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Learning from Sadat

Learning from Sadat

Sadat's wisdom offers a model for seeking peace.


On November 19, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat flew to Tel Aviv and told Israelis what they had waited decades to hear from an Arab leader: We welcome you into the Middle East.

At that moment, Sadat -- who only four years earlier had led Egyptian troops in a surprise attack against the Jewish state on Yom Kippur -- became an Israeli hero. Yielding to domestic pressure, the right-wing Israeli government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin withdrew to the 1967 borders, handing the Sinai in its entirety back to Egypt.

As the 25th anniversary of Sadat's initiative is marked, it is worth examining what so far remains the only successful land-for-peace exchange in the Middle East.

Sadat reversed that formula and offered "peace for land" -- a meaningful Arab gesture of reconciliation that convinced Israelis to take a chance on withdrawal.

Sadat understood that the key to peace was reassuring Israelis that it was safe to withdraw and that at the end of the "land for peace" process there would indeed be peace for Israel. In effect, the Egyptian president reversed that formula and offered "peace for land" -- a meaningful Arab gesture of reconciliation that convinced Israelis to take a chance on withdrawal.

Sadat's psychological overture acknowledged Israel's precariousness as the only non-Arab state in the Middle East. Israel may be Goliath in its confrontation with the Palestinians, but in its confrontation with the vast Arab world, it is forced into the role of David.

Just compare Sadat's wisdom with the approach of Arab leaders today.

Following last week's terrorist atrocity at Kibbutz Metzer, in which a mother and two children were murdered in their home by a gunman from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade -- which is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction -- the Palestinian Authority's official radio station, Voice of Palestine, noted that the assault occurred "in the so-called kibbutz, or farm community, which is a colony north of Tulkarm." By referring to a kibbutz within Israel's pre-1967 borders as a "colony," the station was declaring that there is no difference between a West Bank settlement and any Jewish community in Israel proper.

For Palestinian leaders, the Jewish state is inherently an illegal settlement, a foreign implant in the Arab world.

This war isn't about settlements or occupation but about the Palestinian leadership's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist in any borders.

That brutal moment of candor is a reminder that this war isn't about settlements or occupation but about the Palestinian leadership's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist in any borders.

The radio broadcast was a classic example of Palestinian doublespeak: Even as Arafat was denouncing the kibbutz attack in English to the international media, his own Arabic medium was broadcasting an opposite message, justifying the attack as retaliation for the Israeli army's shooting of two terrorists on their way to a suicide bombing.

That doublespeak is routine for many Arab leaders, who promise reconciliation in English and war and hatred in Arabic. Consider the much-touted Saudi peace plan, released last spring, that offered recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for full territorial withdrawal and a "just solution" to the refugee problem -- a code phrase for inundating the Jewish state with Palestinian refugees hostile to Israel's existence, rather than resettling them in a Palestinian state.

The very day that the Arab League released the plan in Beirut, a Saudi government newspaper published an article reviving a medieval blood libel, claiming that Jews use Gentile blood for their ritual devotions. And that same week, the Saudi government's English-language Web site ran a long piece by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke alleging a Zionist effort to dominate the world.

The Saudi plan was nothing more than a public relations gimmick aimed at post-9/11 damage control.

Sadat, by contrast, understood that the key to resolving the conflict was psychological. Throughout the often difficult peace process between Israel and Egypt, Sadat was never caught speaking peace in English and holy war in Arabic.

No conqueror ever feared, as Israel does, that by withdrawing from occupied territory it would risk not merely diminishment but destruction. Indeed, no country other than Israel faces enemies who refuse to acknowledge its simple right to exist.

Rather than address the fears of Israelis, as Sadat did, Arab leaders today tend to incite them. That includes Sadat's unworthy successor, Hosni Mubarak, whose state television is currently broadcasting a 41-part drama centered on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old forgery that became the Nazis' favorite anti-Jewish text.

Today there are streets in Israel named for Anwar Sadat. Whatever happens next in the Middle East, there will be no Israeli streets named for Mubarak or Arafat.

Originally published in the Los Angeles Times

November 23, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Atef, January 19, 2005 12:00 AM


good essay about the man of war and peace .. he was misunderstood indeed .. thanks for remembering him

(4) Enoch Hagans, November 29, 2002 12:00 AM

Right to Exist

No Country will give up land to extremists who want to destroy them. There are no more Sadats out there.

(3) Max Kalt., November 20, 2002 12:00 AM

Do you remember the neck tie Sadat was wearing?

You may say this is a trivial thing but I never trusted Sadat fully. Why?
When Sadat came to Jerusalem he was wearing a neck tie that a swastika pattern clearly on them.
Maybe you could argue that I am being too simplistic but please take out the old photos of the visit and look at Sadat's tie and see for yourself the pattern on it.

(2) Chana Meira, November 19, 2002 12:00 AM

Please run this article often

So many have forgotten the words and actions of Anwar Sadat. Unfortunately his words and actions signed his death warrant. Is there another Sadat out there in the Arab world? I pray there is.

(1) Anonymous, November 19, 2002 12:00 AM

I think we have been duped

Yossi Klein HaLevi hasn't told us the whole picture.
After the concessions of Camp David we Jews and Israelis were perceived by the Arab world as being a soft target a soft touch. If Sadat was able to cleverly gain such concessions from a seemingly tough guy like Begin other concessions could be extracted.

Sadat was wise but unfortunately we have paid a huge price in more Arab hostilities.

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