ABC News Special: Middle East Summit: Sadat in Israel

TV Interviews
posted on:
20 In nov 1977
Individuals - Anwar Sadat. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Arabs of Israel, Palestinians. Foreign Policy - Diplomacy. States - Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria. Jewish Heritage - Holocaust. Interim Agreements , Greater Land of Israel - Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula. Knesset , Peace , Peace Agreements , peace process with Egypt
Barbara Walters interviews Begin and Anwar Sadat on "ABC" on the eve of Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. Topics include: the Geneva Conference, the possibility of a future Palestinian state, Sadat's visit to Yad Vashem, and general thoughts on the peace process.
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[Interview between Begin, Barbara Walters and President Sadat starts at 1:57]

Walters: I would like to, if I could, set the scene. This is taking place immediately after President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have addressed the Knesset. We are in the Knesset itself and this is the very first interview that the president of Egypt and the prime minister of Israel have done, or, indeed, any president of Egypt and any prime minister. In that sense, it is historic and we have been hoping to have this for many years, as you know, Mr. President.

Sadat: Quite right, quite right.

It's something we have talked about as well with you, Mr. Prime Minister.

Begin: Yes, ma'am.

So we are grateful to you for this historic time, the first time you're publicly appearing together for an interview. Does this mean, Mr. President, that ambassadors, that your ambassadors can now meet and talk, even, as you said in your speech, that they could give greetings, which they've never done before?

S: Well, I have stated this in my speech and, for sure, I shall be conducting talks with Premier Begin tonight and tomorrow and we shall arrange all these details.

So that, after tomorrow, your ambassadors, for example, your two ambassadors in Washington can meet and talk?

S: Why not?

Well, because they never have before.

S: It has never happened, yes. But, as I said today, we are ready.

B: There shall always be a beginning and I can only express my deep satisfaction at the words uttered by the president. I do hope that, starting from tomorrow, the ambassadors of Egypt and Israel all over the world will give common interviews with journalists and express their opinions and that will apply also to the United Nations.

Would this mean that there would be an exchange of ambassadors to your two countries? An exchange of tourists? An exchange of students?

S: Not yet.

Not yet.

S: Not yet. We must reach first the ending of this state of belligerency in the peace agreement, or peace treaty. And then, after that, all this can be regulated.

B: I hope it will come.

Mr. President, up until yesterday, and, as you suggest, now, Israel and Egypt were in a state of war. Do you still consider that you are in a state of war?

S: Unfortunately, yes.

B: We want to abolish this state of war.

Well, the psychological barriers have been broken down.

S: Quite right.

This is something each of you has talked about, and indeed has happened, and Prime Minister Begin told us last night how much he liked you personally, that you are able to talk together and joke together. Would you like to give us your personal feelings about the prime minister?

S: Well, in the first place, I knew him through President Carter and then, after that, through President Ceausescu. And, yesterday, President Katzir was telling me about him on the way from the airport to the hotel here. So, I think we met and I found that it was something, I mean, quite familiar to me.

B: As you can see, Barbara, I have, thank God, the recommendations of three presidents to President Sadat and, as I said, this is my feeling. We really like each other. We may have differences, but we like each other.

I would like to talk about the differences. You said in your speech a few moments ago that everything was negotiable. President Sadat, you said that your people, the Arab people, would not concede one inch of occupied land. Is that negotiable? Would you give up any of that land, make any of those concessions?

S: Not at all.

Not at all.

S: Yes, frankly, not at all. But it doesn't mean at all that we shall not try.

Well, I'm afraid I don't understand. If you will not give up any of the land, if none of it is negotiable, then what will you be trying?

S: We shall be doing our best. You must not take all the hard lines and positions and so for granted because, exactly as Premier Begin said, we can sit together, we can talk, no one knows what will happen next week or so.

So there might be a ray of light? There might be some concession, there might be a somewhat different position down the road.

S: [chuckles] You are always like this, Barbara.

[All chuckle together]

 I tried…This is what people are going to be asking you.

S: Politics can not be conducted like this, like you…

I have to keep trying.

B: May I ask for the floor, Barbara?

Yes, sir.

B: That was a very good response by the president. Now, it's clear we have differences of opinion. When free men have them, they should sit together, talk here, any other place, and, as history proves – believe me, I know the history of nearly all the peace treaties after the First World War, the Second World War. First, they start with the personal opinion, and, sometimes, there are dramatic events in the smoke-filled room. Ultimately, they sign the treaty. And so, we hope to reach such an agreement.

S: It happened really in the first and second disengagement agreements. Yes, it happened before.

B: So there is good hope.

Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I don't want you to think it is only President Sadat that I put on the spot. We feel we have equal justice in our interview, so now…

B: Until now, I sneaked in.

Mr. Prime Minister, everything is negotiable. Can you see, under any circumstances, a Palestinian homeland, a Palestinian entity on the West Bank?

B: First of all, I would like to make one correction. I think it's absolutely necessary. We should always say Palestinian Arabs. If you say Palestinian, you forget that here there lived two nations. We recognize the Arab nationality, by law, and the Jewish nationality. The question is of the Palestinian Arabs. We have never denied any rights of the Palestinian Arabs. As a country, we have recognized their rights. We want to sit together, with President Sadat, and with spokesmen, other spokesmen of the Palestinian Arabs and to find also an agreement how we can do this together and live together with mutual respect and in freedom. We agreed, as you know, for them to participate in the Geneva Conference. So we are going to talk to each other. It's a problem, I think it can be solved, it should be solved, of the Palestinian Arabs.

But can you see, way down the road, anywhere, that it could ever be accepted that there would be an independent Palestinian Arab homeland on the West Bank?

B: Our position is known very well now. President Carter also knows our position. Now, I would like now when we sit together to emphasize the differences we have. We have them. But let us talk about it. Let us negotiate. You don't properly well, may I say, exceptionally well conduct negotiations on television.

The one place in which you both did agree and almost answer each other today in the two speeches, well, I shouldn't say agree, but the point that you both commented on was the city of Jerusalem. You said that it was an open city. You have visited Jerusalem. Is that your feeling about it?

S: Well, I only visited today during the prayer in early morning, but I didn't speak with anyone or discuss the whole thing. The difficulty in Jerusalem issue is that it has a religious region. And, you know, religion in this area is part of our blood. They are of faith, all our people. So I am sure it will raise great difficulties for us, but I think it can be solved, also.

B: May I follow the president with a short remark about Jerusalem? Jerusalem is what we call an eternal city, for all three monotheistic religions. That should be always remembered. We remember it. And, therefore, we respect the holy shrines of the Muslim faith and the Christian faith. And we prove that respect in daily life. There is completely free access to the Muslim holy shrines and the Christian holy shrines and to the Jewish holy shrines. That was not the case until 1967. Then, for instance, Jews couldn't come to the Western Wall. People used to call it the Wailing Wall. It's not the proper name. We don't wail anymore. It is the western wall of the Temple destroyed by the Romans and the Jews were not allowed to go there and to pray. But now, everybody can come to his holy shrine and to pray. May I tell you, Mr. President, whenever you wish to come, even for one purpose, to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, you will be perfectly welcome and also your people. Everyone in your country can come and pray in the holy shrines of the Islamic faith, and so it applies to all Arab countries. I am glad now that the king of Saudi Arabia allowed the Arab citizens of Israel to go to Mecca and Medina for the hajj, for their pilgrimage. It is also a novelty. It was not in existence for the last 29 years. It's one of the good signs of cooperation. And so, let everyone be enabled to go to his holy places, to pray out of his heart, as we, the president and I, myself, that all our hearts and faith in God and divine providence and this is our ethics, this is the precept we are going to keep for all generations to come.

S: Well [shakes head] There is a very important fact in this problem. You see, among the Muslims and the Arab, about 700 million, and among the Arabs, either Christian or Muslims, the sovereignty over the Arab part of Jerusalem until 67, they will not agree at all for the sovereignty to be an Israeli sovereignty, a fact we can't deny at all and we must take it in consideration.

B: Mr. President, Israel will stand by the unity of Jerusalem. I don't think, Mr. President, that you will ask to divide again the city, put barbed wire, as it was until 1967. I suppose it is one city. All the cities are united. Cairo is. Paris is. London is. Why shouldn't Jerusalem be united? And let everybody have free access to his holy shrines.

S: Yes, I quite agree about free access for all three religions. I said it in my speech. But still, the difficulty will remain, and we shall have to tackle this problem, this very delicate problem.

B: We shall negotiate about it.

Would you like to continue your negotiation?

[Everybody chuckles]

S: We have started it.

B: Not under [unclear 14:47]

Do you think – you are both very realistic men. You have each prepared a list of options for your different discussions. Do you think the question of Jerusalem will be the most difficult to resolve and, if not, what do you think would be?

B: Barbara, I think we can resolve all our difficult problems. All the problems are difficult.

S: As much as you have seen today…

B: With good will. With good will we shall solve the problems.

What, specifically, do you hope will come out of these meetings? Do you think you will get the basic principles here? Will you have ambassadors meet or further discussions? What is going to come out of tonight's meeting and the talks tomorrow?

S: Well, I, maybe I have told Premier Begin about this yesterday or today in the morning. I think there should be good preparation for Geneva. In my idea, maybe you have heard me about what I am telling, I think more than 70% of our problem was this psychological wall that has been built between us. By my visit, I think we have brought this wall down. Well, if my visit achieves this end, I have already given the message to the Knesset and, through the Knesset, to the Israeli people. Well, I am happy.

B: Barbara, I think it is a very good visit by President Sadat to our country. Of course, as I say all the time, say so sincerely, in complete frankness, we have difference of opinion. But this start is very propitious. We have seen how we sit together with you, we talk to each other in a human language, with understanding, with good will, and this is the real beginning, and so it will continue. And so we shall speak. We already started talking about Geneva and preparations for Geneva. There will be proposals by the president, by myself, by our advisors. Of course, I think we shall have to continue. The president agrees that we shall have to continue.

S: We must, I mean, convene in Geneva to give more mind to begin the peace process.

B: Yes, we agreed…

Do you think that while you are here you'll be able to come to agreement on the procedural problems of Geneva, like representation of Palestinians and who will sit in on each meeting? Will that be resolved here?

S: I don't think. The time is so short. [To Begin] Don't you think so? The time is so short.

B: Well, we will try. We will do our best.

Do you now…

B: And then we shall continue.

Do you now feel that Geneva will be a reality?

[Begin nods, turns to Sadat; Sadat nods]

Can you say when you think Geneva, after having these meetings, when you think Geneva will come to be? Very soon?

B: We think, both of us, to go to Geneva, and all the other neighbors of our country, Arab countries, Syria, Jordan. We also agree to, President Carter asked me, to the participation of Lebanon, though Lebanon was not an original participant in 1973. And, therefore, I think Geneva is a very practical project.

What is the major barrier to the convening of Geneva now?

B: See, President Carter and our foreign minister worked out what is called a working paper. The American government sent it to President Sadat and President Assad and King Hussein. I suppose we can have an agreement, basically. The president, may I say, sits with me, doesn't have too much respect for procedure.

S: Quite frankly…

B: He wants substance, and we agree. We agree.

S: We must go directly to the substance. That is my idea.

Will you invite Prime Minister Begin to come to Cairo?

S: We shall be discussing this tonight.

May I ask, if you do go to Cairo, since you have had these meetings, what you would expect to accomplish there? Again, other than the psychological.

B: No, we shall continue. I think we shall lay the foundation here in Jerusalem, tonight and tomorrow, I think we started even yesterday night, for serious, frank negotiations about all the outstanding problems. And then, if the president is gracious enough to invite me to Cairo, we shall continue there.

S: Really, I am planning to invite him to Sinai.

B: Thank you, sir. To…

S: Sinai.

B: Well, I invite you!

[Everyone chuckles]

B: There will always be reciprocity with us.

Is it limited to Sinai? Is he allowed in the rest of the country?

S: Yes.

He can go anywhere?

S: No, limited to Sinai.

Limited to Sinai?

B: For the time being.

S: Yes, for the time being.

B: I would like to say that the visit of the president to our country is unlimited. He can go anyplace.

So you are not inviting the prime minister to Cairo?

B: Now, Barbara, don't insist too much.

S: Let us try to have our negotiations tonight, not on the television.

[Begin and Sadat laugh]

You are not concerned, Mr. President, at the extent or the vehemence of the criticism?

S: Not at all, not at all. Maybe you'll remember when I was elected president, they gave me from four to six weeks only. Well, if you review the whole seven years now, the first period and a year in the second period, you shall find that I have taken a major decision every year, or two, at least. Well, I don't [unclear 21:17] of this, at least as I am convinced of what I think and of the faith of my people.

You are not at all concerned for your own physical safety?

S: Physical safety? Why should I be? Why should I be?

There might be some people who feel you have gone too far.

S: Not at all. [Shakes head]

B: Barbara, may I bear witness [unclear 21:46] a great military people, not for me to intervene, but when a man feels that he has got a mission, he never cares about his personal safety. [Sadat shakes head] I speak of my own personal experience. And the same applies to President Sadat.

Mr. President, one of the most important things that you said today was to assure the people of Israel of their safety and their security when peace comes, and I say "when" now because it seems closer than the custom of saying "if." The question involved in this is, can you assure them of this safety when some of the Arab nations do not feel as you do, when Syria is still so opposed, when Libya is still so opposed? How can you assure Israel of its security and safety?

S: Well, I'm always speaking from my people. We are 40 million and, with Sudan, we are 60 million, 2/3 of the Arab world or so. My main aim today, as I told you, was to send a message and then I shall be waiting for the response.

Is it true that there can not be war or peace in the Arab world without Egypt? That, really, as you go, so must the rest of the Arab world?

S: This is a fact. War or peace is decided in Egypt because, as I told you, we are 40 million.

B: With your permission, Barbara, I would like to add that your question is most serious to us. The problem for us of national security is, in fact, to put it as simply as possible, the problem to make the lives of our children, of our women, of our families secure. And, therefore, we must be very careful, and we are. Of course, we will conduct the decisions with our neighbors as they decide to do. But, therefore, in the Knesset, as you might have heard me, I said, and I think the president agreed to that, we should have negotiations with all the Arab states around Israel and peace should be established between all of the [unclear 24:11] in order to make, really, our lives secure.

I would like to ask you a bit about your impressions here. I would like to ask you what impressed you the most, Mr. President, and, perhaps, if anything, what surprised you the most.

S: Well, it's rather a short time, Barbara, I spent here, really. And all the time I was very busy. I think the will of peace among the children that I saw today, I saw lots and it appears that they are having the same problem that they have in Egypt. I have more than 60% of the population under 20. It appears that they have the same problem here, because in the streets I saw today schoolchildren, and they were very eager for peace. What they have already really noticed more than that, they appear even not only to smile, they are putting their hearts when they were saluting me while I was going to the…

B: Yad Vashem.

S: Yad Vashem.

B: I agree completely with what the president says because I accompanied the president and we saw, on the road, thousands of children, little children, and they had two flags in their hands, the Egyptian flag and the Israeli flag, and they waved to us, the president, of course. I expressed the hope, I want to express it here, that the day will come, and it's not too far away, that as our children waved the Egyptian and Israeli flags, children in Cairo will wave the Israeli and Egyptian flags someday.

You mentioned Yad Vashem, which is the memorial to the Jewish dead in the Nazi Holocaust. We saw you as you walked through together, talking to each other, both of you, of course, very grave. I would perhaps suggest that you were very moved by that visit. Can you give us your feelings on this?

S: I was very moved, really. I never thought that it reached such an extent as it did, like I saw today. Really, with the documents. I read some documents. Maybe, when the man who was explaining to us...

B: Dr. Hausner.

S: Yes. When he was explaining to me, I felt that there is, I mean, a great flame behind every word he said. Really. After that, I knew he was the general prosecutor that has…

B: Eichmann trial.

S: [Nods] Yes, the Eichmann trial.

Perhaps I should explain to our audience that there are pictures here and mementos of the Holocaust, pictures of some of the dead families…

B: Barbara, there, as the president saw it with his own eyes, are the most indescribable, most inhuman events which ever took place in the annals of mankind. Of all the pictures I always see with my mind's eyes, the picture of the little boy with his raised arms and around are Nazi soldiers with their arms aimed at him, and his mother is around looking at them, perhaps in fear that they will shoot at him, the little boy raised his arms. Such pictures the president saw today and we agreed that, until you see it with your own eyes, you can't even perceive it properly.

And the man who took you around was a prosecutor at the Eichmann trial.

B: The Eichmann trial, that's right. Member of the Knesset Dr. Hausner.

And, of course, this is a memorial to the, to what, to remind people, to never forget the reason for Israel and…

B: There are the ashes of the camps in which our brethren, our sisters, our little children, our mothers and fathers, and may I be allowed, Barbara, to say it includes my own family, including a little nephew of five years. They were all burned and we don't know where they are and we only can see the ashes, the ashes of millions of people. When you stand there, probably, you don't think, you have only feelings. "How did it happen?" we ask ourselves. But it did happen to the Jewish people.

And, of course, it's very symbolic that you two visited today, when you are here and you speak of peace and to become friends with each other. I thank you both so much for giving us this interview. You are now going to have talks tonight and again tomorrow, and then you depart tomorrow afternoon, Mr. President.

S: Quite right.

There was some question that you might not keep that schedule, but you are leaving tomorrow afternoon, as originally planned.

S: Quite right.

I express to you again my appreciation, for us and for our audience.

S: Thank you.

B: Thank you very much. [Turns to Sadat] Thank you, Mr. President.

[Reporter at 29:56; Begin starts at 37:14]

But the Lord, creator of the world, placed our father, our joint father, in his place, and the test was passed.

[Reporter at 37:30; Begin starts at 37:49]

Mr. President, my parliamentary colleague of the Communist Party is interrupting me, but I am glad, at this price, that he didn't interrupt you.

[Reporter at 37:57 until the end]