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Menachem Begin Administration: Summary of Debate on Treaty With Egypt

(March 22, 1979)

For two days the Knesset debated the peace treaty, with 108 out of the 120 Knesset members participating in the discussion. Finally at 3 a.m. on March 22, 1979, Mr. Begin rose to sum up the debate. The vote was 95 in favour, 18 against, 2 abstentions and 3 not participating in the vote.

I should like to begin first of all indicating the importance of this debate. This is one of the great moments in our parliament. Generally, as in any democratic house of representatives, the days are prosaic ones. But there comes a day, a night, a moment, when all the glory and the splendor of a democratic parliament are visible to the entire nation, to the entire world. This is the night, these are the two days, this is the moment. There is no imposing, no coercion: this morning, too, the Knesset will vote according to its own will and the free decisions of its factions - and there are factions whose members will vote each according to his own awareness and his decision.

The decision will be a fateful one, of immense significance, and, it may be said without an exaggeration - historic. For we stand, as we believe, at a turning point at least in the relations between two Middle East nations, out of the hope that this will be a basis and a watershed between ourselves and the others. We have been privileged to witness a major moment in our national parliamentary life. How fortunate are we to have been privileged to attain this hour.

I thought about whether I should engage in polemics with those Members who expressed their opposition to the peace treaty, or with those who stated things - whether at my expense or that of the Government - which are not correct, which are even offensive. I arrived at the conclusion that it would be best if I refrained from such polemics. I shall be silent, and leave things as they were stated, without replying. But if there was an iota of a certain feeling -which I shall not call by its proper name - in certain statements, I shall recommend to those who expressed them to read, or perhaps to peruse once again, Psalms 29.

I have come to offer one reply this morning - not to a Member of the Knesset, but to Dr. Khalil, the Prime Minister of Egypt - in which I had responded to his earlier remarks. I should like to note that had Dr. Khalil not declared three things - the Old City of Jerusalem will be severed from Israel, Israel will return to the lines of 4 June 1967, a Palestinian state will be established in Judea, Samaria and Gaza - I would not have uttered our three declarations from this rostrum, for a simple reason: what I said is to me self-evident. There is no need to state it in our house of representatives. The great majority - as every man and woman in Israel knows - backs the three declarations I made here.

But the Prime Minister of Egypt need not imagine that he can unilaterally, on the brink of the signing of the peace treaty, can do hurt to the profoundest feelings of the Jewish people, wherever it may be. Jerusalem. A return to the lines of 4 June 1967 - which themselves invite war and bloodshed. And the proof: experience. Or the establishment of a Palestinian state, namely: creation of danger to the very survival of the Jewish state - one of the wondrous miracles of human history. Dr. Khalil should not imagine that he can thus injure our feelings and we will say, "Nothing has happened, the atmosphere is excellent", and be silent.

Following my reaction he claimed my remarks had befouled the atmosphere. Not so: it was your remarks, Dr. Khalil, which befouled the atmosphere. And I only reacted to your remarks, as you in fact compelled me to do. It cannot be claimed that an injury to our nation spoils things and the reaction to it is what creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. One or the other: either everyone keeps silent, or everyone speaks out. I hope that this will serve as a lesson for the coming days. I am once more ready to propose to my comrade, the Prime Minister of Egypt, a verbal ceasefire: let us wait. We are about to sign a peace treaty, with good will, in trust. We want to honor every word to which we have signed and below which we will place our signature. Do not injure our people's feelings. You ought to know what Jerusalem means to this people. Do not injure our people's feelings. Do not say to it that a new danger will arise over it. Then I will not have to respond from the rostrum of this free parliament, and we shall all be able to go to Washington and sign as free men the most important document ever written and signed by authorized representatives of the Jewish state and an Arab state.

(Interjection by MK Tewfiq Toubi, of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality: Mr. Prime Minister, I want to ask you: Why is it an injury to the feelings of the people to say that the Palestinian Arab people also has the right to establish its own independent state? After all, in 1947, they danced in the streets of Tel Aviv - they danced for joy over the decision to establish two states!)

Premier. Mr. Toubi, you have asked now honorably, and I shall reply to you honorably. When they danced in 1947, the Jews did not dance because Jerusalem was taken from them, and Bethlehem-Judea. Rather, they rejoiced that they would have their own state. After nineteen hundred years of wandering throughout the world, of going to the stake, of murder, of persecution, of ghettos, and, in the last generation, of the destruction of a third of their people. Therefore we, who were still in the underground, did not dance; we said we would not join the dancing, because our homeland had been thus partitioned - that is what we said; so that we are in touch with the spirit of our people.

Because suddenly - true, following a war of independence of great historic value and of great numbers of victims -they attained the day on which they knew they would have their own government, their own parliament - the Jews -their own army to defend them so that a Jew would never again be dragged to the gas chamber, so that a little Jewish child would never again be hanged until he was dead. This was what the rejoicing was all about. Restoration of our days as of old with national independence.

I ask you, as an Arab - and you know that I have respected the great Arab nation from my earliest days, - and its contribution to human civilization - look at what happened. Consider the phenomenon yourself: The Arab states all around, and our Arab neighbours in Palestine - did they accept that decision, or did they decide to drown it in blood? We all remember the declarations made then: "The Jews will be annihilated!" Therefore we were advised not to declare our independence, and for that reason there were differences of opinion within all the parties. But we did establish our state. And then do you know what happened, Knesset Member Tewfiq Toubi? In order to maintain our independence in a small portion of the land, we sacrificed one percent of our population - in today's terms that would be 30,000 killed. Can you imagine what would befall this nation if it sacrificed 30,000 of its sons? That was what happened in 1948 (Interjection by MK Moshe Shamir, of the Likud: And today in this treaty you are, compelling the Knesset to agree that monuments will be set up to the Egyptian murderers of 1948, at Negba and at Yad Mordechai, on Israeli soil! The Knesset will today approve this!)

Premier. I want to tell you, here before the entire nation, that on this issue, too, our views differ. I want to say, as a Jew and a Jewish fighter, that I see no fault, but rather a sign of honor for this nation, if we build a monument to a soldier of another nation who fell in fair battle. No fault! The opposite! No fault, but a badge of honor for our nation.

Mr. Speaker,

The autonomy idea: certainly it is possible to terrify us, to criticize it, reject it, even scorn it. All that is possible. But the fact is - and today we may say this out of full awareness - that this idea was the key to the attainment of the peace treaty with Egypt. Without it we would not have made it. This may not be a reason to show any special fondness for the idea, but the fact is that even my colleagues from the Alignment, my honorable opponents, are today making a motion which contains their own plan, as they worked it out, for an autonomy regime. This means something. Because at one time the idea was totally rejected, out of hand. Today the entire House realizes that this was an important idea, a positive idea, and the only way we were able to enter into a peace treaty with Egypt.

True: I shall again state, before the entire nation, that we will have a year of struggle, perhaps a difficult year - both domestically and externally, perhaps. Various voices may be heard. I say that we wholeheartedly want to implement this idea, and to enable our Arab neighbours to run their affairs by means of an institution which they themselves will effect in free, democratic, secret elections, each voter with his ballot, on a day which should be a great one for them and for us, too. For the first time they will go to the polls as free people, without fear - we shall ensure that they will not be afraid - if they so wish, and elect their own representatives. And their representatives will run their daily affairs for them, in all spheres, of life.

(Interjection by MK Meir Wilner, of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality: Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister, what are you doing now in the West Bank shows what kind of freedom there will be. The entire matter of the autonomy regime is just a ruse to get Sadat to agree to continuation of the occupation.)

Premier. Mr. Wilner, if so, then wait until Sadat comes here, and make this interjection to him. For it is directed against Sadat. What do you want from me? I do not agree that this is a ruse for Sadat - that you learned from "Pravda" - but when I was in the USSR I heard them say, right across the entire Soviet Union: "In Pravda there is no Izvestia, and in Izvestia there is no Pravda."

The simple truth is that President Sadat looked for no ruse. And we may well have an argument with him (over this issue). What I said remains valid. But I must add that we deceived no one: From the outset we said that this autonomy regime would be established and would be maintained, provided there is security for Israel, in Judea, Samaria and Gaza and from them. That is a conditio sine qua non. That is what we said to the President of the United States, and to President Sadat, on every public opportunity, in all the conferences and meetings: a sine qua non. The two are interdependent. So here, too, I would ask that people give it a chance. Let's try it. Let us try to see if we can live together in this tiny land: the entire width from the Jordan to the sea is 70 kms., 40 miles. Where are there many such small countries on the face of the earth?

And precisely to partition it, with a border running through it - that is the solution of genius! And the border shall become a bloody one. How do I know this? From the teacher of teachers: and his name is Experience. And not to learn from the experience of nineteen years!? We shall not try to evade this directive of this special teacher.

Therefore in what have we sinned that we want to provide the possibility of trying to live together? What do you say is happening in the West Bank - as you term it - Mr. Wilner? What would you like? That our soldiers should move about and be stoned, when every stone can not only wound but kill? Well, we want to leave in peace!

Mr. Speaker,

The autonomy idea opened the possibility of signing a peace treaty with Egypt. We want to implement it, with the sine qua non that there is no more border, all live together in peace, in mutual respect, in understanding, in liberty, without injury to either side. You will see how beautiful will the Land of Israel be under such conditions. Let us make the attempt to build it thus.

If only they had listened to us in 1948, when all the organizations - the Haganah, the IZL and the LEHI - called on our neighbours to stop the bloodshed: come, our Arab neighbours, let us live together, let us build the land together, in eternal splendor. This is what we wanted already 30 and more years ago. But nothing helped: five wars were waged against us.

Mr. Speaker,

If the Knesset in another few minutes approves the Treaty of Peace with its annexes and its accompanying letter, the way will be paved to hold in Washington - next Monday, probably - the first ceremony of the signing of this peace treaty by President Sadat, by myself and also by the President of the U.S. I hope that a week later, either in the following order or vice versa, that perhaps President Sadat will be in the Knesset and the two of us will sit on either side of you and we will sign the peace treaty with all the Members of the Knesset witnessing that the peace treaty has been signed. And I will go to Cairo - how did President Sadat put it? "In the heart of the capital of Egypt" - where the two of us will sign the peace treaty. How do I know this? I wish to inform the House that I received yesterday a personal message from President Sadat, who wanted to let me know that he asserts that every word that President Carter said to me on Saturday night, in a private conversation, concerning these three ceremonies, is correct - and President Sadat added that he would honor every word, as stated by President Carter to you. So I do not yet know the date - nor can I promise that this is how it will in fact be - but I trust President Sadat's statement concerning the honoring of this commitment.

I want to stress: There was one Knesset Member who had some rather mocking things to say about these three ceremonies. I want to say to him - and to everyone - that great psychological importance attaches to this, which is also political importance. That all the peoples of the Middle East may see that the authorized representative of Egypt, the spokesman for Israel are sitting together and signing the treaty - both in Jerusalem and in Cairo. This, too, will be a cornerstone in the building of normal relations. So this is what we proposed, and I am happy to inform the Knesset that the suggestion was accepted by both the President of the United States and the President of Egypt. Mr. Speaker,

At this late hour we are concluding this great debate which will be remembered for many days in the annals of our people, for it was very serious, very profound, painful - but nonetheless of major importance.

I ask your leave, Mr. Speaker, to send from here, with the occurrence of all the Members of the House, greetings to the President of Egypt. Because with his courage - and courage was needed in the face of the pack of wolves all around, from Damascus to Baghdad! - he decided to come and talk peace with Israel. And we invited him, and returned peace unto him. I send from here the greetings of the representatives of the people of Israel to the great Egyptian people. Five times have our sons met on the battlefield. Each of them did his duty: every soldier in every army who is sent to the battlefield just does his duty. So we have no grudges. We are not living in the past. We want to build a new future. We send greetings to the Egyptian people in anticipation of the new relations which are to arise between it and ourselves.

Mr. Speaker,

I shall now say a few totally personal words. I want to tell my old friends in this House which is my second home -that half my life I have spent in this House. What is my innermost feeling? True: it is good that we have attained such a moment. There is concern for the future, as there must be. There is also apprehension in the heart, totally natural. But despite and with all this we feel in our heart that we have reached a certain turning point. May it be one which is entirely positive - for us, for the Egyptian people, for other peoples around us. For with all our heart and all our soul - all of us together - want to attain the goal than which there is none simpler, or more human: Peace.

And with God's help, may we be able to return from the signing and say to the people: "We have brought peace unto you."

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry