Remarks by Golda Meir to President Sadat in the Knesset

(November 21, 1977)


On Monday morning, 21 November, President Sadat again drove to the Knesset for meetings with the various Israeli Knesset factions. The first to speak for the Labour Party was former Prime Minister Golda Meir who congratulated Sadat for having won the privilege of being the first Arab leader to come to Israel for the sake of the next generations to avoid war. Mrs. Meir praised Sadat for his courage and vision and expressed the hope that while many differences remain to be resolved, they will be done so in a spirit of mutual understanding. Text:


Mr. President, I'm sure that from the moment your plane landed at Lydda Airport, and as you drove through the streets of Jerusalem, you must have felt, in all your encounters with the many people who turned out to meet you - the little children; the mothers with babies in their arms; the old people; the people who were born in this country, the second, third, fourth and fifth generations, and those who have come recently - that all, without exception, were overjoyed to see you in our Land.

When asked, many years ago, when I thought that peace would come to this region to our country and to our neighbouring countries - I said: I do not know the date, but I do know under what conditions it will come - when there will be a leader, a great leader of an Arab country. He will wake up one morning and feel sorry for his own people, for his own sons who have fallen in battle, and that day will be the beginning of peace between us.

Mr. President, we have a saying in Hebrew: "zchut rishonim." In English, this means "the privilege of being the first." I congratulate you, Mr. President, that you are privileged to be the first great Arab leader of the greatest country among our neighbours to come to us, with courage and determination, despite so many difficulties, for the sake of your sons, as well as for the sake of our; for the sake of all mothers who mourn sons that fell in battle. No mother should have to give birth to a son in the fear that he may fall in battle. For the sake of all our sons and all our children, not only those who are alive today but also those to be born in future generations - you have come to us and said: let us have peace; let the war of 1973 be the last war between us.

You have come telling us that, from now on, you are prepared to live in peace with us. I can assure you, Mr. President, that as far as we are concerned, the desire for peace, the hope of peace and the dream of peace have never left the hearts of a single one of us. We have come back to this country to live in peace. We have come back to this country to live. We have come back to this country to create. In this room, you will see people who, for the first time in their lives, have climbed hills and planted trees in this country; who, for the first time, have gone down to the desert - it was considered a desert, a God-forsaken land and have made it green, so that our children can live and play everywhere in it. Many of these children - very many of them - also enjoy the privilege of having been the first, after centuries upon centuries, to bring life to the desert, to the swamps and to the hills of this country. All this we have done for peace - to live in peace; to live, but to live in peace.

Mr. President, we listened to you last night and we heard your appeal for peace. When I was in office, and I am sure this was true for everyone who preceded me and for those who succeeded me in office - I hope that the day would come when we could meet with a leader of one of the Arab countries and hold a discussion with him. Not that we ever imagined that, at the very first meeting, we would come with pens in our hands, ready to sign a peace treaty. But our hope was that we would hold discussions on points of disagreement, and that we would discuss these points face-to-face, rather than through intermediaries for, no matter how successfully intermediaries may report to both of us, it is not the same. As I sit here and look at you, and as I heard you in person last night, it is not the same.

Of course, we must all realize that the path leading to peace may be a difficult one, but not as difficult as that path which leads to war. What Israel wants - what this group with which you are meeting today has wanted, from the very beginning, is territorial compromise, in accordance with the programme it adopted immediately after the war of 1967. As a matter of fact, Israel has made and accepted compromises ever since 1947. I can say, in all sincerity, that we have desired additional territory. We have always been prepared to live within our existing boundaries.

We will not go into history today, but what we want to tell you is that we were, and are, prepared for territorial compromise on all our borders - with one condition: these borders will give us security, and protect us from danger, so that we will never be in need, God forbid, at any time, of help from abroad in order to defend ourselves. We have never sought such help from others; nobody has ever come to defend us. The blood that has been shed, to our sorrow, has been our own. We don't want to shed the blood of others.

With us today is Mr. Rabin. After the war of 1967, he was awarded an Honorary degree by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and, in his words of acceptance, as Chief of Staff, he said: "Here is the Israeli army that came back victorious. It came back a sad army, despite its victory; sad because of our men who fell, but also because of our sons who were compelled to shoot others." These two things we do not want: we do not want to be shot at - and, believe me - we do not want to shoot others.

Therefore, we want borders within which, when we do sign peace treaties, all Israelis will be assured that they live in security, without having to rely on international guarantees. I do not think we will need these when we have peace -neither we shall need them, nor you. But we must have borders that will enable us - if, God forbid, something should happen in the future - to defend ourselves. Territorial compromise - yes, but not compromise with our security! Each country, each nation, will decide its security requirements. When we talk of territorial compromise, it is essential that we remember this.

Mr. President. We, the People of Israel, are the last to be insensitive to the sorrow of others. We have never said that we want the Palestinian Arabs to remain as they are - in camps, in misery, dependent on charity. We do not wish to be dependent upon others, nor do we wish them to be dependent upon others. Had is been within our power, there would never have been a problem of this kind. Of course, we realize that there are Palestinian Arabs and we believe there is a solution, one that is both good for them and safe for us.

Because we believe this, we believe also that there is no connection between our opposition to another state between us and Jordan - a Palestinian state which would be small, probably not viable and perhaps forced to expand - and between our awareness of the need to solve the problem of the Palestinian Arabs. Our opposition to another state is based on Israel's most vital security requirements. Mr. President, should we agree to the establishment of such a state, there would be only ten miles between the Mediterranean and the borders of this state. You cannot expect us to feel secure within such borders.

Of course, we favour a solution for the Palestinian Arabs, and believe that in the programme of this group gathered here today with you, such a solution exists. This programme, formulated prior to the elections and still valid to this day, states that in our peace treaty with Jordan, there must be a solution for the Palestinian Arabs, so the camps may be wiped out and become a thing of the past. But not at the expense of Israel's security. If there were no solution, it would be a terrible problem for us. But there is a solution to this problem too.

Therefore, we say to you, Mr. President, that, while we do not agree with everything you said last night - surely, this does not surprise you - we deeply appreciate your call for peace, and believe in your sincere desire for it, just as I hope you believe in our sincere desire for it. Now, let us go forward. Even if we do not reach agreement on everything this morning, let us, at least, conclude one thing: the beginnings that you have made, with such courage and with such hope for peace, must go on, continuing face-to-face between ourselves and you, so that even an old lady like myself will live to see the day - yes, you always call me an old lady - and regardless of whoever signs on Israel's behalf, I want to live to see that day - that peace reigns between you and us, peace between ourselves and all our neighbours.

And, Mr. President, as a grandmother to a grandfather, may I give you a little present for your new grand-daughter, and thank you for the present you have given me.


Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry