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The Topic Was Peace

November 21, 1977
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The main message was peace in the speech by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and the response by Premier Menachem Begin of Israel before a packed Knesset this afternoon. Both leaders refrained from emphasizing those points of disagreement most painful to the other.

The core of Sadat’s hour-long address in Arabic was Egypt’s readiness for full recognition of Israel as a legitimate sovereign state in the Middle East. Begin, who spoke for 45 minutes in Hebrew, called for a peace treaty, normal diplomatic relations and open frontiers between Israel and Egypt allowing their peoples to move freely between the two counties.

Although Sadat reiterated his oft-repeated call for complete withdrawal by Israel from the occupied Arab territories including “Arab Jerusalem” and its recognition of the right of the Palestinians to establish their own state, he did not mention the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Begin, while affirming Israel’s “eternal undisputed rights, “did not refer to any areas that Israel would never give up, not even East Jerusalem, but emphasized Israel’s commitment to free access to the holy places.

The unprecedented appearance by the Egyptian leader before Israel’s parliament and all the pomp and ceremony occasioned by such a momentous event was broadcast and televised world-wide via satellite. When Sadat arrived at the Knesset he laid a wreath at the eternal light memorial to fallen Jewish soldiers everywhere. His entry into the chamber was greeted by a trumpet fanfare and a warm standing ovation by the assembled Knesset members and guests. “Today I announce and declare that we welcome you, we are ready to accept you and live with you under a permanent peace,” Sadat proclaimed from the Knesset podium.


Early in his address, the Egyptian leader stressed that he did not come to Jerusalem to negotiate a separate peace between Israel and Egypt because a separate peace would not lead to permanent peace in the area. He said he did not come to achieve an agreement to terminate the state of war between the two nations nor does he seek disengagement either in the Sinai the Golan Heights, or the West Bank. “I came to you today on solid ground to shape a new life and to establish peace. I came here so that we together can build a durable peace in the region, “Sadat declared.

He insisted that there can be no peace without the Palestinians, that the Palestinian issue was the crux of the Middle East conflict and noted pointedly that the United States, Israel’s area test friend and ally, the provider of military economic and moral support to Israel “has accepted the fact that Palestinians are entitled to get their legitimate rights.”

Urging Israel’s acceptance of the right of the Palestinians to establish their own state, Sadat declared that Israel had nothing to fear from “a newly born state” which would need world assistance and would not be a threat to anyone.


Sadat declared that for ending the occupation of Arab territory and acknowledging the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people, Israel would receive a peace agreement recognizing its secure boundaries and any international guarantees it chooses to accept. The relations between Israel and the Arab countries should be based on the principle of no resort to force, he said. “Israel must live within its own borders, with its Arab neighbors, with all the international guarantees afforded to it and the other parties, “Sadat asserted.

He deplored that “many months in which peace could have been brought have been wasted over differences and fruitless discussions on the procedures to be followed at a reconvened Geneva peace conference.”

“If God Almighty has made it my fate to assume the responsibility on behalf of the Egyptian people and to share in the fate-determining possibility of the Arab nation, the main duty dictated by this responsibility is to try by every means to save my Egyptian people and the entire Arab nation from the horrors of new, shocking and destructive wars,” Sadat declared. He said to accomplish that, he became convinced that he must “go to the farthest corners of the world, even to Jerusalem, to address the Knesset, the representatives of the people, to acquaint them with all the facts.”

Sadat acknowledged that there were many in the Arab world and some in Israel who looked upon his trip to Jerusalem with anger and suspicion. He said he forgave them. He referred indirectly to a charge by Israel’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Mordechai Gur, that his trip was a cover for war preparations. He said that was not the case. “We must all rise above all forms of fanaticism, above all forms of self-deception and above all, forms of obsolete theories of superiority. The most important thing is never to forget that infallibility is the prerogative of God, “Sadat said.

He said that he has been asked, ever since arriving in Israel, what he intends to achieve by his visit. “I came here without the intention to achieve something but to start a new rood, ” Sadat said.


Begin, who followed Sadat at the podium, had warm words for Sadat’s trip. “The distance between Cairo and Jerusalem is almost infinite but President Sadat has crossed that distance graciously, ” he said. He said the trip required courage and “We, the Jewish people, know how to appreciate such cour-

“We ask for a complete and true peace, a total appeasement between the Jewish people and the Arabs, “the Israeli leader said. He recalled that at its birth Israel was attacked on three fronts by its neighbors and that the hand of peace it extended then and over the years that followed was rejected. But, he declared, “We should not drown ourselves in past memories of the wars between us. We have to overcome those memories and care for the future, ” he said.

Begin observed to Sadat that “we did not invite you and you did not come to form a barrier between Egypt and the other Arab countries. “But, he said, Egypt and Israel must recognize that they have to live together forever and should freely negotiate a peace treaty. “War is avoidable but peace is unavoidable, ” he said. He proposed that the first clause of a peace treaty should deal with the termination of all states of war.

“Let our frontiers be open for free movement. Let your people come here and our people go to you. Our country is open to the people of Egypt without conditions, ” Begin said. He also reiterated his invitations to President Hafez Assad of Syria and King Hussein of Jordan to open negotiations for peace with Israel. Begin said that he himself was ready to travel to any Arab capital to promote good relations and peace

Begin’s speech was interrupted twice by Communist MK Meir Wilner. Begin sighed, lapsed into English and told Sadat, “The Communist member here disturbs me but this is the price I had to pay to convince him not to disturb you,”


Labor Alignment leader Shimon Peres, who followed Begin to the Knesset rostrum, declared that “peace cannot be achieved without mutual concessions. We will have to concede things dear to us and the Egyptians will have to do the same.”

The Israeli opposition leader said that “some sort of formula will have to be found to the problem of Palestinian identity, but not at the cost of national security to Israel and Jordan.” Peres suggested “a Kind of federation between the Palestinians and Jordanians.” He stressed that “a momentous opportunity is here and we must all practice patience and mutual trust.”

Peres, who was the former Defense Minister , said he felt peace settlements could also be reached with Jordan and Syria as well as Egypt. At the outset, Peres said he was not speaking in the name of the opposition but for the united people to Israel who wants peace.


Sadat and Begin expressed optimism today following the special Knesset session, during an inter view by the correspondent of Israel Radio.

Asked to describe the talks with Begin, Sadat said, shortly after he came out of Begin’s work room in the Knesset, that the real negotiations haven’t started yet. He said the negotiations would start tonight.

Sadat was then asked whether the negotiations would lead to peace. He responded, “I am always optimistic.” Begin then joined him and said: “I share the President’s optimism.” The two leaders were then interviewed by ABC-TV newscaster Barbara Walters–the first ever interview held with an Israeli and an Arab statesman sitting side by side.

Tonight, Begin and Sadat held a working dinner at the King David Hotel where the Egyptian President and his entourage are staying, Tomorrow, Sadat is scheduled to meet with leaders of Israeli political parties and lunch with Begin and his aides. In the afternoon, prior to his return home, Sadat and Begin will hold a news conference at the Jerusalem Theater.

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