Day 8 exemplifies how time impacts negotiations and what overconfidence bias looks like in real time.

Carter believed that if he just had Sadat and Begin to Camp David for 3-4 days, they would work out all of the conflict that has plagued the Middle East since at least the days of Moses.


All he had to do was get them together, and they would talk it out: nothing naïve about that.

Error #1: Poor planning about the duration of the talks.

Error #2: No contingency plan (i.e., what if “just getting them together” did not work?).

Another way of saying that is: no exit strategy, which may sound like Sartre to some, but there it is.

Error #3: None of the parties set a time boundary before the talks began. They should have agreed ahead of time how much time they were going to devote to this.

Error #4: Carter’s overconfidence caused him to set too ambitious a goal for the talks: peace in the Middle East.

Carter may have gone to bed optimistic after Day 7, but he woke up on Day 8 with the harsh reality that he was running on fumes: nothing he had tried had worked, he had burned a week, he was losing the parties, his own political schedule was beginning to scream at him, and he had run out of tricks.

Error #5: You cannot engineer emotions.

Carter believed that he could reason his way through an emotional mine field.

Carter was a Navy man and an engineer; top-down power structure guy with a purely linear, analytical, left-brained approach to problem solving.

This background did not serve him well as a negotiator.

Fortunately, Carter was relatively intuitive and, like most successful politicians, he had a feel for what moved people, but, so far, in these negotiations he had not appreciated the emotional factors.

Lesson: If you want to reach an agreement, you must not ignore the emotions driving the dispute.

Sadat and Begin are both ready to leave.

All Jimmy can do is stall.

Time, as a factor that influences the negotiations, flexes its muscle in another way: people are now stressed and short-tempered.

If I had been Jimmy, I would have attempted to get Begin and Sadat to agree to a series of shorter meetings, rather than this marathon.

Jimmy is especially frayed.

The two teams have down time.

Jimmy has been on full time for days at a time.

He is also feeling the political pressure of not being on the trail two months prior to midterm elections – another example of poor planning.

On his morning bike ride, Carter witnesses Sadat and his team in a heated argument.

Lesson: Probably best to deal with internal conflict privately, resolve it and, then, let the team leader represent the group.

It is also apparent at this point that Carter was too close to Sadat, affecting his objectivity.

Engaging Sadat, Carter, proving his resourcefulness, made a couple of very smart moves.

First, he had Sadat sit down by the swimming pool.

Lesson: There is something about water!

Instead of arguing over phrases, Carter had Sadat visualize how Egypt would be if the summit were actually reached, and there was a peace accord in the Middle East.

Lesson: Visualizing peace can be a useful technique.

On the other hand, people in a dispute, especially in high conflict cases, get tunnel vision.

They become so obsessed with the minutiae of the dispute, that they not only lose sight of the big picture, they also lose sight of the consequences – the consequences of not only continuing the conflict but also the consequences of peace as well.

While Carter is schmoozing Sadat, Begin is making plans to leave.

Weizman and Dayan know that, if they do, Carter will appear a failure, which will damage his presidency, and likely to damage Israel’s relationship with the US.

Another consequence of Israel’s leaving is that Sadat will remain.

Lesson: As every young lawyer learns, never leave the courtroom and leave your opponent behind.

Dayan is also ready to bolt.

Vance rushes to the Israeli cabin and pleads for patience.

Dayan suggests some agreement on minor issues so that it will appear that this exercise was not a complete waste of time.

Vance rejects that approach.

Carter spends all of thirty minutes drafting a framework for resolving the issues in the Sinai.

Basically, it said, “We agree to negotiate. If we agree, there will be peace.”

“In order to achieve peace between them, Israel and Egypt agree to negotiate in good faith with a goal of concluding within three months of signing this framework a peace treaty between them.”

You’re kidding me, right?

Carter presents this to Sadat and, for the most part, he buys it.

After all, his primary interest is to improve relations with the US.

Carter, still trying to buy time, does not present this proposal to Israel, but teases them by telling them that he will give it to them the next day.

He then finally learns what every experienced mediator learns sooner or later:

Lesson: When you are negotiating between two teams, or among multiple teams, you will probably do better by culling out representatives; negotiating between two people is almost always easier than two teams.

At 8:00 p.m. Begin met with Carter and rejected everything the US had proposed and spent some time telling Carter he was going home.

Carter, resorting back to logic, tries to persuade Begin to stay by stating that opinion polls in Israel show that a majority of Israelis want peace.

For better or for worse, Carter delivers this message with a hefty dose of anger and righteous indignation.

While Begin let Carter know that Jerusalem was non-negotiable, the primary battleground is clearly the Sinai.

As the situation is blowing up between Begin and Carter, Begin does what even the best negotiators do when under stress: they leak.

Begin enigmatically tells Carter that Israel does not want any territory in the Sinai or the West Bank “for the first five years.”

What did that mean?