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Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2002 / 14 Kislev, 5763


What Sadat understood about Israelis and peace

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | On Nov. 19, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat flew to Tel Aviv and told Israelis what they had waited decades to hear from an Arab leader: We welcome you into the Middle East.

At that moment, Sadat -- who only four years earlier had led Egyptian troops in a surprise attack against the Jewish state on Yom Kippur -- became an Israeli hero. Yielding to domestic pressure, the right-wing Israeli government of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin withdrew to the 1967 borders, handing the Sinai in its entirety back to Egypt.

On the 25th anniversary of Sadat's initiative, it is worth examining what so far remains the only successful land-for-peace exchange in the Middle East.

Sadat understood that the key to peace was reassuring Israelis that it was safe to withdraw and that at the end of the "land for peace" process there would indeed be peace for Israel. In effect, the Egyptian president reversed that formula and offered "peace for land" -- a meaningful Arab gesture of reconciliation that convinced Israelis to take a chance on withdrawal.

Sadat's psychological overture acknowledged Israel's precariousness as the only non-Arab state in the Middle East. Israel may be Goliath in its confrontation with the Palestinians, but in its confrontation with the vast Arab world, it is forced into the role of David.

Just compare Sadat's wisdom with the approach of Arab leaders today.

Following this past Sabbath's massacre in Hebron, where 12 Israeli soldiers guarding worshippers on the way from prayer services were gun-downed and others severely injured, and last week's terrorist atrocity at Kibbutz Metzer, in which a mother and two children were murdered in their home by a gunman from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade -- which is linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction -- the Palestinian Authority's official radio station, Voice of Palestine, noted that the assault occurred "in the so-called kibbutz, or farm community, which is a colony north of Tulkarm." By referring to a kibbutz within Israel's pre-1967 borders as a "colony," the station was declaring that there is no difference between a West Bank settlement and any Jewish community in Israel proper.

For Palestinian leaders, the Jewish state is inherently an illegal settlement, a foreign implant in the Arab world.

That brutal moment of candor is a reminder that this war isn't about settlements or occupation but about the Palestinian leadership's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist in any borders.

The radio broadcast was a classic example of Palestinian doublespeak: Even as Arafat was denouncing the kibbutz attack in English to the international media, his own Arabic medium was broadcasting an opposite message, justifying the attack as retaliation for the Israeli army's shooting of two terrorists on their way to a suicide bombing.

That doublespeak is routine for many Arab leaders, who promise reconciliation in English and war and hatred in Arabic. Consider the much-touted Saudi peace plan, released last spring, that offered recognition of Israel by the Arab world in exchange for full territorial withdrawal and a "just solution" to the refugee problem -- a code phrase for inundating the Jewish state with Palestinian refugees hostile to Israel's existence, rather than resettling them in a Palestinian state.

The very day that the Arab League released the plan in Beirut, a Saudi government newspaper published an article reviving a medieval blood libel, claiming that Jews use Gentile blood for their ritual devotions. And that same week, the Saudi government's English-language Web site ran a long piece by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke alleging a Zionist effort to dominate the world.

The Saudi plan was nothing more than a public relations gimmick aimed at post-9/11 damage control.

Sadat, by contrast, understood that the key to resolving the conflict was psychological. Throughout the often difficult peace process between Israel and Egypt, Sadat was never caught speaking peace in English and holy war in Arabic.

No conqueror ever feared, as Israel does, that by withdrawing from occupied territory it would risk not merely diminishment but destruction. Indeed, no country other than Israel faces enemies who refuse to acknowledge its simple right to exist.

Rather than address the fears of Israelis, as Sadat did, Arab leaders today tend to incite them. That includes Sadat's unworthy successor, Hosni Mubarak, whose state television is currently broadcasting a 41-part drama centered on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old forgery that became the Nazis' favorite anti-Jewish text.

Today there are streets in Israel named for Anwar Sadat. Whatever happens next in the Middle East, there will be no Israeli streets named for Mubarak or Arafat.

Yossi Klein Halevi

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JWR contributor Yossi Klein Halevi is the Israel correspondent for the New Republic and a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report. He is the author of "Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist (Little, Brown) and, most recently, of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for G-d with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land." Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, This article first appeared in the Los Angeles times