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Menachem Begin Administration: Speech to Knesset Following Historic Speech by Anwar Sadat

(November 20, 1977)

Following Sadat's address to the Knesset, in which he called for an end of Israeli occupation, withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, the establishment of a Palestinian state and the end to war, Prime Minister Begin rose to speak for Israel. He emphasized Israel's willingness to enter into negotiations on all issues without any conditions. Mr. Begin said that Israel was prepared to negotiate in various forms, direct talks in Jerusalem or Cairo, a Geneva Peace Conference or on neutral ground.

Mr. Speaker, Honourable President of the State of Israel, Honourable President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Worthy and Learned Knesset Members:

We send our greetings to the President and to all adherents of the Islamic faith, in our country and wherever they may be, on the occasion of the Feast of Sacrifice, Id el-Adha.

This feast reminds us of the binding of Isaac on the altar, the test with which the Creator tried the faith of our forefather Abraham - our common father; the challenge which Abraham met. But, from the point of view of morality and the advancement of Mankind, this event heralded the principle of a ban on human sacrifice. Our two Peoples, in their ancient tradition, learned and taught that humanitarian prohibition, while the nations around us continued to offer human sacrifices to their idols. Thus we, the People of Israel and the Arab People, contributed to the advancement of Mankind, and we continue to contribute to human civilization until this very day.

I greet the President of Egypt on the occasion of his visit to our country and his participation in this session of the Knesset. The duration of the flight from Cairo to Jerusalem is short but, until last night, the distance between them was infinite. President Sadat showed courage in crossing this distance. We Jews can appreciate courage, as exhibited by our guest, because it is with courage that we arose, and with it we shall continue to exist.

Mr. Speaker, this small People, the surviving remnant of the Jewish People which returned to our historic Homeland, always sought peace. And, when the dawn of our freedom rose on the 14th of May, 1948, the 4th of Iyar, 5708, David Ben-Gurion said, in the Declaration of Independence, the charter of our national independence:

"We extend our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish People settled in its Land."

A year earlier, in the midst of the fateful struggle for the liberation of the Land and the redemption of the Nation, while still in the underground, we issued the following call to our neighbours:

"Let us live together in this Land and together advance towards a life of freedom and happiness. Our Arab neighbours - do not reject the hand which is outstretched to you in peace."

But it is my duty - my duty Mr. Speaker, and not only my privilege - to assert today in truth that our hand, extended in peace, was rejected. And, one day after our independence was renewed, in accordance with our eternal and indisputable right, we were attacked on three fronts, and we stood virtually without arms - few against many, weak against strong. One day after the declaration of our independence, an attempt was made to strangle it with enmity, and to extinguish the last hope of the Jewish People in the generation of Holocaust and Resurrection.

No, we do not believe in might, and we have never based our relations with the Arab Nation on force. On the contrary, force was exercised against us. Throughout all the years of this generation we have never ceased to be attacked with brute force in order to destroy our Nation, to demolish our independence, to annul our right. And we defended ourselves.

True, we defended our right, our existence, our honour, our women and our children against recurrent attempts to crush us by brute force, and not on one front alone. This, too, is true: with the help of God we overcame the forces of aggression and assured the survival of our nation, not only for this generation, but for all those to come.

We do not believe in might; we believe in right, only in right. And that is why our aspiration, from the depths of our hearts, from time immemorial until this very day, is peace.

Mr. President, in this democratic chamber sit commanders of all the Hebrew underground fighting organizations. They were compelled to conduct a battle of few against many, against a mighty world power. Here sit our top military commanders, who led their forces in a battle that was imposed on them, and to a victory that was inevitable, because they defended right. They belong to various parties, and have different outlooks. But I am sure, Mr. President, that I am expressing the views of them all, without exception, when I say that we have one aspiration at heart, one desire in our souls, and we are all united in this aspiration and this desire - to bring peace: peace to our nation which has not known it for even one day since the beginning of the Return to Zion; and peace to our neighbours to whom we wish all the best. And we believe that if we achieve peace, true peace, we shall be able to assist one another in all realms of life, and a new era will be opened in the Middle East: an era of flourishing and growth, of development and progress and advancement, as in ancient times.

Therefore, allow me today to define the meaning of peace as we understand it. We seek a true, full peace, with absolute reconciliation between the Jewish People and the Arab People. We must not permit memories of the past to stand in our way. There have been wars; blood has been shed; our wonderful sons have fallen in battle on both sides. We shall always cherish the memory of our heroes who gave their lives so that this day, yea even this day, might come. We respect the valour of an adversary, and we pay tribute to all members of the young generation of the Arab Nation who have fallen as well.

Let us not be daunted by memories of the past, even if they are bitter to us all. We must overcome them, and focus on what lies ahead: on our Peoples, on our children, on our common future. For, in this region, we shall all live together - the Great Arab Nation in its States and its countries, and the Jewish People in its Land, Eretz Israel - forever and ever. For this reason the meaning of peace must be defined.

As free men, Mr. President, let us conduct negotiations for a peace treaty and, with the help of God, so we believe with all our hearts, the day will come when we will sign it, with mutual respect. Then will we know that the era of wars has ended, that we have extended a hand to one another, that we have shaken each other's hand, and that the future will be glorious for all the Peoples of the region. Of prime significance, therefore, in the context of a peace treaty, is a termination of the state of war.

I agree, Mr. President, that you have not come here and we did not invite you to our country in order, as has been suggested in recent days, to drive a wedge between the Arab Peoples, or, expressed more cleverly in accord with the ancient saying, "divide et impera." Israel has no desire to rule and does not wish to divide. We want peace with all our neighbours - with Egypt and with Jordan, with Syria and with Lebanon.

There is no need to differentiate between a peace treaty and the termination of the state of war. We neither propose this, nor do we seek it. On the contrary, the first article of a peace treaty determines the end of the state of war, forever. We wish to establish normal relations between us, as exist among all nations after all wars. We have learned from history, Mr. President, that war is avoidable. It is peace that is inevitable.

Many nations have waged war against one another, and sometimes they have made use of the foolish term "eternal enemy." There are no eternal enemies. After all wars comes the inevitable - peace. Therefore, in the context of a peace treaty, we seek to stipulate the establishment of diplomatic relations, as is customary among civilized nations.

Today, Jerusalem is bedecked with two flags - the Egyptian and the Israeli. Together, Mr. President, we have seen our little children waving both flags. Let us sign a peace treaty and establish such a situation forever, both in Jerusalem and in Cairo. I hope the day will come when Egyptian children will wave Israeli and Egyptian flags together, just as the Israeli children are waving both of these flags together in Jerusalem; when you, Mr. President, will be represented by a loyal Ambassador in Jerusalem, and we, by an Ambassador in Cairo and, should differences of opinion arise between us, we will clarify them, like civilized peoples, through our authorized emissaries.

We propose economic cooperation for the development of our countries. God created marvelous lands in the Middle East - virtual oases in the desert - but there are also deserts, and these can be made fertile. Let us join hands in facing this challenge, and cooperate in developing our countries, in abolishing poverty, hunger and homelessness. Let us raise our nations to the status of developed countries, so that we may no longer be called developing states.

With all due respect, I am prepared to endorse the words of His Highness, the King of Morocco, who said, publicly, that, if peace were to be established in the Middle East, the combination of Arab and Jewish genius can together convert the region into a paradise on earth.

Let us open our countries to free movement, so that you shall come to us and we will visit you. I am prepared today to announce, Mr. Speaker, that our country is open to the citizens of Egypt, and I do not qualify this announcement with any condition on our part. I think it would be only be proper and just that there be a mutual announcement on this matter. And, just as Egyptian flags are flying in our streets, there is also an honoured Egyptian delegation in our capital and in our country today. Let there be many visitors. Our border will be open to you, just as will be all the other borders, for, as I noted, we would like the same situation to prevail in the south, in the north and in the east.

Therefore, I renew my invitation to the President of Syria to follow in your footsteps, Mr. President, and to come to our country to begin negotiations on the establishment of peace between Israel and Syria and on the signing of a peace treaty between us. I am sorry to say, there is no justification for the mourning that has been decreed on the other side of our northern border. On the contrary, such visits, such contacts and discussions, can and should be a cause of happiness, a cause of elation for all peoples.

I invite King Hussein to come here and we shall discuss with him all the problems that exist between us. I also invite genuine spokesmen of the Palestinian Arabs to come and to hold talks with us on our common future, on guaranteeing human freedom, social justice, peace and mutual respect.

And, if they should invite us to come to their capitals, we shall respond to their invitation. Should they invite us to begin negotiations in Damascus, Amman or Beirut, we shall go to those capitals in order to negotiate there. We do not wish to divide. We seek true peace with all our neighbours, to be expressed in peace treaties, the context of which shall be as I have already clarified.

Mr. Speaker, it is my duty today to tell our guests and all the nations who are watching us and listening to our words about the bond between our People and this Land. The President mentioned the Balfour Declaration. No, sir, we took no foreign land. We returned to our Homeland. The bond between our People and this Land is eternal. It was created at the dawn of human history. It was never severed. In this Land we established our civilization; here our prophets spoke those holy words you cited this very day; here the Kings of Judah and Israel prostrated themselves; here we became a nation; here we established our Kingdom and, when we were exiled from our country by the force that was exercised against us, even when we were far away, we did not forget this Land, not even for a single day. We prayed for it; we longed for it; we have believed in our return to it ever since the day these words were spoken:

"When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting."

That song applies to all our exiles, to all our sufferings, and to the consolation that the Return to Zion would surely come.

This, our right, has been recognized. The Balfour Declaration was included in the Mandate which was recognized by the nations of the world, including the United States of America. And the preamble to that authoritative international document states:

"Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine (or, in Hebrew, 'Eretz Israel') and to the grounds for reconstituting their National Home in that country (that is, in 'Eretz Israel')..."

In 1919, we also gained recognition of this right from the spokesman of the Arab People. The agreement of 3 January 1919, signed by Emir Feisal and Chaim Weizmann, states:

"Mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish People, and realizing that the surest means of working out the consummation of their national aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and of Palestine..."

Afterwards, follow all the articles on cooperation between the Arab State and Eretz Israel. That is our right; its fulfilment - the truth.

What happened to us when our Homeland was taken from us? I accompanied you this morning, Mr. President, to Yad Vashem. With your eyes you saw what the fate of our People was when this Homeland was taken from it. It is an incredible story. We both agreed, Mr. President, that whoever has not himself seen what is found in Yad Vashem cannot understand what befell this People when it was homeless, robbed of its

Homeland. And we both read a document dated 30 January 1939, in which the word "vernichtung" appears - "if war breaks out the Jewish race in Europe will be annihilated." Then, too, we were told to pay no heed to such words. The whole world heard. No one came to our rescue; not during the nine critical, fateful months following this announcement - the likes of which had never been heard since God created man and man created Satan - and not during those six years when millions of our people, among them a million and a half small Jewish children were slaughtered in every possible way.

No one came to our rescue, not from the East and not from the West. And therefore we, this entire generation, the generation of Holocaust and Resurrection, swore an oath of allegiance: never again shall we endanger our People; never again will our wives and our children - whom it is our duty to defend, if need be even at the cost of our lives - be put in the devastating range of enemy fire.

And further: ever since then it has been, and will continue to be, our duty, for generations to come, to remember that certain things said about our People are to be related to with all seriousness. We must not, Heaven forbid, for the future of our People, accept any advice suggesting that we not take such words seriously.

President Sadat knows, as he knew from us before he came to Jerusalem, that our position concerning permanent borders between us and our neighbours differs from his. However, I call upon the President of Egypt and upon all our neighbours: do not rule out negotiations on any subject whatsoever. I propose, in the name of the overwhelming majority of this Parliament, that everything will be negotiable. Anybody who says that, in the relationship between the Arab People - or the Arab Nations in the area - and the State of Israel there are subjects that should be excluded from negotiations, is assuming an awesome responsibility. Everything is negotiable. No side shall say the contrary. No side shall present prior conditions. We will conduct the negotiations with respect.

If there are differences of opinion between us, that is not exceptional. Anyone who has studied the history of wars and the annals of peace treaties knows that all negotiations for peace treaties have begun with differences of opinion between the parties concerned, and that, in the course of the negotiations, they have reached solutions which have made possible the signing of agreements or peace treaties. That is the path we propose to follow.

We shall conduct the negotiations as equals. There are no vanquished and there are no victors. All the Peoples of the region are equal, and all will relate to each other with respect. In this spirit of openness, of readiness of each to listen to the other - to facts, reasons, explanations - with every reasonable attempt at mutual persuasion - let us conduct the negotiations as I have asked and propose to open them, to conduct them, to continue them persistently until we succeed, in good time, in signing a peace treaty between us.

We are prepared, not only, to sit with representatives of Egypt and with representatives of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - if it so desires - at a Peace Conference in Geneva. We proposed that the Geneva Conference be renewed on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 of the Security Council. However, should problems arise between us prior to the convening of the Geneva Conference, we will clarify them today and tomorrow and, if the President of Egypt will be interested in continuing to clarify them in Cairo - all the better; if on neutral ground - no opposition. Anywhere. Let us clarify - even before the Geneva Conference convenes - the problems that should be made clear before it meets, with open eyes and a readiness to listen to all suggestions.

Allow me to say a word about Jerusalem. Mr. President, today you prayed in a house of worship sacred to the Islamic faith, and from there you went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You witnessed the fact, known to all who come from throughout the world, that, ever since this city was joined together, there is absolutely free access, without any interference or obstacle, for the members of all religions to their holy places. This positive phenomenon did not exist for 19 years. It has existed now for about 11 years, and we can assure the Moslem world and the Christian world - all the nations - that there will always be free access to the holy places of every faith. We shall defend this right of free access, for it is something in which we believe - in the equality of rights for every man and every citizen, and in respect for every faith.

Mr. Speaker, this is a special day for our Parliament, and it will undoubtedly be remembered for many years in the annals of our Nation, in the history of the Egyptian People, and perhaps, also, in the history of nations.

And on this day, with your permission, worthy and learned Members of the Knesset, I wish to offer a prayer that the God of our common ancestors will grant us the requisite wisdom of heart in order to overcome the difficulties and obstacles, the calumnies and slanders. With the help of God, may we arrive at the longed-for day for which all our people pray - the day of peace.

For indeed, as the Psalmist of Israel said, "Righteousness and peace have kissed," and, as the prophet Zecharia said, "Love truth and peace."

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry