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A Night to Remember

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Last night was a night of nights to cap day of days at the White House. The solemn 45-minute Egyptian Israeli peace treaty signing in the afternoon on the north lawn was followed by a night-long state banquet under the red and yellow tent with a spillover in Blair House and champagne in the White House itself.

Egyptians, Israelis and Americans joined hands in friendship even as they knew that today would mark the beginning of an even more tortuous period in Israel’s struggle to achieve peace with all its Arab neighbors.

Thirteen hundred guests, at least a third of them Jewish, including members of the large Israeli and Egyptian delegations and leading U.S. government officials, came to the dinner and heard President Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin pledge friendship to one another and clasp hands together as television cameras flashed the scene around the world that would have been unbelievable even a few weeks ago.

Carter, who broke precedent by reciting grace before the dinner, spoke in his toast of "this joyous occasion" and foresaw "a new era ahead–an era, we hope, in which violence no longer dominates the Middle East, and the just concern of all of us can find peaceful expression."

But, he cautioned, "tonight we commemorate not an end but a beginning — for a treaty between Egypt and Israel is but the first step along the road. We hope that the Palestinians and others will soon join us in our efforts to make this treaty the cornerstone of a comprehensive peace." The President injected "the Palestinians" extemporaneously while reading from his prepared remarks.


The evening’s only tense moment occurred when Sadat, in his toast, asserted a position that he had omitted in his signing speech. Praising Carter for "having shown an unparalleled understanding of the Palestinian people, "the Egyptian leader added.

"He is sensitive to their legitimate call for the eradication of the injustice that was inflicted upon them in the unhappy past. We all realize their need to be reassured that they will be able soon to take the first step on the rood to self-determination and statehood. A dialogue with their representatives will be very helpful. It would also be consistent with American tradition. It is with this in mind that we proceed towards the completion of this sacred mission."


Applause broke out from the Egyptians and others in the audience. But Begin, last of the three to speak, did not challenge the "statehood assertion or engage in peace process polemics. Instead, cheerfully and smilingly, Begin nominated" limmy Carter as the candidate." Before he could continue, the crowd guessing rightly, began to applaud and Begin added, "I did not say a candidate for what–as a candidate to receive the Nobel Peace Prize of 1979."

When the ovation subsided, he evoked the evening’s loudest and most welcome laughter by adding, "and please, no sharing of the award." Begin and Sadat shared the 1978 peace prize. (Carter is one of the 50 candidates for this year’s Nobel Prize, it was announced today in Oslo. Jakob, Sverdrup, director of the Nobel Institute, explained that Carter was nominated last year for the prize, but after the Feb. I deadline for nominations. His name was automatically moved to the list of 1979 candidates.)

Begin continued his compliments. A moment later he was again being cheered when he finished speaking of "the great service rendered to Israel, Egypt and to the cause of peace, who did so much day and night, with his inventive mind and great learning, the husband of a perfect lady–I refer to Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance."

Sadat then returned to the microphone to say of himself and Begin that "we seldom come in conformity," but "I am in full conformity" with Begin’s nomination of Carter as "the man of peace for 1979." Carter responded that if the ### nine months of negotiation are completely harmonious" and meet "all the requirements" of the Camp David accords and the treaty, "I might consider accepting their nomination. Otherwise, they have made their toast in vain."


The dinner guests included so many of the leaders of the Egyptian and Israeli governments that observes wondered who was left in Cairo and Jerusalem to govern. The Israeli contingent included leaders of the opposition. Among them were. Begin’s two political rivals, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. Former Ambassador Simcha Dinitz also was there. No other foreign country was represented at the party.

The guests also included 41 Senators, including the seven Jewish members, and all but two of the 23 Jewish Congressmen and three Congressmen of Arab descent. The two absent were Rep. Abner Mikva (D. III.), who is in China, and Rep. Frederick Richmond, (D. NY), who was in New York.

The dinner guests included a virtual Who’s Who in American Jewish organization life. Perhaps the most photographed person was Mrs. Rivka Guber, from the Lachish region in Israel, who lost her two sons in Israel’s War of Independence.

More than 100 of the dinners consumed last night were kosher, supplied by a Baltimore caterer at the White House’s request. Begin was among the Jewish guests who had asked for a kosher meal. The kosher meals were similar to the non-kosher meals prepared by the White House, but the wines for the kashrus observers were from Israel.


Virtually all the guests hailed the treaty signing House Speaker Thomas O’Neill (D. Mass.) called it "beautiful, absolutely beautiful", to Sen John Stennis (D. Miss.) it was "a great day in history"; and to Rep. John Anderson (R. III.), a possible Presidential nominee, "very exciting, very historic."

Sen. Edmund Muskie (D. Me.) cautioned, however, that the treaty "may be short-lived." Asked if he were pessimistic he replied, "No, no. It takes a lot of hard work" to reach full agreement.

Earlier in the day, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, "I am very moved" and added "having come this for I am sure we will be able to do the rest. It will be complicated and difficult but I am quite optimistic."

Andrew Young, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, observed "the question is whether we can extend the formula in order to include the Palestinians. We don’t negotiate with the PLO. I believe this is the beginning of peace in the area. On this foundation we can build a comprehensive peace. The Palestinians will decide who will represent them."

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Blum, said he exchanged flags with his Egyptian counterpart, Ambassador Ismeth Abaul Meguid. The former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Simcha Dinitz, said "it is a great day because it is a historical breakthrough for the people of Israel. It is the right step. Despite all the difficulties, a necessary step."

Felix Rohatyn, the New York investment banker, said "it is an extraordinarily moving day for me. I am a Jew who came out of Nazi-occupied Europe. It was extraordinary to see two men to have the courage to reach peace. It was extraordinary to see President Carter bring it about but it is too fragile for my liking. It is a shame too many still have a vested interest in bloodshed.

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