Egyptian Ambassador Hazem Khairat reminded his colleagues from Israel and around the world on Wednesday that inasmuch as former president Anwar Sadat was a man of courage and vision, Egypt today is also being led by a man of courage and vision.
Khairat was speaking at a ceremony co-hosted at the President’s Residence by President Reuven Rivlin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to mark the 40th anniversary of the historic arrival of Sadat in Jerusalem.
The event was attended by nearly every Israeli diplomat who has served in Egypt, as well as ambassadors and diplomats of lower rank from nearly all the countries that have diplomatic missions in Israel.
Khairat referred to Sadat as a “founding father” of peace and stability in the region, and praised him, prime minister Menachem Begin and US president Jimmy Carter for their wisdom in recognizing the opportunity and making hard decisions against political policies for the benefit of future generations.
Khairat devoted the bulk of his remarks to the settling of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, saying, “Egypt, the cradle of civilization and humanity, has a responsibility to achieve a permanent peace in our region, which should be based on land for peace, confidence building measures and security guarantees.”
Quoting from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, Khairat said that Egypt’s vision for settling the issue was to emphasize that “it is time for a comprehensive and viable settlement to the longest crisis in the region.” Khairat made it clear that al-Sisi is aware of the importance of the safety and security of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
In urging Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, Khairat said, “the achievement of a just and comprehensive peace will undoubtedly contribute to confronting and refuting the most serious and most dangerous phenomenon in the region, and even in the entire world, namely terrorism. We will never forget that it was the evil hands of terrorism that assassinated President Sadat.”
Egypt now is facing a fierce war against terrorism, he continued, asserting that he had no doubt that Egypt would emerge victorious “and even stronger.” But, he reminded his audience, “We all in the international community are on the same side of the battle and this entails that the free world should close ranks together in order to come up with a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to counter this threat.”
Coming back to the courage and wisdom of Sadat, Khairat said, “Sadat wanted people to live without the fear of war hanging over their heads. He lived for peace. He died for principles.”
Earlier in the morning Rivlin started the proceedings by saying that on that Saturday evening in November 1977, the Israeli Army Band played the Egyptian National Anthem for the very first time. The president overlooked how many rehearsals that the band had prior to Sadat’s arrival. Recalling what ensued, Rivlin said, “The world’s media watched with open mouths as enemies became friends.”
Rivlin recalled that on November 9 of that year, Sadat had told the Egyptian Parliament that for peace he would go to the end of the world – even to Jerusalem.
On November 15, through the offices of American ambassadors, an official invitation was delivered from Jerusalem to Cairo, inviting Sadat to come – which he did, addressing the Knesset in Arabic.
Retired deputy president of the Supreme Court Elyakim Rubinstein, who had been the legal counsel at the Foreign Ministry and had been a member of the Israeli negotiating team, including at Camp David, said that 40 years ago he had been at what is now Ben-Gurion Airport.
His rank did not entitle him to be there, but he had been invited by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and of course he had been delighted to accept the invitation. “Being there was like being on the waves of history,” he said, adding that it should be remembered that there had been five wars waged between Egypt and Israel in a period of almost thirty years.
Returning to Jerusalem in Dayan’s car, wedged between two security guards while Dayan sat in the back with then-Egyptian foreign minister Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali, Rubinstein said that at that time he could not foresee Camp David or the fact that he would be at the airport in 1980 to welcome Saad Mortada, Egypt’s first ambassador to Israel, or that he would be at the President’s residence the following day when Mortada presented his credentials to President Yitzhak Navon.
Rubinstein also reminisced about accompanying Begin to Ismailia and watching as Sadat drove the Israeli prime minister along the Suez Canal.
Rubinstein reminded his listeners of another anniversary, that of UN resolution 242, unanimously adopted on November 22, 1967, in which the preamble referred to the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every state in the area can live in security.”
This resolution was part of the negotiations because Sadat focused a lot on the Palestinian issue, said Rubinstein, and although the negotiations were very difficult, Begin “became convinced that this was an opportunity that should not be missed and we brought it to the Knesset.”
Though critical of many of Carter’s writings in the interim, Rubinstein said that he deserved a great deal of credit for what resulted from Camp David, where 13 days and 12 nights were spent in negotiations.
Since 1977, there has been no war between Israel and Egypt. “Many on the Israeli side are not satisfied with the quality of peace,” said Rubinstein, “but peace is a strategic milestone and cornerstone between Israel and Egypt. This is a time of celebration to look at history and to the future with confidence.”
Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem said that in the short history of Israel “there are amazing and unforgettable moments after which everything changes.”
Two such moments took place in the month of November. One was the UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine and the other was the arrival in Israel of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Rotem described the latter as a moment of “optimism, hope and faith,” saying that it was an inspiring, historic moment.
The courageous step taken by Sadat paved the way for a peace treaty, he said, adding that he would never forget the excitement that was in the air.
Even though there were many doubts expressed as to how long the peace treaty would last, it has endured and has demonstrated how conflict can be changed into cooperation, said Rotem, who regretted that Sadat’s vision and courage had not been emulated – other than by Jordan – and that many Arab states do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Rotem called on all other Arab countries to follow in Sadat’s courageous step, declaring that Israel is confident that the peace with Egypt “is stable and permanent.”