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40 years after Sadat

In Knesset, Egypt’s envoy urges Israel to seize ‘real opportunity’ for peace

Marking 40 years since Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to parliament, Hazen Khairat says Jerusalem could ‘open a new page with its Arab neighbors’

Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat (L) meets with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset on November 21, 2017 (Knesset spokesperson's office)
Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat (L) meets with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset on November 21, 2017 (Knesset spokesperson's office)

Forty years after Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat made his historic visit to Israel, Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat on Tuesday urged Israeli leaders to seize a “real opportunity” to normalize ties with neighboring Arab states by pursuing a peace deal with the Palestinians based on the Arab Peace Initiative.

That peace framework, backed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, is an extension of the peace initiative started by Sadat 40 years ago, said Khairat at a Knesset event attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

“I say to the Israeli side, there is a real opportunity to open a new page with the Arab neighbors, based on co-existence and mutual understanding for a better future leading to peace,” he added, speaking in Arabic.

On November 20, 1977, Sadat made history when he became the first Arab leader to visit Israel and address the Knesset  with a call for peace with Israel. Sadat’s visit helped pave the way for Israeli-Egyptian talks at Camp David a year later, and a full peace agreement between the two former enemies in 1979, just six years after the painful Yom Kippur War.

Speaking ahead of Khairat, Hotovely and Edelstein hailed the “courageous” pact between then-prime minister Menachem Begin and Sadat.

Anwar Sadat with Golda Meir and Shimon Peres in the Knesset. (Ya’acov Sa’ar/GPO)

But Hotovely argued that while there was always “an Israeli Menachem Begin” gunning for peace, having a “Palestinian Anwar Sadat” would not be sufficient to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which she maintained was not a territorial dispute but an “existential” one.

“There are more than 200 territorial disputes in the world, but the conflict between us and the Palestinians is not one of them,” said Hotovely. Even when Israeli leaders presented offers to relinquish territory to the Palestinians, Palestinian leaders were unwilling to give up on the Palestinian right of return and recognize Israeli rights to the country, she added.

The deputy foreign minister further argued that the peace deal with Egypt was not imposed by the United States, signaling that a future deal with the Palestinians should similarly not be forced on Israel.

Illustrative: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

She spoke as the Trump administration was expected to announce a bid to kickstart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House has stressed that it will not impose a deal on the sides.

Turning back to the 1977 visit, Hotovely hailed the “brave choices” by the two leaders that led to the Egypt-Israel peace accord that predated her birth.

“I was born into peace,” she said. “This peace is proof, in my view, that the State of Israel desires peace.”

In his remarks, Edelstein acknowledged the “big challenges” facing Israel in upholding the peace accord with Egypt, without elaborating.

Referring to the historic visit, he quoted then-opposition leader Shimon Peres, who told the Knesset at the time that “in our nation, there is no opposition to peace.”

Endorsing that sentiment, Edelstein turned to the prospects of a future peace deal with the Palestinians. The debates back then in these halls were difficult, and “may be even more difficult” in the coming years, he said, while reiterating that there was no opposition to peace among Israelis.

The Knesset speaker met with Khairat earlier on Tuesday in his office, where the two discussed peace talks as well as cooperation in the fields of energy, agriculture, security, and technology, according to a Knesset statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Isaac Herzog were set to address the plenum later on Tuesday with speeches marking the anniversary of Sadat’s visit.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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