Israel Will Not Submit to Threats
DID PRESIDENT Sadat, before embarking on his journey to Jerusalem last November, know that his two ultimate demands were, and must inevitably be, totally unacceptable to Israel? He did.
On 8 November 1977, the Egyptian President made a statement to his People's Council in Cairo in which he put forth his demands that Israel restore the demarcation lines of 4 June 1967, and acquiesce in the establishment of a "Palestinian" state in Judaea, Samaria (erroneously called the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip. He then added, surprisingly, that he would be ready to come to Jerusalem to address the Knesset in order, as he explained it, to prevent one additional Egyptian soldier being killed or wounded.
On the following day, 9 November, I reacted to President Sadat's announcement in a statement that read: "Israel categorically and absolutely rejects the conditions named by President Sadat, i.e., total withdrawal to the June 1967 lines and the establishment of a so-called Palestinian state. These terms, it is known, would constitute a danger to the very existence of the State of Israel. However, President Sadat could put forward this position at the Geneva Conference, as we shall present our position at the peace conference. Let no party turn its own stand into a prior condition for participating in the peace conference."
Ten days later, the President of Egypt came to Jerusalem and was accorded a respectful and cordial reception by the Government, the Parliament and the People of Israel. He came in the full knowledge, conveyed to him through my public statement, that, while Israel accepts and proposes free negotiations without any prior conditions from either side, we do not and shall not bow to the two utterly unreasonable demands which, if acted upon, would place the Jewish state in mortal danger.
President Sadat decided to come.
It is asserted by some that his visit to Israel was an act of historic precedence. But so, too, was the momentous reception he enjoyed, including the unfettered hospitality of the Knesset, where he met freely and individually with all of its parties.
In Jerusalem, President Sadat told me that, having been given the hospitality and the rostrum of the Knesset, it is my perfect right to expect the same from the Egyptian parliament in Cairo. I still look forward to receiving a reciprocal invitation.
After Jerusalem came Ismailia, in the third week of December 1977. In preparation for that meeting with President Sadat, my colleagues and I elaborated a comprehensive, far-reaching peace plan which I initially brought to the President of the United States and to his advisers. Whatever was said in the White House cabinet room during our productive exchanges on 16 and 17 December 1977 will, of course, remain confidential. However, certain public statements were made.
Having learned the details of the Israeli peace plan, including the proposed arrangements for the future of our settlements in the Rafah-El-Arish district and in the Sharm-el-Sheikh region—which are the greatest importance to our national security—both the President and the Secretary of State publicly praised the proposals as "a fair basis for negotiations," as "a long step forward," as an expression of "a great deal of flexibility," as "a notable contribution," and as a "constructive approach." Equally, leading representatives of the legislative branch, of both Houses, and other outstanding figures of American public life lauded the Israeli peace proposals.
This, to us, was gratifying but not surprising. With regard to the Sinai, we had made the most far-reaching, the most forthcoming proposals ever presented by any Israeli government. In so doing, our government became the target of criticism in Israel, not only from the parliamentary opposition (the Labour Party), but also from some of our own best friends and adherents.
We could, of course, have demanded in our peace plan rectification of the border with Egypt. Israel has the perfect right to do so under international law and practice. Many readers will recall the agonizing days leading up to the Six-Day War of June 1967. It was for Israel, in the highest sense of the term, a war of legitimate national self-defence. We were threatened, literally and physically, with the destruction of our state and the physical annihilation of our people. On three indefensible fronts we were surrounded by almost double the number of tanks Nazi Germany had hurled against the Soviet Union in June 1941. In Cairo, Damascus, Amman and Baghdad, the slogans were the same: "Destroy them! Throw them into the sea!" We defended ourselves at great sacrifice. We repelled the enemies on all fronts. We won the day.
In the wake of such a war, and in accordance with every international precedent, Israel is fully entitled, morally and legally, to demand territorial changes to be embodied in peace treaties. We voluntarily refrained from doing so in the peace proposal we have currently submitted, for one overriding reason: to encourage understanding and to promote the peace. We have suggested, instead, a sweeping compromise in Sinai which, with respect to the highly vulnerable Sharm-el-Sheikh region, actually revokes a decision adopted in December 1968 by the government of the late Levi Eshkol. And reaffirmed by the two subsequent governments, of Mrs. Golda Meir and of Mr. Yitzhak Rabin, determining that, in peace, Israel will retain control of a land strip linking the coastal area between Sharm-el-Sheikh and Israel's southern port, Eilat.
Students of the region will know that it was the Egyptian blockade of this locality which served as the flashpoint of two major wars against Israel—in 1956 and in 1967.
The second part of Israel's peace plan which won so much understanding pertains to the residents of Judaea, Samaria and the Gaza district.
We suggest that, for the first time in history, the Palestinian Arabs residing in these areas enjoy complete administrative autonomy, or self-rule.
This, too, has no precedent. For centuries, the Palestinian Arabs were directly ruled by the Turks, then by the British and then, for nearly two decades, by the Jordanians in the east and by the Egyptians in the south. It never occurred to either of the two latter ruling Arab regimes to offer autonomy to the Palestinian Arabs. It is Israel that suggests complete self-rule for the first time, in the context of an administrative autonomy that will enable the Palestinian Arabs to run their daily lives freely.
Given these facts, one cannot but wonder at the gross irony of these last few weeks, when a propaganda campaign has been launched, calculated to misrepresent Israel's true stand. What President Carter had described as "a long step forward," is labeled as "intransigence." What Secretary Vance had aid was "a notable contribution" and "a constructive approach," is called "not forthcoming." Day is called night. Such propaganda can never prevail over truth.
I left for Ismailia with the positive statements of appreciation of our peace plan still ringing in my ears—from President Carter, the Secretary of State, former President Gerald Ford, ranking Senators and Prime Minister Callaghan of Great Britain, to cite but a few. It was an unusually friendly exchange between President Sadat and myself—a meeting of men and of minds.
I presented to him our peace plan in detail, in both its parts. And from his lips, too, I heard encouraging expressions. Not that the President of Egypt accepted the arrangements we proposed concerning the future of our settlements, but—and this is the all-important point—he did not say, when we raised our suggestion, that there is nothing left to be discussed.
On the contrary, President Sadat gave his immediate consent to my proposal to establish two negotiating committees, one to convene in Cairo and the other in Jerusalem; the former to deliberate on military and the latter on political matters.
We agreed that the relevant committees would be headed by our respective Defence and Foreign Ministers, and that the chairmanship would be by rotation. Within the framework of these committees it was agreed that Israel would put forward its proposals on the various matters requiring solution, Egypt would make its counterproposals, and the substantive negotiations would proceed apace. This was the major operative conclusion of the Ismailia conference, as agreed upon between President Sadat and myself.
We parted in warm friendship.
Then came the surprise. Out of the blue, but a few days after the conference, I read an article in a prominent Egyptian paper voicing the learned opinion that I should be thankful that I was not "beaten up" in Ismailia. Moreover, I was told by the writer that I had behaved like Shylock, that fictional money-lender whose price of payment was a pound of human flesh.
This article was to be the first of a series of obscene, anti-Semitic diatribes to appear in the controlled Egyptian press, slandering the integrity and the dignity of the Jewish people. I, my colleagues, the nation were astounded. We had read such slurs before in the 'thirties—in the infamous Der Stuermer. Was this "the new spirit" we had heard so much about? Was this the prelude to the new era of negotiation in Cairo and Jerusalem for the conclusion of peace treaties between the Jewish state and the Arab states?
It was in the midst of this avalanche of abuse that the sudden order came from Cairo to the Egyptian delegation in Jerusalem attending the talks within the framework of the political committee to disrupt them and return home forthwith. Secretary of State Vance had come specially to attend those talks, and yet, they had hardly begun when they were summarily broken off. The vile atmosphere of vilification created in the Egyptian capital had set the stage for the disruption of the negotiations.
As I write, the Egyptian and other Arab leaders repeat their ultimative dictates to Israel: evacuate Sinai, acquiesce to its remilitarization, dismantle the civilian settlements, leave the Gaza Strip, descend from the Golan Heights, relinquish Judaea and Samaria, redivide Jerusalem, agree to a Palestinian state—do all this and you will have "peace."
When Israel says, in return, that what they offer is not peace but national suicide, that the terms they demand represent a mortal danger, they are astonished that we do not rush to accept their bargain. We are even called ungrateful.
In putting forth our just case we are guided, first and foremost, by the need and duty to secure the future of our children. And in making our determinations for the future, we carry in our minds and hearts a long experience from the past.
For 19 years we lived and struggled in the very kind of hazardous situation which our neighbours would wish to see restored. Indeed, what they suggest now is even more perilous. Before 1967 we had a long, indefensible demarcation line, but it was not bordered by a "Palestinian" state ruled by Arafat and turned into a Soviet base. Nor were we threatened, before 1967, with the most modern, sophisticated Soviet-supplied weapons, as they exist today in abundance.
Yet, even then, in the past, we did not know a single day of peace in our land, nor a single week without incursion and bloodshed. Thousands were killed and maimed by infiltrators who crossed lines that were impossible to defend. Five wars were waged against us. Five times we had to defend not only our independence, but our very existence.
Given this record, dare Israel overlook past experience at the price of the mortal dangers it would then confront? Would any nation place the overwhelming concentration of its civilian population in the range of conventional artillery and even of machine-guns? This is what, in fact, we are being asked to do.
As Israel seeks, therefore, to proceed with the negotiations, it must recall the past realities in order to protect its future security and peace.
One lesson of the past is that Israel had, at one time, negotiated and signed, with its neighbours, agreements that categorically committed the parties to keep the peace, to refrain from hostile acts against armed forces or civilians, to refrain from employing regular, irregular or para-military forces, to refrain from the use or the threat of force. These unequivocal obligations were embodied, written and signed, in the Armistice Agreements of 1949, between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Their specific language made of them "peace treaties" in almost everything but name. Yet what happened in reality? Permanent bloodshed, continuous threat, repeated wars. That lesson has been well learned.
Therefore no beautiful phrases or ugly threats will move the People of Israel into surrendering to the two unreasonable demands submitted to us. Israel has proved that we not only yearn for peace, we work for it. We have prepared a fair and decent peace plan.
Let us, therefore, freely and seriously negotiate—we and our Arab neighbours. Let us do so on the basis of complete equality—neither victors not vanquished, but equals. Let us do this, and we shall have peace.