||Prime Minister Menachem Begin welcomes President Sadat to the dinner in his honour, 20 November 1977
Photograph: Ya'acov Sa'ar, Government Press Office
"Let us say to one another and let it be a silent oath by both peoples…..no more wars, no more bloodshed and no more threats". This was Prime Minister Menachem Begin's appeal to the Egyptian people, in response to the dramatic declaration by President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt that he was willing to go to Jerusalem in order to prevent another war, 35 years ago this November.
"Believe me, no more war. I am a man of my word" said Sadat to Israeli Defence Minister Ezer Weizman when they met in Jerusalem, according to Weizman's account to his fellow ministers, published here for the first time. Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his deputy, Yigael Yadin, agreed that, so far as they could make out, the Egyptians' desire for peace was genuine. The promise of "no more war" became a central motif of the visit and made newspaper headlines all over the world
To mark the occasion of Sadat's initiative, which led eventually to the peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt in March 1979., the Israel State Archives presents a selection of documents, many of them specially declassified, showing the events following the formation of the government by Menachem Begin in June 1977, which led to Sadat's decision, the reaction of the government, the visit and how it was assessed by the Israeli participants. Most of the documents are from the files of the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office in the Israel State Archives, and are part of a larger publication being prepared by the Archives on negotiations with Egypt from the end of the Yom Kippur War to the signing of the peace treaty.
Some of the documents are in Hebrew only, but wherever possible an English alternative or translation is given. In some cases a link is given to a translation. See especially the selection of documents in English on Israel's foreign relations on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the documents on the peace talks from the Jimmy Carter Library
The publication is divided into seven chapters:
A. The peace policy of the new Israeli government
B. Talks with the Americans on the Geneva Conference
C. Israel's secret contacts with Egypt
D. Sadat's plan to speak in the Knesset and Israel's response
E. "Operation Gate": preparations for Sadat's visit to Israel
F. Sadat's visit to Jerusalem
G. After the visit: impressions and plans for further talks
List of documents
A. The peace policy of the new Israeli government
To most citizens of Israel, the arrival of the leader of Israel's longstanding enemy in Jerusalem, seemingly dropping from the skies, seemed like a miracle. But those who knew Sadat's history of independent and sudden decisions, and who had followed the months of unsuccessful negotiations on an overall settlement led by the US, were less surprised by his initiative.
An important factor in Sadat's decision was the stable government now in power in Israel and his assessment that it would take bold steps for peace. On 17 May 1977 the Likud party had won the elections, and a month later its leader Begin became prime minister. Begin's appointment was seen by many as a blow to peace, due to his opposition to any withdrawal from Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza Strip, parts of the Biblical Land of Israel. He had resigned from the National Unity government in 1970 in protest against its acceptance of the Rogers Plan and UN Resolution 242, which called for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967. He fiercely attacked the previous government for their limited agreements with Egypt and Syria after the Yom Kippur War. However Begin saw no contradiction between this attitude and the new peace policy he proposed, based on negotiations for full peace treaties with Israel's neighbours. He appointed Moshe Dayan of the Labour Alignment, an experienced statesman of international standing, as foreign minister, and this step reassured international opinion.
In his statement presenting the government to parliament (the Knesset). (Document 1, in Hebrew English version) Begin emphasized Israel's eternal right to the Land of Israel but also called on the rulers of Jordan, Syria and Egypt to meet with him for peace talks. In their basic guidelines the government announced that they were willing to attend the Geneva peace conference on the basis of UN resolutions 242 and 338 (passed at the end of the Yom Kippur war) and would honour Israel's international agreements. The territories would not be annexed as long as peace negotiations were proceeding.
B. Talks with the Americans on the Geneva Conference
That same day Begin received a letter of congratulation from US President Jimmy Carter, inviting him to Washington. Carter had made progress on a Middle East settlement a main priority of his Administration. Carter and his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, believed that limited agreements, which excluded the Soviet Union and failed to deal with the Palestinian problem, would not lead to a genuine settlement. Carter planned to revive the Geneva conference, which had met in December 1973 under UN auspices, with the Soviets as co-chairmen, and repeated the traditional US interpretation of UN Resolution 242: Israeli withdrawal on all fronts with "minor border modifications". Israel did not object to returning to Geneva but feared that the US would give in to Soviet and Syrian demands to invite the PLO to the conference, despite commitments it had given Israel.
The US stand had already led to a clash with the previous prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. Carter pressed him to agree to Palestinian representation at Geneva. Rabin insisted that Israel would not talk to the PLO and would discuss the Palestinian issue only with Jordan. The US was not satisfied and Carter declared his support for a Palestinian "homeland". However he also adopted the Israeli demand for full peace treaties with diplomatic relations.
The secretary of state, Cyrus Vance told Israeli Ambassador Simha Dinitz that Begin was expected to bring with him details of Israel's views on future borders and how to make progress on a settlement. On 24 June Dayan presented Begin with practical proposals for an Israeli peace plan (Document 2). Dayan's plan was similar to those of previous governments, except for the issue of the West Bank. It included Israeli withdrawal from most of the Sinai.
Dayan believed that the best chance for progress was with Egypt, which had already signed agreements with Israel in 1974-1975. Sadat sought rapprochement with the United States, in the belief that only the US could put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Sinai and help Egypt solve its pressing economic problems. In return, he met some of Israel's demands, including signing a declaration renouncing the use of force. He reopened the Suez Canal and rebuilt the cities in the Canal Zone. A further agreement, based on Israeli withdrawal from most of the Sinai in return for ending the state of war, was also discussed. Nevertheless, few believed that Egypt was ready for a full peace treaty. Sadat himself talked of such a treaty being left for "the next generation".
On 13 July Begin presented to the government a memorandum entitled "Framework for the Peace-Making Process Between Israel and Its Neighbours" to be given to the Americans, together with "Israel's Peace Principles" (substantial withdrawal in Sinai, changes in the border on the Golan Heights and refusal to place Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip under foreign sovereignty) (Document 3 in Hebrew and English). Begin explained the rationale behind the proposals and the government approved them. (Document 4).
Carter gave Begin a warm welcome and described the Israeli ideas as a "solid proposal". Begin believed that the talks were a success. They had found many points of agreement, and on others they had "agreed to disagree". (Document 5, Document 6). But the Americans were concerned over Israel's refusal to accept two of the principles they were suggesting: withdrawal on all fronts and the establishment of a Palestinian "entity". The two sides also became embroiled in a dispute over settlement policy. The Begin government was still carrying out the programme of the previous government, but Carter feared that their aim was to make establishment of a Palestinian entity impossible. Begin argued that settlement of Jews in their homeland could not be an obstacle to peace, and refused to agree to a freeze for the duration of the negotiations.
During Vance's visit to the Middle East in August 1977 he asked the parties to produce a draft peace treaty. On 4 September Begin presented to the government a draft peace treaty with Egypt to be sent to Washington, with a covering letter from Dayan spelling out Israel's concessions. All issues were subject to negotiation without preconditions (Document 7).
On 18 September, after his secret meeting with the deputy prime minister of Egypt (see below) Dayan flew to the US for further talks. Dayan's experience and grasp of the issues helped to produce a draft "working paper" as a basis for the Geneva conference. Since Jordan would not represent the Palestinians, Dayan persuaded the government to accept a united delegation of all the Arab states, including Palestinians, to take part in the opening ceremony. He also agreed to a separate working group with several Arab states on the refugee problem. There was considerable mistrust at home about the freedom of action given to the foreign minister, shared by Begin. However, Dayan also succeeded in persuading Carter to agree that a limited number of Israeli settlements be set up in IDF bases. Carter reluctantly accepted this plan as "second best" to a freeze.
In his talks with Vance, Dayan hinted at Israel's interest in separate talks with Egypt. Vance mentioned that the State Department had now decided to bring the Soviets into the picture, and on 1 October the US and the USSR produced a joint declaration on the Middle East which referred to "ensuring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" as well as the establishment of normal peaceful relations between states in the area. This step aroused a storm of protest. Begin expressed strong opposition at a meeting with US Ambassador Samuel Lewis, and Foreign Ministry experts believed that Egypt, which had gambled on American mediation and the exclusion of the Soviets, was also disappointed. Many American public figures were outraged, and the White House was eager to repair the damage. Dayan held talks directly with the president himself, and was assured that the declaration was not binding on Israel. On 5 October, Ambassador Dinitz and the legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry Meir Rosenne wrote to Begin describing the resulting changes in the "working paper" according to Israel's demands (Document 8, Appendix 1, Appendix 2). However Dayan did agree that the Palestinians could take part in talks on the West Bank, although the US would allow Israel to screen their representatives.
On his return to Israel Dayan was attacked for giving too much away. In a meeting with newspaper editors, he emphasized that if Israel genuinely wanted negotiations, compromise was necessary. Israel preferred Jordan to represent the Palestinians, but if Jordan refused, they could not simply be ignored. No vital Israeli interests had been given up (Document 9).
At the close of the talks the agreed "working paper" was published. The Arab states were now in an awkward position: they did not want to accept a joint Israeli-American document as it stood, while Israel refused to agree to any further changes. In addition it became clear that Syria would refuse to attend the conference if the PLO was not invited. The State Department began to consider holding it without Syria, or looking for an alternative framework. The prospect of deadlock loomed.
On 21 October Carter sent Sadat a handwritten personal letter on his efforts to advance the Geneva conference, adding "This is a personal appeal for your support". Sadat would not give Syria a veto on Egypt's policy, and he began to consider a dramatic move to bypass discussions on procedure and to start negotiations – on his terms.
For more documents on the Geneva conference see Appendix to the List of Documents
C. Israel's Secret Contacts with Egypt
The new government tried to make direct contact with Egypt through two channels: Romania and Morocco. At the end of August Begin made an official visit to Romania, the only Communist country with which Israel had diplomatic relations. Romania also had good relations with the Arabs, and Golda Meir had already tried to use them to contact Egypt. The official report of Begin's talks with Romanian ruler Nicolae Ceausescu shows that despite Ceausescu's pro-Arab stand, Begin asked him to assure Sadat and Assad that Israel truly wanted peace. But Begin also talked to Ceausescu alone. On his return Begin informed the government that Ceausescu had told him that Sadat had agreed to a meeting between Israeli and Egyptian representatives (Document 10).
Following this message, Israel made use of the connections with Morocco established by previous governments. Rabin had met with King Hassan II in 1976, and according to a book by journalist Shmuel Segev published in 2008, Rabin asked him to send a message to Sadat, but received no reply. Segev states that in the summer of 1977 Mossad chief Yitzhak Hofi visited Morocco and met one of Sadat's confidants, Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Tuhami. On 4 September Dayan travelled in disguise, with wig, moustache and dark glasses, to Morocco. There he met with the king, who had said openly that the Arab states should recognize Israel. Dayan spoke of the difficulties in negotiating with all the Arab states together, while individual states, including Egypt, were reluctant to reach a separate agreement. He asked the King to arrange a high level meeting with the Egyptians for himself or Begin, with Sadat or his deputy, Hosni Mubarak, and the King promised a reply within 5 days. On 9 September a positive reply arrived: the Egyptians were ready for a meeting (Document 11). Dayan was not sure whether a meeting of Begin and Sadat would succeed; in his memoirs he states that the Egyptians preferred that he meet Tuhami.
On 16 September Dayan, who was in Europe on his way to Washington, flew to Morocco and met with Tuhami. He then flew back to Israel to confer with Begin on the message from Sadat. According to notes giving the main points of the meeting, (Document 12), Tuhami said that Sadat had agreed to dialogue with Israel because of his confidence in Begin's government, but he would meet Begin only if Israel agreed in advance to evacuate Arab territory. Egypt and Israel should reach agreement before Geneva, without the Americans, but it should then be presented as a US initiative. Sadat promised to control the Palestinians. It was agreed to exchange their peace proposals and to set up another 'working meeting".
The report of the Mossad (Document 12A) gives further details. Tuhami said that Sadat saw himself as a soldier whose land had been conquered. He wanted peace without surrender. When he received Begin's word of honour that his land would be restored, Sadat would negotiate on the other issues. He would not sign a separate peace treaty but was convinced that he would persuade Jordan and Syria to follow suit. Before he left, Dayan tried to get an answer as to whether Begin's agreement to withdraw from all the territories was a condition for his meeting with Sadat. The King believed a meeting was possible but Tuhami did not give a clear answer.
Over the years accusations have been made that Dayan and Begin had promised then or later that Israel would withdraw from all of Sinai before Sadat arrived. No evidence for this has so far been found in the documents in the Israel State Archives.
At the end of October Sadat left for a visit to Romania, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He heard from Ceausescu of his favourable impression of Begin. According to Sadat's foreign minister, Ismail Fahmy, who opposed the initiative and resigned on the eve of the visit, in Romania Sadat already mentioned going to Jerusalem to present the Arab case to the Knesset, but Fahmy had convinced him he would lose all his bargaining cards if he went, and arouse bitter Arab opposition. Sadat then suggested to the Americans a meeting of the Security Council in East Jerusalem, to prepare the Geneva conference, with the participation of the Israelis and the Arabs, including Yasser Arafat. This was not taken seriously and Carter rejected the idea. Sadat apparently concluded that Carter's freedom of action was limited, in view of the agreements with Israel. The Arab foreign ministers were about to meet in Tunis and he feared that they would reach decisions which would prevent Egypt from taking part in Geneva or reaching agreement with Israel there. He later told Dayan that the idea of going to Jerusalem came to him on the flight back from Riyadh to Cairo.
Meanwhile a Romanian envoy arrived in Israel with a proposal for a further meeting between Dayan and Tuhami in Bucharest (Document 16). This time Begin told the Americans about the approach (Document 13). News of the contacts even reached the ex-secretary of state, Henry Kissinger (code named "Hezekiah") who told Dinitz about Sadat's earlier plan, which was designed to bypass Geneva and include the PLO in the discussions. Dinitz thought it was "far fetched" and Israel would not talk to Arafat in the Security Council or anywhere. Kissinger also warned that contacts in Romania were likely to leak to the Soviets (Document 14).
Begin was already planning an initiative of his own – a personal broadcast to the Egyptian people, calling for peace between them and the Jewish people. His adviser on Arab affairs, Dr. Moshe Sharon, sent him some points for the speech (Document 15), with an appropriate quotation from the Koran, later included in Begin's broadcast on 11 November.
D. Sadat's plan to speak in the Knesset and Israel's response
On 9 November Sadat made a major speech in the Egyptian People's Assembly in the presence of his "brother in arms" Yasser Arafat. In the section on foreign policy he described his efforts to advance the cause of peace before, during and after the 1973 war. He praised President Carter's efforts to convene the Geneva conference and his concern for the Palestinians. Sadat welcomed the interest of the US and the USSR in the Middle East, but added pointedly that they should not impose their views. He proposed to go to Geneva to demand Israeli withdrawal and a Palestinian state. In an unplanned addition, Sadat then declared: "I am ready to go to the end of the world if this would prevent the wounding, let alone the killing, of a soldier or an officer of my boys…. Israel will be surprised when it hears me say that I won't refuse to go to their own home, to the Knesset itself, to discuss it [peace]".
At first Sadat's statement was not taken seriously. Carter welcomed it, but efforts to convene the Geneva conference continued. When Begin was asked by journalists for his response, he replied: "If it is not a figure of speech, and President Sadat really is ready to come to Jerusalem to the Knesset – we welcome this". Begin added that he had already expressed willingness to meet Sadat anywhere, even in Cairo, but Israel rejected Sadat's demands: withdrawal to the 1967 lines and the establishment of a "so-called Palestinian state."
On 10 November Begin published a press release stating that if Sadat decided to come to Jerusalem, he would be received with all the honours due to a president. That evening Begin sent a similar message to Sadat through a delegation of the Armed Forces Committee of the US Congress, which was visiting Israel and was about to leave for Egypt (Document 18 Appendix). In Cairo Sadat again told the delegation that he was willing to come to Jerusalem and to debate with all 120 members of the Knesset, but he had not yet received a formal invitation. He added that this time the agreement with Israel would not be a partial one: "This time we will go for a permanent settlement."
The following day Begin made his broadcast to the Egyptian people in English arousing much interest, although the Egyptian press resented his claim that the ancient Israelites had built the pyramids. The Israeli leaders began to realize that Sadat was in earnest, and on 13 November a government meeting discussed the visit. Begin warned that its importance should not be exaggerated, but Sadat's statement was a positive development. He proposed to issue a formal invitation to Sadat in the Knesset. Dayan was concerned that the new developments would by-pass Geneva and endanger the understandings he had obtained from the US. He mentioned the danger that the move was "an alibi for starting a war"; if it failed and Israel refused to accept his conditions, Sadat might be forced into military action.
In view of the history of hostility between the two states and especially the surprise attack of the Yom Kippur War, many were suspicious of Sadat's initiative. They saw it as a publicity stunt or even as a trick. On 15 November the chief of staff of the IDF, Mordechai Gur gave an unauthorized press interview, warning that the visit was a deception designed to cover another Egyptian attack. He said that Sadat should know that Israel was aware of his intentions and of the build up of the Egyptian army. Gur acted as a result of worrying reports of manoeuvres by the Egyptian army and mobilization of the reserves, which in fact were a response to Israeli military moves and a precaution to ensure order during the visit. But after the criticisms against the IDF in the Agranat Report, none of the heads of the Army wanted to be accused of failing to warn against the danger of war.
Even those who did not believe that the visit was a trick were worried that Sadat would expect generous concessions from Israel in return for his grand gesture. If Israel did not respond to his demands, there might be increased tension and even war. Nevertheless Begin did not hesitate, and rejected the gloomy predictions of Gur, who was reprimanded. On 14 November Begin and Sadat appeared in a joint interview with Walter Cronkite. On 15 November Begin announced the invitation in the Knesset, and gave the text to Ambassador Lewis, who immediately telegraphed it to the American embassy in Cairo. A copy of the invitation with a covering letter was sent to President Carter (Document No. 21 Hebrew and English).
Sadat did not receive the invitation until he returned from Damascus, where President Hafez el-Assad had tried to persuade him to give up his plan. Harsh words were exchanged by the two presidents. Sadat said that economic difficulties in Egypt and the state of the army left him no choice, although he promised that Egypt would not make a separate peace agreement. If Syria took part in the negotiations, it too would receive generous American aid. Assad was deeply suspicious of "the Jews" and believed that Sadat had made a deal with Israel in advance, with American mediation; Sadat naturally denied it. No agreement was reached. Syria condemned Sadat's step but for the moment maintained a restrained tone. After the failure of the talks with Assad, Foreign Minister Fahmy resigned and his deputy refused the post. Sadat appointed Boutros Ghali, a Coptic Christian academic, as acting foreign minister, From 18 November on attacks on Sadat by the USSR, Libya, Iraq and the PLO intensified. Syria declared a day of national mourning and Saudi Arabia issued a condemnation. But the Egyptian army and most of the public supported Sadat.
E. "Operation Gate": preparations for Sadat's visit to Israel
Even before Sadat's reply had arrived, Lewis gave Dayan first details about plans for the visit (Document 22) and Israel began practical preparations. Sadat was to arrive on the evening of Saturday 19 November, shortly after the end of the Sabbath. An advance party would come on 18 November. Begin's planned visit to England was postponed, and a committee was set up headed by the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eliahu Ben-Elissar (later to serve as Israel's first ambassador to Egypt) to make the arrangements. The operation was given the code name "Operation Gate". Sadat planned to stay two days and to take part in the prayers for the Eid el-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) festival in the El-Aksa mosque on Sunday 20 November. He would address the Knesset that afternoon. Begin asked Sadat to visit the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and at President Carter's recommendation, Sadat agreed. The question of his security aroused great anxiety, and thousands of police, Army units and other security personnel were brought in to protect the president. The adviser for Arab affairs, Dr. Sharon, recommended that the number of worshippers in El-Aksa be limited, in order to prevent any possible injury to Sadat (Document 24).
It was decided that Sadat and his party would stay at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. On 15 November, when it was not yet certain that the visit would materialize, the owner of the hotel, Yekutiel Federman, wrote to the prime minister and proposed that the distinguished guest should stay in the historic hotel (Document 20).
Although Sadat's initiative was intended to by-pass the complications created by the Americans, neither he nor the Israeli government wanted President Carter to feel that he was being excluded or that his efforts were not appreciated. The Israelis were informed that Sadat was in close contact with Carter, and on 18 November Begin sent the president a telegram of thanks for his efforts which had contributed to bringing about the historic visit. Brzezinski hoped that the visit could be used to advance the convening of Geneva and pressed Israel to make concessions to Sadat on the Palestinian issue. Kissinger told Dinitz of these moves, and added that in his opinion the Administration was blind to the new developments. He had told them that the Israelis were in no need of advice, and Sadat knew quite well how to protect his position in the Arab world. Kissinger had also spoken on the telephone with Sadat himself, who said that he wanted to finish the task that Kissinger had undertaken in 1974-75. Kissinger emphasized the importance of Begin's winning Sadat's confidence, and praised his handling of the initiative so far (Document 25).
On the same day a government meeting was held to present plans for the visit and a ministerial committee was set up to formulate Begin's speech in the Knesset. It was decided that the leader of the opposition, Shimon Peres, should also speak, to emphasize Israeli democracy. Dayan was worried that there would be no time for serious talks, because of the crowded schedule of ceremonies and the stream of requests to meet the Egyptian president, among them Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He favoured talks within a very limited circle, possibly in Begin's house. During the meeting news arrived that the Egyptian advance party had landed at the airport, and that a commotion had resulted as bystanders became excited and ran after the Egyptians "as if they had landed from Mars."
Afterwards Begin reported to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee about the plans for Sadat's visit and heard suggestions from the committee members. They too were concerned about Israel's answer to Sadat's speech and finding time for serious talks, and Begin reassured them (Document 23). Begin described the role played by Romania in contacts with Egypt and MK Haim Bar Lev asked if the mysterious disappearance of the foreign minister on his way to the US had anything to do with this. Begin confirmed his speculation but refused to give details for fear of leaks.
On 19 November, shortly before Sadat's plane landed, a formal reply accepting Begin's invitation arrived. The original signed copy of the letter published here was only delivered to the prime minister in December 1977, by the US embassy in Tel Aviv (Document 26, Appendix).
F. Sadat's visit to Jerusalem
Shortly after the end of the Sabbath, Sadat landed in Israel and was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm by the public. President Ephraim Katzir, Prime Minister Begin and all the members of the government took part in the ceremony at the airport, together with ex-prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Golda Meir. Sadat was especially moved by the meeting with Mrs. Meir. 3,000 journalists, broadcaster and TV crews arrived in Israel to cover the visit. The ceremony was shown live on American TV and Avi Pazner, spokesman and media counsellor of the Israeli embassy in Washington reported that the most eminent broadcasters could not hide their emotion. The journalists who flew with Sadat reported that he was bringing concrete proposals and that he had said that he put his political future in Israel's hands.
Sadat was driven to Jerusalem together with President Katzir, and the ministers travelled with their Egyptian counterparts. Dayan drove together with Boutrus Ghali, and used this opportunity to request that Sadat should not mention the PLO in his speech at the Knesset. On their arrival in Jerusalem, Sadat and Begin had a short private conversation.
Early on Sunday morning Sadat visited the El-Aksa mosque and took part in the prayers for the festival commemorating the binding of Ishmael (rather than Isaac, as in Jewish tradition). He also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Meanwhile Begin reported to the government about their conversation and the planned meetings with the Egyptians (Document 27). Begin also gave the ministers the main points of his speech in the Knesset. He planned to say that Israel would not accept Egypt's demands, but not to enter into argument. He would repeat that all issues were open to negotiation. Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon suggested a gesture to the Egyptians – granting them access to the town of El-Arish in Sinai. Dayan warned that his soundings of the Egyptians revealed that they were not interested in a gesture, which would only encourage those who accused them of trying to gain advantage for Egypt alone. But Israel could propose an open borders policy with Egypt, since this already existed on the border with Jordan and the "Good Fence" with Lebanon.
Later Sadat and Begin visited Yad Vashem and a working lunch was held at the hotel. No stenographic record of this and other meetings during the visit has been found in the Israel State Archives and possibly none was made. The main sources for the content of the talks are the reports by Begin and the ministers to the government meetings, and three short notes dictated by Dayan to his bureau chief, Elyakim Rubinstein. According to Dayan's report (Document 28), at the lunch he asked the Egyptians directly what their expectations were and what Israel could do to make the visit a success. That morning a telegram had arrived from Carter, pressing Begin to show flexibility on the issue of the working groups at Geneva to enable the convening of the conference. He and Begin were greatly relieved to find that Sadat wanted substantive talks and not discussions of procedure at Geneva, "You are interested in 'working' and not in 'paper'", summed up Dayan.
That afternoon Sadat addressed a special session of the Knesset in Arabic (for the English translation, see the Foreign Ministry website).
Sadat, like Begin, mentioned the occasion – the Feast of the Sacrifice, commemorating the act of devotion of Abraham, the common ancestor of the Arab and Jewish peoples. Sadat spoke of his decision "to go to the land of the adversary while we were still in a state of war" in order to destroy the walls of suspicion and hostility separating the two peoples. He assured Israel that it could be received by the Arab world in full security and safety, He emphasized that he had not come to sign a separate agreement, but rather to advance a "durable and just peace". His aim was to present directly to the Israeli people the principles of such a peace, which he believed no reasonable person could deny: full Israeli withdrawal, including East Jerusalem and the establishment of a Palestinian state. He did not mention the PLO. In Begin's reply, interrupted several times by members of the Communist party, he expressed appreciation of Sadat's courage and invited the rulers of Syria and Jordan and "genuine spokesmen of the Palestinian Arabs" to talks. He made it clear that Israel's positions were not those of Egypt but called on Sadat not to rule out negotiations on any subject. Begin closed with a prayer "that the God of our common ancestors will grant us the requisite wisdom of heart in order to overcome the difficulties and obstacles, the calumnies and slanders. With the help of God, may we arrive at the longed-for day for which all our people pray - the day of peace". Afterwards Shimon Peres spoke, emphasizing national unity.
A dinner in honour of Sadat was held that evening at the King David hotel. See Document 29 for Begin's toast to President Sadat and his reply. (The toast was drunk without wine, since Sadat as a devout Muslim did not drink alcohol.)
During the working dinner Tuhami prepared a proposal for an official communiqué to be published by the government of Israel at the end of the visit. A draft of the communiqué made by Yadin can be seen in Document 29A. Some of the alterations made in the draft were described by Begin in his report to the government on the visit (Document 36). The president's advisers wanted to describe the visit as "providential" but the Israelis did not agree. Begin explained to Sadat that such flourishes were not usual in Israel and he changed it to "important".Later Begin's adviser and "Shakespeare", British-born Yehuda Avner, changed it to 'significant".
Sadat and Begin were then interviewed jointly by well known broadcaster Barbara Walters, and then met for a private talk. Meanwhile Weizman and Yadin were invited for a drink by Dr. Mustapha Khalil, the head of the Arab Socialist Union, Sadat's party, and Boutros Ghali. At the government meeting on 24 November (see Document 36 below) Weizman and Yadin described the informal meeting, which lasted three and a half hours, as relaxed and open.
The following day Weizman, who knew Egypt well from his wartime visits to Cairo, was invited to a private meeting with Sadat, who had taken a liking to him. Begin told Dayan of his private conversation with Sadat, where they had begun to discuss Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. Sadat demanded complete withdrawal; Begin did not refuse but "made a sour face". Sadat expressed willingness to demilitarize Sinai (Document 31). Sadat proposed another meeting between Tuhami and Dayan in Morocco "to talk business." Begin wanted Bucharest, while Dayan preferred Teheran.
Sadat also met with a Palestinian delegation, and with members of the coalition and the opposition parties in the Knesset. In his reply to the former, he emphasized his concern to prevent war and to protect Israel's security (Document 30). Sadat and Begin then held a joint press conference and published a communiqué summing up the visit and stating that the government of Israel proposed continuing the dialogue, to pave the way for peace agreements with all its Arab neighbours.
At four o'clock that afternoon Sadat took off for Cairo, where he received a hero's welcome from cheering crowds. The organizers of the visit breathed a sigh of relief. Despite the very short notice, everything had gone well and the Egyptians were greatly impressed by the warm welcome they had received. The inspector-general of the Israel Police, Chaim Tavori, sent a message of thanks to the policemen and women who had ensured the success of the operation (Document 32).
G. After the visit: impressions and plans for further talks
On the way to the airport, Ghali told Dayan that the test of success of the visit would be what happened afterwards. The Egyptians saw the Palestinian issue as the key. Dayan pointed out the contradiction in the Egyptian attitude: they refused to make a separate agreement but at the same time did not want to deal with procedural issues and Geneva. They did not take into account the difficulties, since they could not represent Syria or the Palestinians but only themselves. Dayan and Ghali discussed the future of Jerusalem and Gaza, and Dayan pointed out some of the practical problems involved. Nevertheless, he added, they must continue the talks, and he would go anywhere they chose to meet, "even the North Pole" (Document 33).
On 23 November Begin and Dayan gave Lewis an account of the talks (Document 34) and a letter for Carter (Document 35). Begin mentioned the question raised by several journalists of his return visit to Cairo. Sadat was evasive and Begin had understood from their private conversation that it was not convenient for him to invite Begin to Cairo at this stage. He had suggested a visit to Ismailia. Lewis asked about the next stage of the talks and whether they would deal with Geneva or bilateral relations. Dayan said that he believed the Egyptians wanted to discuss the principles of a solution to the Palestinian problem first, and then they would deal with Israel's relations with Egypt. Begin said they should await the results of Dayan's talks with "Sadat's man of confidence" (Tuhami) and Weizman's talks with the Egyptian defence minister, Muhammed el-Gamasi.
On 24 November a government meeting was devoted entirely to Sadat's visit and its implications. Begin expressed satisfaction with the visit. Israel had grasped the opportunity and had made good use of it to advance the peace process. The suspicions felt by Israel's leaders towards Sadat had not been entirely dispelled. They agreed that Israel must remain on the watch for an attack, despite claims by Sadat's aides that Israel was much stronger and had nothing to fear from Egypt. Begin quoted a traditional saying that one should respect people but not trust them too much, adding: "But as far as one could form an impression, I can say, that Sadat's words did not seem to us idle or intended to deceive." Sadat had made it clear that he wanted to continue talks, even though Israel had rejected his demands.
Dayan pointed out that Sadat's idea of a peace settlement was based on ending the state of war, without diplomatic relations. The unrealistic expectations of the Israeli public for speedy normalization, before an agreement, were bound to be disappointed. He warned that negotiations must be carried on with Sadat himself, as he made decisions alone, without consulting his advisers. Weizman emphasized that Israel had entered a new era and had to prepare. After comments by the other ministers, Begin, who felt that some of them had been carried away either with enthusiasm or with fear of the results if Israel's response was not satisfactory, tried to return them to firm ground. Israel should conduct itself as it had during the visit, "tactfully and naturally. We did not overdo it... I did not make any statements including the phrase "historic visit" nor did I say peace was around the corner. I think that we did something important for the people of Israel (let Sadat worry about the Egyptian people) and for peace." Sadat had said to him before leaving "We shall see each other" and further talks would be arranged. But he warned that Israel could not keep on saying only what it rejected, and would have to present concrete plans for every front, "for Judea and Samaria, the Sinai and the Golan. This will be the essence of the decision, and the ladies will have to excuse me when I say, that we will have to take it like men" (Document 36).
Soon Egypt sent a message fixing a date for the talks – directly, without American mediation. On 27 November the Egyptian ambassador to the UN, Abd el-Megid, who had frequently attacked Israel, met the Israeli ambassador, Chaim Herzog. The two shook hands and congratulated one another on reaching this day. The Egyptian ambassador delivered an invitation to a conference in Cairo on 3 December, in which Israel, the Arabs, the USSR, the US and the UN secretary-general would participate (Document 37 Hebrew and English). On 2-3 December Dayan also met with Tuhami in Morocco and they began to discuss the issues of withdrawal, security arrangements in the Sinai, the fate of the Israeli settlements and plans for further meetings (Document 37A). Although many obstacles still lay ahead, the negotiations had begun.
Peace in the Making: The Menachem Begin-Anwar el-Sadat Personal Correspondence, eds. Harry Hurwitz, Yisrael Medad, Gefen Publishing House/The Menachem Begin Heritage Center, 2011
Moshe Dayan, Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Peace Negotiations, Alfred A. Knopf, 1981
William B. Quandt, Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics, The Brookings Institution, 1986
Kenneth Stein, Heroic Diplomacy: Sadat, Kissinger, Carter, Begin and the Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, Routledge, 1999
Historical editing: Louise Fischer, Hagai Tsoref
Compilation of the documents: Shlomo Mark, Louise Fischer
English translation and editing: Louise Fischer
Internet content editing: Oranit Levi
Scanning: Shlomo Mark
Editorial secretary: Leya Ben-Tsvi
We would like to thank all the individuals and institutions who helped in the preparation of this publication: the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad), who approved some of the documents for publication; Dr, Rivka Markus and the staff of the Knesset Archives who gave us a scan from Divrei HaKnesset (Knesset Reports), Dr. Alfred Yarrow, who reviewed the English translation, to the Declassification Department of the Israel State Archives and all the staff of the Archives.