With the possible exception of Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to organize the League of Na­tions, the most audacious diplomatic initiative of the 20th century was Jimmy Carter’s gathering of Egyptian and Israeli leaders at Camp David in September 1978.

Each of the three heads of state—Carter, Menachem Begin of Israel, and Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt—had much at stake. For Begin, whose parents perished in the Holocaust and who saw himself as protector of his people, the security of Israel was paramount, but he did not want to be seen as an impediment to peace. Sadat’s bold gesture of visiting Jerusalem in 1977 would be meaningless if it did not issue in some sort of agreement between Israel and Egypt, one that returned the Sinai to Egyptian control.

Carter too had a lot to lose. Beset by a sour economy and crushing interest rates, his presidency was foundering; already by spring 1978 more Americans disapproved than approved of his job performance. Members of Carter’s own party were restive as they headed into the midterm elections.