This Week in History: Sadat comes to Jerusalem

Sadat flies from Cairo to Israel to deliver one of the most historic speeches to be delivered at Knesset.

Sadat, Carter, Begin_150 (photo credit: Couretsy the Jimmy Carter Library)
Sadat, Carter, Begin_150
(photo credit: Couretsy the Jimmy Carter Library)
On November 20, 1977, then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat flew from Egypt to Israel to give one of the most historic speeches ever to be delivered at the Knesset. The visit had been arranged less than one week earlier and would set in motion a series of events and negotiations that led to the first peace treaty signed between Israel and an Arab state.
Having restored Egyptian and Arab pride four years earlier with victories in the earlier part of the Yom Kippur War, Egypt’s second president had for years been making small gestures indicating that he might be interested in peace with the Jewish state. Even before the 1973 war, he had said in a speech in Cairo that he would be willing to visit Jerusalem, although nobody took him seriously at the time.
In late 1977, the United States was attempting to organize a peace conference between Israel and Arab states in Geneva, but the initiative had yet to bear fruit. Then, in an interview with American journalist Walter Cronkite on November 14, 1977, Sadat made clearer than ever his willingness to visit Israel’s capital. “I’m just waiting for the proper invitation,” he told the world in the satellite interview.
The only condition to his visit, the Egyptian president said, “is that I want to discuss the whole situation with the 120 members of the Knesset and put the full picture and details of the situation from our point of view.”
Cronkite, who at that point was not only breaking, but enabling one of the biggest stories in the short histories of Israel and the modern Egyptian republic, interviewed then-prime minister Menachem Begin later the same day. Asked for his reaction to Sadat’s statements, Begin told the CBS journalist: “I can assure you, Mr. Cronkite, as we really want the visit of President Sadat, we really want to negotiate the peace, to establish permanent peace in the Middle East.”
Begin continued: “Any time, any day he's prepared to come, I will receive him cordially at the airport, and go together with him to Jerusalem, also present him to the Knesset and let him make his speech to our parliament. I will follow him onto the platform and greet him, receive him.”
By making the statements on international television and not via secret cables passed through foreign diplomats, the two leaders essentially made a public commitment to the world to hold the unprecedented meeting in Jerusalem. Six days later, Sadat arrived at Lod Airport, was received by Begin, and the two drove together to the Knesset.