JERUSALEM (Nov. 21)
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt made it clear in his parting words here this morning that he expects “hard and drastic decisions” from Israel to further the peace process which he hoped his historic visit to the Jewish State has set in motion.
Addressing a joint press conference with Premier Menachem Begin shortly before his departure for Cairo, the Egyptian leader declared, “There is a great need for hard and drastic decisions. I have taken my share in my decision to come here. . . .And I shall be looking forward too those decisions from Premier Begin and the Knesset.”
Earlier, at an informal meeting with Knesset members of all factions, Sadat proclaimed that the Yom Kippur war of 1973 should be the last war fought between Egypt and Israel and that both nations would collaborate to settle all future disputes by peaceful negotiations.
To most observers here, the juxtaposition of those statements by Sadat summed up both the substance and purpose of his momentous 44-hour visit to Israel. In making the trip, Sadat broke through the psychological barrier of 30 years and swept aside Israel’s arguments and possibly its fears that Egypt at best was not prepared to acquiesce to the existence of a Jewish State in the Middle East. In return, he is demanding far-reaching concessions from Israel on territorial issues and Palestinian aspirations.
Begin carefully avoided those sensitive matters in his response to Sadat’s Knesset speech yesterday and his subsequent public appearances with the Egyptian President. But he gave no indication that any concessions by Israel were forthcoming. The Israeli leader stressed instead that the Sadat visit would mark the opening of a continuing dialogue that would eventually achieve an overall peace settlement between Israel and all of its neighbors.
The Israeli Premier chose to stress the most positive aspects of the visit. According to Begin, the great “achievement of this momentous visit” was Sadat’s statement that the 1973 war was the last between their countries, that there would be “no more war, bloodshed, attacks,” that Israel and Egypt would “collaborate to avoid them. . . .”This was “a great achievement for our region and for the whole world,” Begin declared.
JOINT STATEMENT ISSUED
A statement agreed on by the two leaders was read by Begin at the opening of today’s press conference. He said:
“In response to the sincere and courageous move by President Sadat, and believing in the need to continue the dialogue prepared and proposed by both sides during their exchange…and in order to enhance the prospects of fruitful consummation of this significant visit, the government of Israel, expressing the will of the people of Israel, proposes that this hopeful step be further pursued through dialogue between the two parties concerned, thereby paving the way towards successful negotiations leading to the signing of peace treaties in Geneva with all the neighboring Arab states.”
Begin asserted that “continuation is the key word” in summing up the success of the Sadat visit. Neither he nor Sadat indicated what modalities would now be pursued to further the dialogue that has been agreed upon. But both stated, in a joint interview last night with ABC-TV correspondent Barbara Walters, that they would instruct their envoys at the United Nations and elsewhere to maintain contacts.
TWO JARRING NOTES
There were two jarring notes. One was Sadat’s failure to extend an immediate invitation to Begin to visit Cairo and address the Egyptian Parliament. The other was his refusal to state, in reply to a reporter’s question, that his assertion that 1973 saw the last Egyptian-Israeli war “cancelled out” his many declarations in the past that Egypt would resort to the war option if diplomacy failed.
In his reply to the question, the Egyptian leader said: “I have said after my visit here and during the preparations for Geneva…I was deeply touched by the Israeli children and the warm welcome they gave me….It is the same in Egypt. My people are 100 percent behind me. They don’t want any war….But I have said, and I warn this: withdrawal (by Israel) is not a subject to be put on the negotiating table as a principle, except for details. Mr. Begin differed with me on this and saw this as a precondition.”
Sadat told the hundreds of reporters at the press conference in the Jerusalem Theater and the hundreds more monitoring it on television screens outside that Begin had “the full right now to come and address our parliament” as he had addressed the Knesset. But “for certain reasons” they had resolved “to postpone this issue for the future.” Begin said, “I do understand the reasons why at this stage such an invitation was not issued.” But neither he nor Sadat would state the reasons.
Begin stressed that he now had the “right” to come to Cairo and noted that it was merely “the exercise of that right” which was being postponed. Sadat indicated, in reply to questions, the Israeli journalists would be welcome to accompany Begin whenever he visits Egypt, though not before. Some observers believe that Sadat does not want to provide Begin with an opportunity to counter his move by a visit to Cairo until some substantive response to his own visit is forthcoming from Israel.
SADAT SCORES USSR
Sadat had harsh words for his one-time Soviet allies. “Whatever I do is not to their liking,” he said in reference to Moscow’s criticism of his trip to Israel. He said he feared the same attitude would be adopted by the Soviets at Geneva. Observers seized that remark as an important clue to the motive behind Sadat’s initiative–that it was an effort
Questioned about the hostility in the Arab world toward his visit, Sadat said he would “not be answering my attackers…. I shall be reporting to the Egyptian people.” He recalled that the criticism he faced after signing the two Sinai interim agreements with Israel in 1975 had been “much more vehement” and lasted for an entire year. His implication was that the current attacks would fade away with time.
Sadat reiterated his call for a Palestinian state which he stressed is “very important” and for total Israeli withdrawal. “Our land is sacred,” he declared. But, as in his Knesset speech, he refrained from mentioning the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying only that it was up to “the Palestinians” to decide their own future. Summing up, Sadat said he was “optimistic.” He told the reporters, “I am sure of the fact that the process started by my visit here will enable us to solve all the problems.”
Begin, in his summation, stressed that a visit by the head of a state still formally at war with Israel was unprecedented. “The visit was a real success for both countries and for the cause of peace,” he said. “We are both believers….Let us pray that God give us wisdom to continue in our efforts to bring real peace to our nations.”
REACTIONS TO BEGIN AND SADAT
Immediate reaction here to Sadat’s visit and his and Begin’s speeches to the Knesset was mixed. Many newsmen and a number of Knesset members expressed disappointment that both leaders were not more forthcoming in their addresses that were watched and heard by many millions all over the world. On the other hand, it was argued, neither Sadat nor Begin could have been expected to renounce long held convictions within the span of two hours in the Knesset.
Former Premier Yitzhak Rabin said he accepted fully Sadat’s assertion that there will be no more war but added he would not suggest that Israel should hold off buying even one plane less, or one tank less because there are too many factors in the Mideast complicating the road to peace.
Dr. Amnon Rubinstein, a member of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) Knesset faction, observed that “public speeches do not make a policy.” He said that “Sadat was perhaps more extreme in his speech than I expected, but that may be related to the fact that his Arab brethren were listening closely to his speech. These speeches were programmatic speeches, made specifically for public relations. If these are the final positions of the two parties then this is really bad. But I don’t believe that these are final positions.”
Arye Eliav, leader of the left-leaning Sheli faction, said the main contribution of Sadat’s speech was the fact that it was given in the Knesse in Jerusalem. “Finally, it is obvious that there is a partner for negotiations despite the traditional Israeli argument that there is nobody to talk with in the Arab world,” Eliav said.
But Likud MK Moshe Shamir called Sadat’s speech disappointing because it repeated the Arab hard line. Communist MK Meir Wilner called Begin’s speech a “great disappointment.” Meir Amit of the DMC who is Minister of Transport in the coalition government withheld judgment. “This is a new stage. As to its effects, we shall see,” he said.
A considerable number of Knesset members of all factions expressed disappointment with both the content and delivery of Begin’s response to Sadat. They said the Premier offered no message to counter the dramatic impact of the Egyptian leader’s message and that he performed disjointedly and not forcefully, well below his best rhetorical style. Begin simply did not “come across,” several MKs said. They felt a great opportunity was lost while hundreds of millions of people watched.