The Sadat Legacy: 25 Years Later
Throughout last month, the Israeli people commemorated the 25th anniversary of the historic visit to Israel by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and the resulting peace accord between Israel and Egypt. During that November in 1977, the physical distance traveled by Sadat from Cairo to Jerusalem measured only a few hundred miles — less than one hour’s flying time. Yet the distance his visit covered in emotional and psychological terms measured light-years.
Until that point in time, no Arab country recognized Israel’s right to exist, and the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed an inescapable, eternal feature of the Middle Eastern landscape. Instead, Sadat proved that our lives could be different, and that our children need not fight the same wars as their parents. Regrettably, the hope engendered by the Egyptian leader’s political courage has all but disappeared in the wake of the unprecedented wave of Palestinian terror during the past two years. Perhaps, therefore, this is precisely the moment to recall those aspects of the Sadat legacy that can be instructive in facing today’s crisis.
First, Sadat demonstrated that true peacemakers must have the courage to confront political opponents and domestic extremists. On his journey to Jerusalem, and later to Camp David, he was willing to sacrifice the support of two of his foreign ministers in order to advance his vision of peace. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, has permitted — and even encouraged — the Palestinian rejectionist factions to continue slaughtering Israeli citizens. Arafat’s duplicity in this regard is legendary. After a suicide bomber killed 21 Israeli teenagers at a discotheque in Tel Aviv, he condemned the atrocity in English — while to his own people, in Arabic, the described the perpetrator as a “heroic martyr … who turned his body into bombs … the model of manhood and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and the homeland.” Recently, after Arafat publicly denounced the Nov. 10 murder of five Israeli civilians — including a mother and her two young children — by a Palestinian terror cell, it was discovered that he actually paid $20,000 to the organizer of the attack.
Second, Sadat’s legacy underscores both the challenges and opportunities deriving from formalized peace agreements between governments (as opposed to deeply rooted reconciliation between peoples). Sadly, his tragic assassination in 1981 at the hands of Islamic extremists derailed the expectation that the citizens of Egypt and Israel would themselves develop a flourishing and warm relationship.
Hosni Mubarak’s government has halted, and indeed reversed, nearly all efforts at normalization. The state-controlled Egyptian media routinely employs the most anti-Jewish rhetoric imaginable in its articles and broadcasts. Such behavior betrays the vision of Sadat, and deprives both the Egyptian and Israeli peoples of the enormous potential economic and social benefits to be gained by truly normalizing relations. At the same time, the principal terms of the peace treaty have been maintained, despite these very disappointments and despite the assassination itself. In the past quarter-century, not one Israeli soldier has had to be dispatched to fight and possibly die in a war on the Egyptian front. For that reason alone, the essential value even of today’s “cold” peace with Egypt is undeniable.
Third, and maybe most importantly, the legacy of Sadat teaches that when Israel is offered real peace, via negotiation and not intimidation, it reciprocates with eagerness and vigor. When Israelis are convinced that a neighboring nation truly desires to co-exist with them, and not uproot them, their willingness to make painful concessions is remarkable. With the opening of Sadat’s address to the Israeli parliament: “I come to you today on solid ground to shape a new life and to establish peace,” he spoke directly to the hearts of the entire Israeli people.
With his dignity and clarity, he convinced Israelis that no matter what the point of contention between the two nations, solutions did exist, and there would simply be “no more war; no more bloodshed.” When Sadat chose our open hand of peace, Israel gave all the land and all the oil he requested.
Similarly, when a Jordanian soldier murdered seven young Israeli schoolgirls, Jordan’s King Hussein bin Talal personally visited the homes of the girls’ grieving parents, cried before them and begged their forgiveness. When King Hussein
chose Israel’s open hand of peace, he received all the land and all the water he sought.
Only when there emerges a new Palestinian leader who not does not employ the language of jihad, the option of terrorism, and the policy of hatred and incitement will Israel once again prove its readiness to undertake the necessary compromises for the sake of peace.
There is no more important lesson that must be declared directly to the Palestinian people: Israel has no reason or interest to fight you. There is no wish to control you, rule over you or determine your lives. Israel wants to live with you, and not die because of you. Israelis want to share with you, and not take from you. We want to respect you as good neighbors, and not fear you as dreaded enemies. Like Sadat, choose our open hand of peace. Forsake the cult of death which has been imposed upon you. Appeal to our hearts, and you will find us yearning to make a generous peace with you.
Yuval Rotem is the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles.