President Reuven Rivlin with Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Khaled Azmi at the President's Residence on June 25, 2019.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
It is rare for an Israeli minister to admit to flawed thinking, but that’s just what Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi did on Tuesday, at a reception hosted by President Reuven Rivlin to mark the 40th anniversary of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
Being raised in a staunchly patriotic, right-wing environment, Hanegbi said his initial reaction to the peace agreement was one of shock and disbelief. He was abroad at the time, and when he read in the newspaper that the agreement included Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai, he became heartbroken and devastated. Hanegbi could not believe that prime minister Menachem Begin – the leader of the party for which he voted and the man who had been his parents’ commander in the underground resistance to the British – could do such a thing.
Hanegbi spent the next four years protesting and demonstrating against the agreement, trying to get people to join him. Today, he said, with hindsight and a different mindset, “Thank God no one listened to me.”
Referring to Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Hanegbi acknowledged that “they saw what I was unable to see.”
Every speaker referred in one way or another to the courage and vision of the two men, who worked together to change a destructive reality.
“Today, we still have strong leaders realizing the dream of ‘no more war, no more bloodshed’” Hanegbi said, alluding to Begin’s words spoken at the signing ceremony, and that Israel and Egypt are an example to the whole Middle East that reconciliation and sanity can always triumph over fanaticism.
The reception, a joint endeavor of the president’s office, the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry for Regional Cooperation, and the Egyptian Embassy attracted a full-force diplomatic audience, as well as some of the people who had been closely involved in the negotiations, including former Supreme Court judges Aharon Barak and Elyakim Rubinstein, and former minister Moshe Shahal.
RIVLIN SAID that the peace agreement was an outstanding achievement in the face of regional instability and a great gift to both nations, which have now known peace with each other for two generations.
Calling the agreement “a cornerstone for stability in the Middle East,” the president gave credit to Sisi for his commitment to that peace and stability, and recalled that in 1973, after a war with thousands of casualties, neither side could have imagined that they would make peace with each other six years later.
Rivlin noted that Israel and Egypt work closely together to counter terrorism.
“If we increase our cooperation, we can do much more good, not just for our own countries but for the whole region and the world,” he said.
The eloquent Khaled Azmi, Egypt’s seventh ambassador to Israel, paid tribute to all those past and present who contributed to promoting and attaining the peace agreement, and to those who have succeeded in maintaining it.
He also lauded a leadership that inspired hope to cross unchartered waters with the aim of inspiring peace, emphasizing that Egypt was a pioneer in initiating peace in the Middle East.
Turning to the present impasse in Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Azmi said that there must be a mutual willingness to coexist in peace and security, and that the alternative to a two-state solution is open-ended turmoil for everyone.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said it is apparent that the peace agreement was a strategy and a step forward that has stood the test of time, and has also been beneficial to Israel’s economy because considerable funds previously allocated for defense could be channeled elsewhere.
“We have open lines of communication” said Katz, who has made it his mission to promote regional cooperation with all of Israel’s neighbors with the aim of securing benefits for all.
The decision to make peace with Egypt was a correct decision, Katz stated: “Now we must continue with the rest of the region.”
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