Peace in the Making
The Menachem Begin - Anwar El-Sadat Personal Correspondence
Edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad
Gefen Publishing House, 2011, 349 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 8, 2011
The world-threatening turmoil in the Middle East mandates that people read how Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar El-Sadat of Egypt handled the tense situation a generation ago. Egypt is the largest and most powerful of Israel's neighbors. The two countries conducted five wars against each other in 1948-1949, 1956, 1967, 1968-1970, and 1973. Readers might wonder why the two leaders, who developed a close personal friendship found it hard for months to arrange a peace and how they achieved it. The answer to these questions explains why the current king of Jordan and the current president of Egypt have problems today.
This book is a collection of speeches, press conferences, conversation, pictures, and personal and secret letters from May 17, 1977 when Begin became prime minister of Israel until October 5, 1981, a day before President Sadat, who succeeded Abdel Nasser as president of Egypt upon Nasser's death in 1970, was assassinated.
The book includes a history of the time and the people, and each section of the book and every document has introductory explanations. The exchange of correspondence between the two leaders and their friendship began with Sadat's surprise acceptance of Begin's invitation to visit him in Jerusalem on Saturday night, November 19, 1977, just after the Sabbath. Begin wrote his own letters. Sadat's letters were drafted by a committee of presidential advisers.
The book reveals interesting behind the scene events. When Sadat decided to accept Begin's invitation to visit Israel, for example, Vice President Hosni Mubarak advised him not to announce the visit publically too early because he felt that Sadat would be in danger of assassination by Egyptian fanatics. There is a letter from Begin to Sadat explaining why Israel destroyed Iraqi nuclear reactor. From the very outset of their discussions, Sadat agreed "that Israel has need for security." He wrote to Begin in March 1978: "Let it be clear that the needs for security should be fully met in a way compatible with the desire to establish good neighborly relations." Begin and Sadat were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1978. They signed the peace treaty between the two nations on March 26, 1979. On May 26, 1979, there was an emotional meeting between the disabled veterans of the five wars between Egypt and Israel, presided over by Sadat and Begin. The veterans of the two sides were wary. "The ice was broken when a blind Israeli soldier in a wheelchair approached a disabled Egyptian soldier, who took his hand, and then the soldiers began to embrace and to weep, the years of animosity dissolving in the heady relief of the new status quo: peace.
During the negotiations between the friends, Begin wrote to Sadat; "I agree with you wholeheartedly that there is no nobler task than to work for peace." Since the two men got along so well and since both desired peace, why did it take sixteen months, from Sadat's November 19, 1977 visit to Jerusalem until March 26, 1979, to sign the peace treaty?
Although not stated, the book shows that the problem was that President Sadat took upon himself to not only bring peace between Egypt and Israel but to also resolve the problems of the Palestinians. While his goal was praiseworthy, he became involved in a subject, the Palestinians, over which he had no control. He could not speak for them. Once he dropped the Palestinian issues, the two nations were able to create peace between Egypt and Israel. Jordan saw that this was the way to achieve peace and followed Sadat's example. Granted that there are tensions between Israel and these two Arab nations, but these tensions arise when Egypt and Jordan focus on the Palestinians. As long as the three nations look to their self-interest, there is peace.