Opinion | Looking back on Anwar Sadats historic visit to Israel

Next year will mark 40 years since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat delivered his historic speech to the Knesset.

I remember back in 1977 when Sadat arrived in Israel. Everyone was in awe that such a visit was possible, and even as young children, my friends and I understood that this was a remarkable event.

The visit was a major political risk for Sadat, for at that time, no other Arab nation had any sort of official contact with Israel, let alone any visible desire to make peace with her. Sadat put his political career on the line knowing that while his actions might not have been appreciated at that moment, his efforts did secure a better future for Egypt’s citizens.

Before Sadat’s visit, Egypt had been the Arab world’s leader in five major wars against Israel over a quarter century.

Sadat’s decision to recognize Israel and engage in direct negotiations without preconditions was the turning point that led to meaningful peace talks between our two nations. The agreement that was reached, and the friendlier relations that followed, are a testament to Sadat’s leap of faith.

It was clear that Sadat understood his unique position. “I have chosen this difficult road which is considered, in the opinion of many, the most difficult road,” he said in the speech. “I have chosen to present to you, and in your own home, the realities devoid of any schemes or whims, not to maneuver or to win a round, but for us to win together the most dangerous of rounds and battles in modern history — the battle of permanent peace based on justice.”

Israel and Egypt triumphed in that battle for permanent peace.

Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin broke down barriers between two peoples, and they recognized then what is still true today: The key to achieving peace requires mutual recognition and direct dialogue. By those parameters, they were able to reach a historic peace agreement that transformed the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict forever.

The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, signed in 1979, has since served as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the region. Sadat’s unprecedented visit proved that peace can be achieved when Arab leaders recognize Israel and agree to direct and respectful negotiations. Furthermore, the lasting peace between Israel and Egypt is an example that should motivate all parties to pursue peace directly and effectively.

Israel and Egypt reap mutual benefits from their 37-year-old treaty. Immediately after the agreement was signed, Israel began the process of withdrawing all its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula. By 1982, the two countries shared full diplomatic relations, and to this day, they still cooperate in multiple arenas, such as defense and intelligence. Recently the two have made significant progress in their efforts to elevate economic relations, as well.

Sadat’s important journey to Jerusalem nearly 40 years ago this week initiated what has become the blueprint for successful peace negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. In the early 1990s, King Hussein of Jordan pursued direct negotiations with Israel. His effort, along with a genuine recognition of Israel and her rightful place in the region, led to reconciliation and a 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Like Egypt, Jordan has and continues to benefit from this treaty.

The fundamental lesson of Sadat’s efforts to make peace with Israel is clear: Mutual respect, direct negotiations and recognition of Israel’s right to exist are essential to meaningful dialogue.

Israel was and has always been prepared to make sacrifices in order to achieve peace. Israel withdrew troops and civilians in the Sinai to make peace with Egypt and did the same in Gaza, hoping that such a sacrifice would yield similar results. While a treaty with the Palestinians has not yet come to fruition, Israel has not given up, and is ready to sit down with her neighbors to move such efforts forward.

We celebrate President Sadat’s Knesset speech on Nov. 20, 1977, and his bold yet simple blueprint that led to a meaningful and longstanding peace between Israel and Egypt.

And we hope our neighbors and those from the international community who are concerned with the future of our peace process will recognize the significance and value of the peace map created by the courageous President Sadat.

Andy David
is Israel’s consul general to the Pacific Northwest. He is based in San Francisco.