Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a special Knesset session marking 40 years since Anwar Sadat's address to Israeli parliament. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented the lack of a “Palestinian Anwar Sadat” during a special Knesset session on Tuesday marking 40 years since the peace-making Egyptian president’s historic address to the Israeli parliament.
Netanyahu quoted Sadat as telling the Knesset on November 20, 1977, “We do not want to encircle you, or that you will attack us – with missiles meant to destroy, or bombs of hatred and enmity. I have said more than once that Israel’s existence is a fact.”
The prime minister said that this was the first step toward the peace agreement eventually hammered out at Camp David which included a clear recognition of Israel.
“This is what Sadat did,” Netanyahu added, “Unlike our Palestinian neighbors, who to this day refuse to recognize our nation-state. I say with sadness that I have not yet encountered a Palestinian Sadat to declare his desire to put an end to the conflict, to recognize the State of Israel within any borders, and support our right to live here in peace and security.”
However, opposition head Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) jabbed at Netanyahu during his speech to the plenum, which immediately followed the premier’s, saying that not only was a Palestinian Sadat needed for peace, but so was an “Israeli Menachem Begin, the prime minister at the time who reached the peace agreement with Sadat.
Herzog said that there are those who say that Netanyahu opposed the peace agreement with Egypt 40 years ago, and openly expressed that attitude at the time.
“I already said two weeks ago here in the plenum that if you were standing in Menachem Begin’s place I doubt if you would have shown the same courage that Menachem Begin displayed then,” Herzog said to Netanyahu. “Therefore, we can only hope that the opportunity will not slip away, that the doors will not be closed, and that we will not miss the opportunity until we [the Zionist Union] take over the state’s helm and lead a process like this with responsibility, determination and courage.”
Netanyahu, who met before addressing the Knesset with Egypt’s ambassador Hazem Khairat, characterized the peace with Egypt as “strong” and a strategic asset for both countries.
The prime minister said he was saddened that so few ministers and MKs took the trouble of attending the special session, suggesting the reason was possibly because “we got used to it too fast, it is something seen as a given, but it is not something that should be taken as a given.”
Netanyahu said that time has proven this agreement to be a “stable anchor” in a turbulent and bloody region.
Though not perfect, he continued, the peace serves both countries well and – despite various crises – has proven to be sustainable.
“But there is a fundamental condition for peace: Israel’s strength,” he said. “In the Middle East, alliances are made with the strong, not the weak.” To prove this, Netanyahu noted that in his speech to the Knesset, Sadat had said, “I came to make peace with a strong leader.”
Only when Israel is strong is it possible first to come to a situation of no warfare, and then from that position move on toward peace, the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said that today many Arab countries, aware of the changes sweeping the region, understand that the threats to the Middle East do not come from Israel.
“The biggest obstacle to expanding the circle of peace is not the [Arab] leaders; the biggest obstacle is the Arab street that has been flooded for years by a false presentation of Israel,” he said, adding that after many years of presenting Israel in a very negative light it is difficult now for Arab governments to present it as it truly is. This, he added, is even truer among the Palestinians, something that is preventing a “breakthrough.”
“I see certain changes in public opinion in the Arab region, and this is something that should be encouraged and developed,” Netanyahu said, “I would like to see peace with Egypt adapted to this truth, to expand the contact between the peoples and break through the wall of historical propaganda. I hope we are at the beginning of such a process,” he said.
“There is no doubt that we are in a position to expand our cooperation.”