This week in Jewish history | Egyptian President Anwar Sadat calls for peace in landmark address to Knesset - World Jewish Congress

This week in Jewish history | Egyptian President Anwar Sadat calls for peace in landmark address to Knesset

This week in Jewish history | Egyptian President Anwar Sadat calls for peace in landmark address to Knesset

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

On 20 November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat met with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and spoke at the Knesset, becoming the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel. 

His visit came less than two weeks after Sadat surprised the world, delivering remarks at the Egyptian People’s Assembly deviating from his prepared text and declaring that he was “ready to travel to the ends of the earth” to protect Egyptian lives and that “Israel will be surprised to hear me say that I am willing to go to their parliament, the Knesset itself.” 

Prior to arriving at the Knesset, Sadat prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and visited Yad Vashem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 

Sadat’s address to the Knesset calling for peace between the two nations and a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict came four years after the Yom Kippur War. In his opening remarks Sadat said, "I come to you today on solid ground, to shape a new life, to establish peace. We all, on this land, the land of God; we all, Muslims, Christians and Jews, worship God and no one but God. God's teachings and commandments are love, sincerity, purity and peace."

"After long thinking, I was convinced that the obligation of responsibility before God, and before the people, make it incumbent upon me that I should go to the farthest corner of the world, even to Jerusalem, to address Members of the Knesset, the representatives of the People of Israel, and acquaint them with all the facts surging in me. Then, I would leave you to decide for yourselves. Following this, may God Almighty determine our fate."

Following President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin addressed the Knesset, saying, “Let us sign a peace treaty and establish such a situation forever, both in Jerusalem and in Cairo. I hope the day will come when Egyptian children will wave Israeli and Egyptian flags together, just as the Israeli children are waving both of these flags together in Jerusalem." 

Less than a year later, on 17 September 1978, Begin and Sadat signed the Camp David Accords at the White House. The agreement formed the foundation for a comprehensive peace agreement, which would be formalized in the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.   

Under the terms of the agreement, Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt would formally normalize relations with Israel. Additionally, the leaders established a broad framework for achieving peace in the region.  

Sadat and Begin were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year later for their historic agreement.   

Following the Camp David Accords, Sadat and Begin signed the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, formally making Egypt the first Arab state to achieve diplomatic normalization with Israel and ending the state of war between the two countries.  

While Sadat was praised across the world, his decision was significantly less well received in the Arab world, and Egypt was suspended from the Arab league. Three years after the signing of the peace treaty, Sadat was assassinated in his homeland by radical Islamists upset with his decision.  

Nevertheless, the peace process between the two countries endured and they still share a strategic and important geopolitical relationship that continues to bring stability to the region.