That bloody war, initiated and led by Egypt, took the lives of more than 2500 courageous Israelis. Furthermore, Egypt also was at the forefront of the Arab wars to eliminate the Jewish state in 1948, 1956 and 1967. Accordingly, one could not be faulted for thinking that Begin would bend over backwards to encourage Sadat to come to Jerusalem.
This was not the case.
In fact, “the day after Sadat’s speech,” Hirschler and Eckman continue,
Begin issued a public statement to make sure that Sadat was not coming to Israel under the illusion that Israel would be ready to capitulate to the Arab political and territorial demands for the sake of peace. [Begin asserted that] “Israel categorically and absolutely rejects conditions named by President Sadat; i.e., total withdrawal to the June, 1967 lines[.]”
Despite Begin’s sternness—his “sticking to his guns,” as Margaret Thatcher once admired of Begin—on Monday, November 14, Sadat told American journalist Walter Cronkite that he was prepared to go to Israel, provided he received a “proper” invitation. “The next day…Begin addressed an official invitation to ‘His Excellency, Mr. Anwar el-Sadat, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Cairo.’”
True, Begin ended up making far-ranging concessions to Sadat—relinquishing the entire mineral-rich Sinai peninsula, a territory three times the size of Israel proper, can and should be considered far-reaching—however, Begin steadfastly refused to cross what is universally considered as Israel’s ‘red line,’ namely a retreat to the ‘Auschwitz borders.’ For Begin, “Everything was negotiable except the survival of the state of Israel.”
That peace between Egypt and Israel was only possible because Begin adhered to his convictions is reinforced by Hirschler and Eckman with an additional, invaluable anecdote. They recount a monumental occurrence in the lead-up to Sadat’s historic speech to the People’s Assembly, in which the Egyptian President visited Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. During their meeting, which followed Begin’s visit to Romania a few weeks earlier, Sadat and Ceausescu discussed the Israeli Prime Minister, and the prospects of a comprehensive Egypt-Israeli peace initiative.
In an interview with Time magazine [later that year], Sadat was to recall having asked Ceasescu whether he considered Begin a sufficiently strong leader to be able to make peace in the Middle East. Both president’s agreed that Begin’s predecessor, [Yitzhak] Rabin, had been “weak.” But then, said Sadat, “Ceasescu told me what he had discussed with Begin, and we reached the conclusion that [this] man is strong.”
To reiterate: “Begin is strong.” And the result was peace.
For peace is made in strength.
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