ANNAPOLIS, Maryland –
It is now 30 years since Egyptian President Mohammed Anwar el Sadat electrified the world and altered indelibly the Arab-Israeli conflict with his startling three-day journey to Jerusalem.
The contrast between Sadat's 'lone ranger' peace mission to Israel and the gathering of officials and diplomats from over 40 countries at yesterday’s Annapolis Conference was significant. By comparing it with President Sadat’s daring journey, there is much to learn.
Still vivid is the poignancy and memory of President Sadat, the stately leader of the largest Arab nation, being welcomed by Menachem Begin, the courtly Prime Minister of Israel.
| President Anwar Sadat, shortly before he was assassinated in 1981, during one of several exclusive interviews with White House correspondent Trude B. Feldman, at Blair House, the presidential guest house across from the White House. When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he replied – as he leaned forward, puffing on his ever-present pipe: "For my efforts to bring peace, and as one who lived for peace, and would die for peace. Nothing ranks higher, and I will go to lengths to achieve it."
Photo by Arnie Sachs, CNP
As soon as President Sadat arrived in Israel, he noticed that "disbelief prevailed" but he went on to captivate his hosts as well as the people. Among the first officials he recognized were former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, against whom Sadat fought the 1973 Yom Kippur War (He later described the astonished looks on their faces when he "teased" them about not taking seriously his 1971 peace proposal.)
On Nov. 9th, 1977, Sadat told the People's Assembly (Egypt's Parliament) that he was ready "to go to Israel's home and to discuss peace". Two days later, Prime Minister Begin accepted his offer and invited him, in a message that was broadcast to the Egyptian people: "Let me say to one another, and let it be a silent oath by the peoples of Egypt and Israel — no more wars, no more bloodshed and no more threats."
On November 19th, President Sadat's jet — Egyptian One — brought him to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, where he was greeted with a 21-gun salute.
The next day, the Egyptian leader prayed at the Al Aksa Mosque and then visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial.
Later, from the rostrum of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), Sadat gave, in Arabic, a passionate address: “… The Egyptian people bless this sacred mission of peace," he told the 120 Knesset members. "I have chosen to come to you with an open heart and mind ... and to give this great impetus to all international efforts exerted for peace ... not to maneuver or win a round, but for us to win together, the most dangerous of rounds embattled in modern history, the battle of peace, based on justice.”
Anwar Sadat's trip to Jerusalem and the subsequent Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty (1979) led many to hope that the terms of debate in the Arab world would change from how to destroy Israel to how to live peacefully with it.
Four months after his peace journey, Sadat and his wife, Jehan, came to Washington, D.C. During an interview at the Egyptian Embassy Mrs. Sadat described her husband's reaction to his visit in Jerusalem.
"The family gathered together and we plied him with questions about Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan and Mr. Begin," she enthused. "He was impressed with the Israelis. He is still optimistic and has good feelings for Mr. Begin and his people. He was really excited when he showed us the letters, drawings of olive branches and flowers that the children gave him."
Mrs. Sadat also explained that she did not accompany him, because of her need to prepare for mid term exams at Cairo University and the anticipation of the birth of another grandchild.
"As it turned out, the baby girl was born two weeks prematurely," she said.
"I got the feeling she was in a hurry to come into the world just as her grandfather was in a hurry to initiate the peace process. At the moment she arrived, President Sadat was praying at the Al Aksa Mosque. We took that as a good omen — for the family, and I hope, for the world.
"You know, when my husband talks about peace, he acts on pursuing it. He is doing his best to find the solution ... . Maybe Mr. Begin is right when he speaks of what happened before, but let us look to the future. We want our new grandchild, all our grandchildren and Mrs. Begin's grandchildren and everyone's grandchildren to grow up in peace instead of living with the threat of war."
In one of several one-on-one interviews after President Sadat’s "peace mission", he told me: “Before I met Mr. Begin, I studied him by reading articles about him as well as some of his writings. I studied his strengths and weaknesses as a boxer studies his opponent. After I was convinced that he was earnest about peace, and strong enough to make concessions to achieve peace, I went to Israel.
“For sure, I soon realized that Mr. Begin was a man with whom understanding could be reached. I saw in him a serious man, able to get his people to accept his decisions, and I saw positiveness in him and his government.”
Sadat also disclosed that he originally thought of inviting the five Big Powers (the U.S., China, France, Great Britain and the then - Soviet Union) to go with him to Jerusalem so he could give every guarantee possible to Israel. “At that time,” he recalled, “I expected to tell Israel, 'Here are the five Big Powers – whatever guarantees you need, I am ready to fulfill.'
"But one reason I revised my thinking and did not take them with me was because Israel always asked for direct negotiations and I thought if I brought the Big Powers, it might be construed that I was trying to hide behind them. So I went by myself, to deal face to face, and tell the Israelis, 'Let's bring down the barriers of suspicion.' "
President Sadat's "peace initiative" also provoked antagonism. He noted that most of the Arab world "called me a 'charlatan' for visiting Jerusalem and Yad Vashem, the Memorial that many dismissed as propaganda.
"But," he told me, "I purposely went to that awesome place to prove I am serious about peace. For sure, the alternative is horrible. I never thought what had happened during World War II was that terrible. I thought it was mere propaganda. But, at Yad Vashem, I saw the documentation and depictions and exhibits and I was really moved. With my own eyes, I saw that Memorial which embodies the suffering of Israelis
and Jews all over the world. They are victims, not only of war, but of politics and hatred. Even if it were my last act as president, I would be happy that I took the initiative because my visit made a difference and has changed the world."
In another interview, an unusually emotional one, Sadat confided to me: “I inherited hatred from President Nasser (his predecessor). Now, I am trying to use common heritage and common faith to break the barriers of suspicion and mistrust that have been built up in our area for so long. We need to discard the hatred — for love; the bitterness — for compassion and the evilness — for tolerance.
“For sure, I can use love to convince the evil-doers that they are a wicked scourge on humanity.”
Sadat also showed a sensitivity to Israel's security problems on the West Bank. Nonetheless, he said he felt that during negotiations, Israeli leaders might be using the security issue as a pretext for holding on to captured lands. "I am ready to go to whatever ends are needed for Israel's right to be secure," he said. "But no one should trespass on the sovereignty or the land of others."
Secretary of State, Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr, looking back, describes Anwar Sadat as a remarkable Arab leader and credits him with a "unique strategic brilliance which enabled him to sort out contradictions between Soviet imperialism, traditional Arab nationalism and anti-Zionism.” (then the three forces pressing on Egypt).
Gen. Haig also told me: "It was President Sadat's world view — in contrast to what appeared to him at that time as American naiveté about the Soviet threat to the Middle East and Africa — that triggered Sadat’s historic trip to Israel that, in turn, made possible President Carter's Camp David Summit (1978)."
While Sadat did not achieve the comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace he had sought, he did help to reduce the risk of war and demonstrate that strong statesmanship and leadership, as well as competence and wisdom, can make a difference.
On the 30th anniversary of his "sacred mission" it is incumbent on today's officials, advisers and diplomats to reflect on and enhance Sadat's legacy, exercise diplomatic muscle and finally decide how to summon the courage and commitment to emulate his audacious risk for total peace.
It was 16 months after Sadat's momentous sojourn in Jerusalem when he and Mr. Begin signed the first Arab-Israeli Peace Treaty, which resulted in the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, ending a major potential cause for war between the two protagonists. (For their efforts, President Sadat, together with Prime Minister Begin, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.)
At the White House, a beaming President Jimmy Carter, who had played midwife to that Accord, hosted the signing ceremony.
During Sadat’s next trip to the White House, President Carter honored President and Mrs. Sadat with a State Dinner and noted, in his toast, that Sadat's trip to Jerusalem "transformed the attitude" of the world.
"A shock went through society in almost every nation that one person could instantly change a discouraging, even debilitating deadlock that had caused four wars since 1948," Carter stated. "So much has changed from the time when Israel was hated by almost all Arab governments, when no Arab leader had the temerity to even meet with, or talk to, or recognize diplomatically or acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, and President Sadat changed all that."
Prime Minister Begin, in an interview in 1982, told me that if Sadat were still alive relations between their countries would gradually have been improved.
"If Anwar Sadat were still ruling Egypt, I think that, through education, he would make sure that the hatred of Israelis is omitted from school text books," Mr. Begin added. "He would instruct teachers to teach their pupils about acceptance and tolerance. The decades of animosity and of evil need to end. … It may take more time to uproot the hatred and to install understanding and cooperation ... . I think that will come some day, but not in my lifetime.”
President Ronald Reagan, in the aftermath of Sadat's mission, told me, in his first Oval Office interview after winning the Presidency, that the answer to Israel's security must lie in actions similar to those taken between Israel and Egypt after that mission.
He added that "down deep" each of the leaders in the Middle East wants the same thing — a peaceful solution to their problems.
“I believe they should try harder among themselves to work out a genuine co-existence,” he said, “and then, if they need the United States, I will go for broke to make it happen."
Gerald R. Ford, during his many years in Congress and as the vice president and president, also attempted to expedite peace talks with officials in the Mideast. He related, however, that serious infighting and bickering from even senior advisers, diplomats and so-called "special interest leaders" had a major effect on negotiations and decisions that had world-wide impact.
He recalled that senior staff and elected officials would undermine one another — from the lowest to the highest position — which, in turn, affected leaders’ progress and decision-making.
He maintained that staff members need to be carefully vetted and screened before he or she is hired in any government position, particularly in Congress, in the White House or State Department, and should not be selected from those "cliques of ambitious amateurs" who work in presidential campaigns; and with no training or experience; and with their own agendas, actually help to decide most American elections.
He indicated that he was often misled and misinformed about who hired which advisers, aides and even interns and pages.
He concurred with George E. Reedy — one of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s press secretaries and author of ‘The Twilight of the Presidency’, who wrote: “Presidents should not hire assistants under 40 years old, who had not suffered any major disappointments. … When amateurs find themselves in the West Wing or the East Wing of the White House, they begin to think they are little tin gods…”
In his autobiography, “A Time to Heal”, President Ford writes that throughout his political career, nothing upset him more than the internal conflicts among staff members. “It was time-consuming, terribly distracting and unnecessary,” he notes. “I told my aides I would not tolerate that infighting. But it continued, even accelerated, in the White House. I was too tolerant and too reluctant to fire anyone. In the final months of my presidency, I began to face the problem, but it was too late."
Yet, presidents, vice presidents, Senators, Congressmen, prime ministers, kings, queens, cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, chief executive officers, even generals and others in senior positions – the world over – still do not appear to understand or comprehend that it is they themselves who may be enabling their own assistants and aides and underlings to make crucial decisions – even decisions relating to war and peace.
As for decisions regarding war and peace, it was President Bill Clinton – also frustrated with staff conflicts and related ramifications – who pointed out that the U.S. would continue to "stand with those who seek peace, with those who stand up for change in the face of terrorists and extremists who seek to destroy the peace by killing the innocent.
"They cannot, they must not, they will not succeed," he had emphasized. "They are the past. The peace makers are the future."
As the Annapolis Conference showed, the future, indeed, now lies with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salem Fayyad.
And the time may now be ripe, even compelling, for the "peace makers" to emerge. Perhaps President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will now be able to provide the forceful moral and convincing leadership as they guide Arab and Israeli leaders in forging a lasting peace.
President Bush, in a May 2004 interview with Al-Ahram International, stated: "I announced I'm going to send a letter to the Palestinian Prime Minister explaining that I'm committed to the Road Map, committed to two states living side by side in peace, but also reminding him it is now time to step up and show leadership, show leadership against the terrorists and show leadership in putting the institutions in place for a state to emerge."
Asked by Al-Ahram about the "American bias" to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the president responded: "I hope we can solve that . . . I've got great respect for Arab culture . . . and for the Muslim religion . . . . This is not a war against Muslims. The Muslim religion is a peaceful religion. Islam is peace. This is a war against evil people who want to kill innocent life. That's what this is.
"And it is. They have killed in our country. They have killed in your country. They killed a great man in Sadat. It is essential that freedom-loving people and peaceful people fight terror. It is the call of our time; it is the challenge of the twenty-first century. And we've got to work together to do so."
In an Oval Office interview in July 2004, President Bush was both philosophical and confident as he answered my questions about the powder keg that still is the Mideast and emphasized his goal for a two-state solution.
"My vision is for a free and democratic Iraq and a free and peaceful democratic Palestinian state serving as catalysts for change in a region that has harbored resentment," the President told me. "The Middle East has also served as a place to recruit terrorists who have a desire to kill Americans, to drive us out of parts of the world so they can impose their will."
He added that he believes that, with the emergence of an independent Palestinian state, the West Bank and Gaza will be governed by Palestinians and that the final border is up for negotiations between the two parties. He does not agree with his critics that the friction between Israel and her neighbors is connected to, or intertwined with, his policy in Iraq.
"The problem with the Palestinians is territory," he said. "They don't have a state to call their own."
As recently as Nov. 7, President Bush again called for a two-state solution. The setting was George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate where he had hosted France's President Nicolas Sarkozy. Afterwards, the two presidents held a press conference, during which Mr. Bush said: "I believe in a two-state solution. I believe there ought to be two states living side by side in peace. So does President Sarkozy. We discussed that today."
Whether French or American, British or Russian, Arab or Israeli, Italian or Japanese or Chinese, a place in global history is awaiting the committed and honest statesmen with the clarity and assertiveness, as well as a large measure of fortitude and wisdom, to make that kind of strategic thinking a reality.
After more than 40 years of covering Middle East issues in the region, in Europe, at the United Nations and in Washington, DC; and after countless private conversations and interviews with the high and mighty — as well as with the powerless and the poor in Israel and the Arab countries — I can say, with certitude, that the fact that those who have the will, the drive and perseverance to help realize Sadat’s vision for peace are, too often, thwarted by those who have been delegated to carry out the necessary initiatives.
Too often, the underlings of innovative American, Israeli, Arab and other peace-seeking men and women have given de facto assistance to extremists and hate mongers.
Yes, President Sadat, for sure – your favorite English expression – there is a key that could open the door to the tolerance and peace for which you sought and died. Your efforts and sacrifices were not in vain. You remain the exemplary model – even today, 30 years later. Your global impact is still with us.
But who will now begin to turn the right key that opens the deadlocked door to find the kind of peace and true loving kindness for which you yearned?
Who will be the next Anwar Sadat? Who has the stature, the leadership and clout, able to overcome the cynics, bureaucrats and outright haters? Who will be the leader who will lift our sights and be a healer, have enough passion to attack the challenge anew, the kind of leader who provides a clear vision and motivates us to action?
Shortly before his murder, I asked President Sadat — during an interview at Blair House, the presidential guest house across from the White House — how he wanted to be remembered.
"For my efforts to bring peace, and as one who lived for peace, and would die for peace," he replied. "Nothing ranks higher, and I will go to lengths to achieve it. I like the challenge and where there is a challenge, you will find me in high spirits."
And if he were granted three wishes, what would he want? Leaning forward, puffing on his ever-present pipe, he responded: "One, peace in the Middle East; two, peace in the Middle East; three, peace in the Middle East. These are my three wishes and I will pray for them until my last moment before I die."
Anwar Sadat was assassinated (Oct. 6, l98l) in his own country, by his own people. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated (Nov. 5, 1995) in his own country by his own people.
We have all experienced the trauma of assassinations. Yet, we have also seen how a legacy of evil can be healed by love; and the courage to express it. There will always be terrorists and terrorism as long as humans abuse one another. The mentality of evil perpetuates the cycle of abuse, and fuels the enemy’s justification of his or her behavior.
At the heart of terrorism is intense self-hatred created by abuse. The hatred of self is projected onto others — and the enemy within can be distanced from the fragile internal self by focusing on the perceived enemy without—the enemy who carries all of the disowned self.
Hence, evil people justify their rage, ever searching for someone else to blame or to torture so they don’t have to hold the mirror up and face the hatred within.
The dynamics of abuse and torture are the same, whether it is behind closed doors or in an overt act of terrorism.
Perhaps our priority should focus on exposing the twisted ideas of those enemies within and without key countries in the Mideast who have learned to employ—overtly and covertly—virulence and violence as well as tools of threat, deception and shrewd manipulation to seek their own objectives.
Short of achieving this, neither the Mideast nor the world as a whole, will be able to move towards Anwar Sadat’s vision of peace based upon his concept of a diplomacy of love, a diplomacy he attempted in his dealings with Israel.
Just as abuse begets abuse and violence begets violence and torture begets torture, so, too, does love beget love. But that requires that governments ensure that minds and souls of young people are not poisoned by attitudes of hatred towards other peoples, nations or ethnic groups.
It is now thirty years since President Sadat noted that his most memorable moment in Jerusalem was when he addressed the Knesset, where he emphasized that he had come with “firm steps, to build a new life and to establish peace….Why don’t we stand together with courage to erect a huge edifice of peace….an edifice that builds, that serves as a beacon for generations to come, with a human message of construction, development and dignity of man?
“… In all sincerity, I tell you that there can be no peace without the Palestinians. It is a grave error of unpredictable consequences to overlook this cause….You have to face reality bravely, as I have done. There can never be any solution to a problem by evading it…direct confrontation and straightforwardness are the shortcuts and the most successful way to reach a clear objective. Direct confrontation concerning the Palestinian problem and tackling it with a view to achieving a durable and just peace lie in the establishment of a Palestinian state. With all the guarantees you demand, there should be no fear of a newly-born state that needs the assistance of all countries.
“When the bells of peace ring, there will be no hands to beat the drums of war. Even if they existed, they would be stilled.”
Today, in closing remarks at the Annapolis Conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the attendees “who shared their views seriously and soberly, not always agreeing, but seeking to build understanding through discussions and dialogue…
"The Conference has thus been the beginning, not the end, of a new, serious and substantive effort to achieve peace in the Middle East … This work involves risks and sacrifices for all concerned. But today's events demonstrated unambiguously that the international community will fully support the path the parties have chosen," she said.
“President Bush and I have pledged the unwavering support of the United States to realize this goal. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a national interest for the United States, and we now have a real opportunity to make progress … and no one believes that failure is an option."
Experts and critics alike speculated that the Annapolis Conference would not take place. Some said it should not take place – that more likely it would raise false hopes, and when they were dashed, new violence could erupt.
But the murky uncertainty, the competing dreams, position papers and the debating points all counted for less than courageous, strong and moral leadership. Possibilities can be galvanized into action, or they can evaporate like wisps of fog.
The world will now see whether Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak; and President Abbas and his Foreign Minister – as well as President Bush, Secretary Rice, Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, and others – have caught a glimpse of President Sadat’s vision and action, and are able to complete his broken journey.
Editor's Note: Trude B. Feldman, a veteran White House and Department of State correspondent, has written from, and about, the Middle East since she covered the 122 sessions of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. There, and in Haifa, and in Cyprus, Greece, she was an 'extra' in the film, EXODUS. Later, she accompanied former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on her five-day Middle East trip – her last before her death in 1962.
On Mideast issues, Ms. Feldman has interviewed every Israeli prime minister, including the first, David Ben Gurion to Ariel Sharon; and every American president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush (including Harry Truman, in his post presidential years (1968, 1971, 1972); as well as every Secretary of State, from Dean Rusk to Colin L. Powell. (Her interview with Condoleezza Rice was conducted in the White House when she was National Security Advisor, soon to become the 66th Secretary of State.)