א“No more war”: the Begin government’s peace initiative and Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, November 1977

“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, 40 years ago this November.

“Believe me, no more war. I am a man of my word” said Sadat to Defence Minister Ezer Weizman when they met in Jerusalem, according to Weizman’s account to his fellow ministers.  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 headlines all over the world

Sadat’s initiative, which led eventually to the peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt in March 1979, is presented here by the Israel State Archives in a selection of documents showing events after the formation of the new government by Begin in June 1977, which led to Sadat’s decision, the Israeli reaction, the visit and how it was seen by the Israeli participants. Most of the documents are from the files of the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. Some are in Hebrew only and can be seen on our Hebrew website. Wherever possible an English alternative, a translation or a link is given. See especially the selection of documents in English on Israel’s foreign relations on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the translations and US documents appearing on the website of the Center for Israel Education in Atlanta and the documents on the peace talks from the Jimmy Carter Library  

א.1 | The peace policy of the new Israeli government

The Likud leader and Mrs. Aliza Begin voting on election day in Tel Aviv, 17 May 1977. Photograph: Ya’acov Sa’ar, GPO

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 a settlement led by the Carter Administration in 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 belief 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 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, as foreign minister, and this step reassured international opinion.

In his statement presenting the government to parliament (the Knesset) on 20 June (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.

א.2 | The Carter Administration presses for a peace conference at Geneva

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. He and his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, believed that limited agreements like those negotiated by Henry Kissinger in 1974-1975, which excluded the Soviet Union and failed to deal with the Palestinian problem, would not lead to genuine peace. Carter planned to revive the Geneva conference, which 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 was willing to return to Geneva but feared that the US would give in to Soviet and Syrian demands to invite the PLO to the conference, despite commitments from the previous Administration.

The previous prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had already clashed with Carter, who pressed him to agree to Palestinian representation at Geneva. Rabin insisted that Israel would not talk to the PLO on the Palestinian issue, but only to 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 should 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 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. Since the Yom Kippur war Sadat had sought closer relations with the US, in the belief that only the Americans could pressure 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. In June 1975 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 would sign 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 for the Americans entitled “Framework for the Peace-Making Process Between Israel and Its Neighbours” to be presented 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). After Begin’s explanations, 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 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 their proposed principles: withdrawal on all fronts and the establishment of a Palestinian “entity”. The two sides also became embroiled in a dispute over settlement. The Begin government was still carrying out the settlement programme of the previous government, but Carter feared that their aim was to make setting up 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 during the negotiations.

First page of a report to Dayan on the talks, 21 July 1977

During Vance’s visit to the Middle East in August 1977 he asked the parties for a draft peace treaty. On 4 September Begin presented to the government a draft 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).

Moshe Dayan and Secretary Vance with US ambassador Sam Lewis at Lod airport, 9 August 1977. Photograph: Ya’acov Sa’ar, GPO

On 18 September, after his secret meeting with the deputy prime minister of Egypt (see below) Dayan flew to the US for talks. Dayan’s experience at negotiating 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. But the government, including Begin, was suspicious about the freedom of action enjoyed by Dayan. 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.

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 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 with the president himself, who assured him that the declaration did not bind Israel. (See the US version of the talk on 4 October on the website of the Center for Israel Education). On 5 October, Ambassador Dinitz and the legal adviser of the Foreign Ministry Meir Rosenne wrote to Begin describing the changes in the “working paper” made to suit 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).

After the agreed “working paper” was published, the Arab states were in an awkward position. They did not want to accept a joint Israeli-American document, while Israel refused to agree to 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 refused to 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 the Appendix to the List of Documents

א.3 | 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. 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).

Begin and Ceausescu walking in the garden of the presidential residence near Bucharest, 26 August 1977. Photograph: Moshe Milner, GPO

Following this message, Israel made use of connections it had already established with Morocco. Rabin had met with King Hassan II in 1976, and according to a 2008 book by journalist Shmuel Segev, he asked the king 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. 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 writes that the Egyptians preferred that he meet Tuhami.

On 16 September Dayan, who was on his way to Washington, flew to Morocco and met with Tuhami. He then flew back to Israel to confer with Begin. According to notes on 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 peace proposals and to set up another “working meeting”.

First page of the report, ISA

The report of the Mossad (Document 12A, see the translation on the Center for Israel Education website) gives further details. Tuhami said that Sadat saw himself as a soldier whose land had been conquered. He wanted peace but not 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 but was convinced that he would persuade Jordan and Syria to follow suit. Before he left, Dayan tried to find out 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 visited 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 convinced him he would lose all his bargaining cards 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.  Carter rejected the idea, and Sadat apparently concluded that the president’s freedom of action was limited by his agreements with Israel. The Arab foreign ministers were about to meet in Tunis and Sadat feared decisions which would prevent Egypt from taking part in Geneva or reaching agreement with Israel. He later told Dayan that the idea of going to Jerusalem came to him on the flight back from Riyadh.

Meanwhile a Romanian envoy arrived in Israel with a proposal for another 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 Henry Kissinger (codenamed “Hezekiah”) who told Dinitz about Sadat’s plan for a meeting in East Jerusalem, which was designed to bypass Geneva and include the PLO. 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 with the Jewish people. His adviser on Arab affairs, Dr. Moshe Sharon, sent him some points for the speech (Document 15), with a quotation from the Koran, included in Begin’s broadcast on 11 November.

א.4 | 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. He described his efforts to bring about a settlement before, during and after the 1973 war, and praised President Carter’s efforts to convene the Geneva conference and his concern for the Palestinians. Sadat welcomed the interest of the Great Powers 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 words were not taken seriously. Carter continued his efforts to convene the Geneva conference. But Begin told journalists who asked for his response: “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 said he was willing 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 said in a press release 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 through a delegation of the Armed Forces Committee of the US Congress, which was visiting Israel and was about to go to Egypt (Document 18 Appendix). In Cairo Sadat 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. The Israeli leaders began to realize that Sadat meant what he said, and on 13 November a government meeting discussed the visit. Begin warned that its importance should not be exaggerated. 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 with the US. He mentioned the danger that the move was “an alibi for starting a war”; if it failed, 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, seeing it as a publicity stunt or even a trick. On 15 November the IDF chief of staff, Mordechai (“Motta”) Gur, gave an unauthorized press interview, warning that the visit was a deception to cover an 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 criticism of 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 both appeared in an 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 with a covering letter was sent to President Carter (Document No. 21 Hebrew and English).

Begin’s telegram to Carter with the text of the invitation, ISA

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.

Sadat, Assad and Muammar Gadaffi of Libya sign an agreement to set up a federation (which never materialized), 1971. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

א.5 | "Operation Gate": preparations for Sadat's visit to Jerusalem

Even before Sadat’s reply had arrived, Lewis gave Dayan first details about plans for the visit (Document 22) and Israel began to prepare. 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 headed by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eliahu Ben-Elissar (later Israel’s first ambassador to Egypt) made 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 on Carter’s recommendation, Sadat agreed. The question of his security aroused great anxiety, and thousands of police, Army units and security personnel were brought in to protect him. 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, even beforethe visit was certain, 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 left out or that his efforts were not appreciated. The Israelis knew that Sadat was in close contact with Carter, and on 18 November Begin sent the president a telegram of thanks for helping to bring about the historic visit. Brzezinski wanted to use the visit to advance the Geneva conference and pressed Israel for concessions on the Palestinian issue. Kissinger told Dinitz of these moves, and added that 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 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 committee of ministers was set up to prepare 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 and the stream of requests to meet Sadat, 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. The committee members were also 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).

The last lines of Sadat’s acceptance letter, ISA

א.6 | 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 ministers 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, broadcasters and TV crews arrived in Israel to cover the visit. The ceremony was shown live on American TV and Avi Pazner, the spokesman at the 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 ask that Sadat should not mention the PLO in his speech at the Knesset. On arrival Sadat and Begin had a short private talk.

President Anwar Sadat attends prayers at the El-Aksa mosque, 20 November 1977. Photograph: Miki Tzarfati, GPO

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 told the government about their talk and the planned meetings with the Egyptians (Document 27). Begin also gave the ministers the main points of his speech in the Knesset. He would say that Israel would not accept Egypt’s demands, but would not 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 the Egyptians 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, 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 ISA 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 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. Dayan 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 accepted by the Arab world in full security and safety, 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 this 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 Communist MKs, he praised 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.

Prime Minister Begin replying to Sadat’s speech in the Knesset, 20 November 1977. On Sadat’s right, Knesset speaker Yitzhak Shamir. Photograph: Ya’acov Sa’ar, GPO

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 Israel at the end of the visit. A draft of the communiqué  by Yadin can be seen in Document 29A. Some of the alterations were described by Begin in his later report (Document 36).  Sadat’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 interviewed jointly by 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 World War II visits to Cairo, had 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). He 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 statement on the visit, stating that the Israeli government 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 short notice, everything had gone well and the Egyptians were 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).

א.7 | 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 their view: 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 the difficulties into account; they could not represent Syria or the Palestinians but only themselves. The two discussed the future of Jerusalem and Gaza, and Dayan pointed out some of the practical problems. 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 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 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 used 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 to talk, 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 were bound to be disappointed. They must negotiate with Sadat himself, as he made decisions alone, without consulting his advisers. Weizman emphasized that Israel had entered a new era. After comments by 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 earth. 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: withdrawal, security arrangements in the Sinai, the fate of the Israeli settlements and plans for further meetings (see Document 37A and the next chapter below). Although many obstacles still lay ahead, the negotiations had begun.

The Cairo conference, 13 December 1977. Photograph: Moshe Milner, GPO

א.8 | List of documents and summaries

A. The presentation of the new government to the Knesset and its peace policy

1. Statement by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the Knesset on the presentation of his government; Jerusalem, 20 June 1977
Divrei HaKnesset (Knesset Reports), Vol. 80, pp. 14־17
The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, their right to the Land, Begin hopes to strengthen ties with the US and France, and to renew ties with the USSR; a call to the Arab rulers to meet him to discuss peace, the basic guidelines of the government.
Partial English translation: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

B. Talks with the Americans on the Geneva Conference
2. Principles for Peace Negotiations with the Arabs (The Geneva Conference) [sent by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, 24 June 1977]
Dayan’s practical suggestions for progress towards peace in stages; Israel’s future borders and the solution to the refugee problem. Suggestions for an interim solution for the West Bank and Gaza, based on Israeli control, Palestinian self rule and a link with Jordan.
3. The Framework for the Peace-Making Process between Israel and its Neighbors; Jerusalem, 7 June 1977 (in English)
Israel’s participation in the Geneva Conference or other talks on peace treaties with the Arab states, its territorial proposals, as presented to President Carter on 19 July 1977.
4. Extracts from Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Statement at the Government Meeting; Jerusalem, 13 July 1977
Analysis of the government’s peace plan to be presented to President Carter. The importance of formal peace treaties and US recognition of this principle.

5. Hanan Bar On, Israel Minister in Washington, to Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Jerusalem; 20 July 1977
The main points of President Carter’s private conversation with Prime Minister Begin: they agreed to differ on certain issues. Carter asks for a freeze on settlements until the Geneva conference.

See the website of the Center for Israel Education for the US version of the meeting of the two delegations on July 19

6. Yehuda Avner, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Diaspora Affairs and Hanan Bar On, Israel Minister in Washington, to Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Jerusalem; 21 July 1977 (in English)
Minute of the second meeting between President Carter and Prime Minister Begin on 20 July 1977.

7. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Jerusalem, to US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Washington, 2 September 1977 (in English)

A covering letter for Israel’s draft peace plan with Egypt.

8. Simha Dinitz, Israel Ambassador in Washington, and Meir Rosenne, Legal Adviser of the Foreign Ministry, to Yehiel Kadishai, Director of the Prime Minister’s Bureau, for Menachem Begin, Jerusalem; 5 October 1977

Israel’s achievements as a result of Dayan’s talks with Carter. Improvements in the text of the working paper for the Geneva conference, including references to UN Resolutions 242 and 338 and to the problem of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and restriction of the role of the Palestinians.
Appendix 1: The joint communiqué after Dayan’s talks with President Carter and Secretary Vance in New York, 5 October 1977 (in Hebrew and English)
Appendix 2. Text of the “Working Paper”, 5 October 1977 (in Hebrew and English)

9. Lecture by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan to the Editor’s Committee; Tel Aviv, 14 October 1977

Dayan denies that he made concessions in the talks in New York on the issue of PLO participation at Geneva. If Israel genuinely wants a settlement the Palestinians cannot be ignored. Their participation in a joint Arab delegation is the best solution.

C. Israel’s secret contacts with Egypt
10. Stenographic Record of the Government Meeting; Jerusalem, 4 September 1977

The draft of a proposed peace treaty to be sent to Washington; a report by Prime Minister Begin on his visit to Washington and conversation with President Nicolae Ceausescu; a message from Sadat agreeing to a meeting of Egyptian and Israeli representatives.

11. Note by Elyakim Rubinstein, Director of the Foreign Minister’s Bureau; Jerusalem, 9 September 1977

The Egyptians have agreed to a meeting with an Israeli representative as soon as possible. They propose a meeting between President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, or between Dayan and the vice president. Dayan decided to bring the proposal to the prime minister.

12. Main Points from the Meeting of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan with the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami in Rabat, 17 September 1977 (in English)
Tuhami said that Sadat sees the present Israeli government as strong and has confidence in it. He has agreed to talks but will meet Begin only after the latter agrees to the principle of evacuation of Arab occupied territories. Proposal to exchange draft peace treaties and fix another meeting.

12A. Report by the Mossad (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) on the Meeting of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan with Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami in Rabat on 16 September; 18 October 1977
Further details about the meeting.

13. Meeting Between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, and US Ambassador Samuel Lewis; Jerusalem, 3 November 1977
The arrival of a Romanian envoy to arrange a meeting between Israeli and Egyptian representatives in Bucharest. The reaction of the Arab states to the working paper on Geneva. US policy towards the PLO. The question of appointing chairmen at the Geneva conference.

14. Simha Dinitz, Israel Ambassador in Washington, to Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Jerusalem; 4 November 1977

His conversation with Henry Kissinger (code named “Hezekiah”) on President Sadat’s plan for a meeting of the Security Council and the parties, including Yasser Arafat. Kissinger sees the Romanian role in secret contacts with Egypt as problematic.

15. Points for Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Speech to the Egyptian People; Jerusalem, 4 November 1977

“The state of war between Israel and Egypt is an unnatural one”. The two peoples have a great shared history and a role to play in developing the Middle East. Quotations from the Koran on Islam’s attitude to the Jewish people and their connection with the Land of Israel.

16. Ephraim Evron, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Jerusalem; 6 November 1977

His meeting with the Romanian envoy. Plans for a visit by Dayan to Bucharest to meet the Egyptian deputy prime minister [Tuhami].

D. Sadat’s plan to speak in the Knesset and Israel’s response

17. Survey by the Centre for Research and Policy Planning in the Foreign Ministry of Sadat’s Speech to the Egyptian People’s Assembly; Jerusalem, 10 November 1977

The section on foreign policy in Sadat’s speech on 9 November; his praise for President Carter’s attempts to convene the Geneva Conference; his attitude to the joint Soviet-American declaration on the Middle East and the working paper. Sadat’s declaration that procedural issues do not interest him; he is willing to go to the ends of the earth to seek peace and even to the Knesset to discuss it with the Israelis.

18. Press Release: Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Response to President Sadat’s Speech; Jerusalem, 10 November 1977

If Sadat decides to come to Jerusalem, he will be received with the honours due to a president; Israel is ready for negotiations with no preconditions.
Appendix: Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Statement in a Meeting with the Delegation from the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives; Jerusalem, 10 November 1977 (in English)

19. Broadcast by Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the People of Egypt; Jerusalem, 11 November 1977

A call for peace between the peoples of Israel and of Egypt.

20. Yekutiel Federman, Haifa, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jerusalem; 15 November 1977

The owner of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem proposes that Sadat should stay there, in view of the historic hotel’s role in the struggle against the British Mandate and the fact that many major figures were guests there, including Kissinger.

21. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jerusalem, to President Muhamed Anwar el-Sadat, Cairo, with a Covering Letter to US President Jimmy Carter, Washington, 15 November 1977  (in Hebrew and English)

A formal invitation to President Sadat to visit Jerusalem, to address the Knesset and to meet with Begin.

22. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s Meeting with US Ambassador Samuel Lewis on 17 November, with Director-General Ephraim Evron present; Jerusalem [dated 24 November 1977]
Delivery of the prime minister’s letter of invitation to Sadat; the president’s plan to arrive on 19 November, the arrival of an Egyptian advance party.

23. Meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee; Jerusalem, 18 November 1977

The prime minister explains the plans for President Sadat’s visit to Israel. Questions and suggestions from committee members about the programme, about Israel’s reply to Sadat’s demands and the possibility of serious political talks.

E. “Operation Gate”: preparations for Sadat’s visit to Israel

24. Moshe Sharon, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Arab Affairs, Jerusalem to Eliahu Ben Elissar, Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem; 18 November 1977

Fears for the safety of President Sadat during the services in the El-Aksa Mosque; proposes limiting the number of worshippers.

25. Simha Dinitz, Israel Ambassador in Washington to Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Ephraim Evron, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem; 18 November 1977
Kissinger’s views on Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem; his conversations with National Security Adviser Brzezinski and Sadat; his criticism of the Administration.

26. President Mohamed Anwar el-Sadat, Cairo, to Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jerusalem; 19 November 1977 (in English)

Sadat accepts the invitation to come to Jerusalem and hopes for a positive response from Israel. He will arrive on 19 November.

F. Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem

27. Stenographic Record of the Government Meeting; Jerusalem, 20 November 1977

First talks with Sadat and plans for further meetings; the probable content of his speech in the Knesset; Begin’s proposed reply and comments by the ministers; Dayan suggests some additions.

28. Note of the Report by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan on the Lunchtime Meeting with President Anwar el-Sadat and the Egyptian Delegation; Jerusalem 20 November 1977 (with typed version)

Dayan asked the Egyptians what their expectations from the visit were and how to make progress in the talks; Sadat’s reply; proposals for a hot line to prevent unnecessary tension between the states.

29. Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Toast at a Dinner in Honour of President Sadat and President Anwar el-Sadat’s Reply; Jerusalem, 20 November 1977 (in English)

Begin congratulates Sadat on his speech in the Knesset; some progress has been made in the talks; Sadat’s toast to Begin.

29A. Draft of Agreed Communiqué to be issued at the Conclusion of the Visit to Israel of President Sadat; Jerusalem, 20-21 November, 1977 (in English)
Received from the late Mr. Yehuda Avner
Draft of the agreed communiqué prepared by Tuhami with Yadin’s comments in Hebrew and corrections by Yehuda Avner

30. President Anwar el-Sadat’s Statement at a Meeting with Members of the Coalition in the Knesset; Jerusalem, 21 November 1977 (in English)

The main issues are security and how to prevent another war.

31. Note of the Report by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan on his Conversation with Prime Minister Menachem Begin; Jerusalem. 21 November 1977 (with typed version)
Begin’s impressions of his private talk with Sadat; plans for future meetings; first discussions on withdrawal from the Sinai and security arrangements.

32. Message to the Police Officers: Operation Gate; Jerusalem, 21 November 1977
Inspector-General Chaim Tavori thanks the policemen and women who took part in the operation to guard President Sadat, to direct traffic and to keep order. ‘Three days of excitement and elation accompanied by continual tension” have ended, and despite some logistical problems, the police did a fine job.

G. After the visit: impressions and plans for further talks
33. Note of the Report by Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan on his Conversation with Egyptian Minister of State Boutros Ghali on 21 November; Jerusalem, 22 November 1977

Their conversation on the way to the airport; plans for further meetings – bilateral relations or the Geneva conference?

34. Meeting of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan with US Ambassador Samuel Lewis; Jerusalem, 23 November 1977 (in English)

A report on Begins’ impressions of Sadat and the prospects for further talks.

35. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jerusalem, to US President Jimmy Carter, Washington, 23 November 1977 (in English)

The results of the visit.

36. Stenographic Record of a Government Meeting; Jerusalem, 24 November 1977

The impressions of Begin, Yadin, Weizmann and Dayan of their meetings with the Egyptian delegation: their belief that the Egyptians genuinely want an agreement with Israel; comments by other ministers; plans for continuing the dialogue.

37. Chaim Herzog, Israel Ambassador to the UN, New York, to Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, Bonn, and Ephraim Evron, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, 27 November 1977

Herzog’s meeting with the Egyptian ambassador to the UN, Abd el-Megid, who gave him an invitation to Israel to take part in a preparatory conference for Geneva in Cairo. They discussed the chances of success for the conference and their personal relations.

37A. Report by the Mossad (Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) on the Meeting of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan with Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami on 2–3 December: 6 December 1977

Another meeting with King Hassan of Morocco and Tuhami: Israel’s proposals for withdrawal and security arrangements in the Sinai and the Golan Heights; the fate of the Israeli settlements in the Sinai; Sadat’s demand that the Palestinian issue be discussed; the level of future meetings.

Appendix: More documents on the negotiations to convene the Geneva conference

38. David Turgeman, Counsellor in the Israel Embassy in Washington, to Ephraim Evron, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry and the Centre for Research and Policy Planning, Jerusalem; 29 June 1977
Turgeman’s conversation with William Quandt of the National Security Council on expectations and possible difficulties in Prime Minister Begin’s talks in Washington.

39. Exchange of Telegrams between US President Jimmy Carter, Washington, and Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jerusalem; 15-16 August 1977 (in English)
ISA/A/4337/4; ISA/MFA/6862/3
Secretary Vance’s visit to the Israel and the Arab states; plans to convene the Geneva conference, the US request to Israel not to intervene in South Lebanon.

40. David Turgeman, Counsellor in the Israel Embassy in Washington, to Ephraim Evron, Director-General of the Foreign Ministry and Moshe Sasson, Director of the Centre for Research and Policy Planning, Jerusalem; 19 August 1977
The reactions of the Arab states to American efforts to restart the peace negotiations; Egypt shows signs of flexibility.

41. Exchange of Telegrams Between Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the “Working Paper”, 19 September 1977, 28 September 1977
ISA/A/4337/5; ISA/A/4337/6
President Carter’s proposal for a joint Arab delegation, including Palestinians who are not PLO members, at the opening of the Geneva conference. Dayan recommends that Israel accept it. Begin’s concerns about this formula and about the proposed joint US-Soviet declaration on the Middle East.
Appendix: Moshe Dayan’s talks with Secretary Vance on 26 September 1977 (in English)

42. Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan, New York, to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, New York; 5 October 1977 (in English)


The understanding between Israel and the US on the screening of Palestinian representatives to the Geneva conference.

P.M. Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter in the President’s office in Washington, 19 July 1977. Photograph: Ya’acov Sa’ar, GPO