summer camp, a winter lodge, and a White House situation room. (Richard Nixon Library)
Camp David. You hear about it frequently enough. But what is it exactly, and where is it? For anyone trying to understand the geopolitics of the Middle East, Camp David is an indispensable place on the map. Even though it's a few thousand miles to the West, in Maryland.
Camp David is the name of the White House's presidential retreat. Officially called the Naval Support Facility Thurmont, it was nicknamed Shangri La by Franklin Roosevelt (after the mountain retreat in the James Hamilton novel, Lost Horizons) then named Camp David by President Eisenhower, in honor of his grandson. The facility was built in 1935 as a Works Project Administration demonstration of land reclamation, transforming an agricultural expanse into a park.
Camp David is located 65 miles north-northwest of Washington, D.C., in at the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland, near the Pennsylvania state line. It's isolated, quiet, rustic and, in places, cheesy, its cabins going by summer-camp names such as Birch, Aspen and Holly, and their interiors resembling "early Holiday Inn," in the words of Jackie Kennedy.
The sense of seclusion and, when necessary, connectedness, makes Camp David an ideal working retreat for presidents. It was there that the first George Bush heard plans for the first Gulf War. It was there that the second George Bush devised the strategy of his so-called "war on terror."
It was also at Camp David that President Carter summoned Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Israel's Menahem Begin in 1978 for the camp's most famous, 12-day negotiating session. The summit resulted in the Camp David Accords that led to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
President Clinton tried to repeat the feat in the waning days of his presidency in 2000, summoning the PLO's Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack to Camp David to reach a final settlement agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The gambit failed.
- History of the 1978 Camp David Accords
- Full Text of the 1978 Camp David Accords
- From Gettysburg to Camp David: 30 Years of Egyptian-Israeli Peace
- Jimmy Carter's Greatest Success