Speeches to the Knesset eText - Primary Source

Primary Source

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat addresses the Israeli Knesset on peace between Egypt and Israel. ( William Karel/Sygma/Corbis.) Egyptian president Anwar Sadat addresses the Israeli Knesset on peace between Egypt and Israel. Published by Gale Cengage (© William Karel/Sygma/Corbis.)
Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, surprised many people when he accepted Anwar Sadats proposal for peace talks. ( Bettmann/Corbis.) Menachem Begin, prime minister of Israel, surprised many people when he accepted Anwar Sadat's proposal for peace talks. Published by Gale Cengage (© Bettmann/Corbis.)

Excerpt from Anwar Sadat's Speech to the Israeli Knesset
(November 20, 1977)

Reprinted in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Edited by Charles D. Smith
Published in 2001

Excerpt from Menachem Begin's Reply to President Sadat
(November 20, 1977)

Reprinted in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Edited by Charles D. Smith
Published in 2001

"What is peace to Israel? To live in the region, together with her Arab neighbours, in security and safety—this is a logic to which I say: 'Yes.'"

Relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors were strained after the Six-Day War of 1967. At the end of the war, Israel controlled huge tracts of land once ruled by Arabs, including the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. As the emerging dominant power after the war, Israel dictated new areas of negotiation between Israel and Arab nations. In addition to the location of Israel's permanent borders and the question of how to deal with Palestinian refugees (those who fled their homes in response to fighting), negotiations would now include whether or not captured Arab lands would be returned. In response, the Arab states held a summit in Khartoum, Egypt, in 1967, and officially declared that Arab states would condone "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country."

These circumstances influenced the next decade of Arab-Israeli relations. Egypt launched a War of Attrition against Israel in 1969, and gained valuable aid from the Soviet Union. Although the United States negotiated a ceasefire in 1970, the negotiations were difficult and incomplete. When Anwar Sadat (1918–1981) became the president of Egypt in 1970, he was eager to finalize a peace agreement with Israel, and he agreed to a solution proposed by United Nations' ambassador Gunnar Jarring (1907–2002) in 1971. But Israel rejected it, not wanting to give up the land it had taken during the Six-Day War, and tensions continued.

Sadat soon became convinced that diplomacy would not help Egypt regain the Sinai region, nor other Arab nations their lost land. On October 6, 1973, Sadat, with the cooperation of Syria, launched the Yom Kippur War. Despite early Arab victories, the war ended in late October 1973 with neither side having achieved definite success. Because the Israelis and Arabs were unwilling to negotiate directly with each other, U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger (1923–) became instrumental in negotiating a plan to stop the fighting between Israel and the Arab states by traveling back and forth between Israel and various Arab capitals. By 1975 he had successfully concluded a plan for Egypt to gain some land, but the question of what to do with the Palestinian refugees became a roadblock (Palestinians wanted to be reimbursed for or return to their land, while Israelis believed the land belonged to them now).

Frustrated with the stalemate and wanting peace to progress, Sadat announced on November 9, 1977, to the surprise of most of the world, that he would be willing to travel to Israel to pursue peace. At the time, Israel's prime minister was Menachem Begin (1913–1992), a man who had rejected the idea that Israel should return any land to the Arabs, and who refused to acknowledge the Palestine Liberation Organization. Although hostile toward Arabs, Begin accepted Sadat's proposal and invited him to visit a session of the Knesset, Israel's legislative body. The following are excerpts from the speeches Sadat and Begin gave to the Israeli Knesset on November 20, 1977.

Things to remember while reading Anwar Sadat's "Speech to the Israeli Knesset" and Menachem Begin's "Reply to President Sadat":

  • Before Sadat proposed his willingness to visit Israel for peace, few would have expected Begin to be a man who would offer compromises for peace. Begin was known as one of Israel's most aggressive and stubborn leaders. Look for evidence that points to his unwillingness to make agreements that would compromise Israel's safety.
  • Notice the difference between Sadat and Begin's comments about the Palestinians.
  • Sadat's trip to Israel cost him diplomatic ties with other Arab states. While reading the speech, look for the reasons why he felt his trip was worth the price he would pay.

Excerpt from Anwar Sadat's Speech to the Israeli Knesset (November 20, 1977)

In the Name of God, Mr. Speaker of the Knesset, ladies and gentlemen ... .

God's peace and mercy be with you. God willing, peace for us all. Peace for us in the Arab land and in Israel and in every part of the land of this wide world, this world which is made complex by its bloody conflicts and which is made tense by its sharp contradictions and which is threatened every now and then by destructive wars—wars made by man to kill his brother man and, in the end, amid the debris and mutilated bodies of men, there is neither victor nor vanquished ... .

All of us in this land, the land of God, Moslems, Christians and Jews, worship God and no other god. God's decrees and commandments are: love, honesty, chastity and peace ... .

Ladies and gentlemen: There are moments in the life of nations and peoples when those who are known for their wisdom and foresight are required to look beyond the past, with all its complications and remnants, for the sake of a courageous upsurge towards new horizons ... .

We must rise above all forms of fanaticism and self-deception and obsolete theories of superiority. It is important that we should never forget that virtue is God's alone. If I say that I want to protect the Arab people from the terrors of new, terrifying wars, I declare before you with all sincerity that I have the same feelings and I carry the same responsibility for every human being in the world and, most certainly, for the Israeli people.

A life which is taken away in war is the life of a human being, whether it is an Arab or an Israeli life. The wife who becomes a widow is a human being and has the right to live in a happy family environment whether she is an Arab or an Israeli. The innocent children who lose the care and love of their parents are all our children; they are all our children, whether in the land of the Arabs or in Israel; we have a great responsibility to provide them with a prosperous present and a better future ... .

Ladies and gentlemen, let us be frank with each other, using straightforward words and clear thoughts which cannot be twisted ... . How can we achieve a just and lasting peace? ...

Firstly, I did not come to you with a view to concluding a separate agreement between Egypt and Israel, this is not provided for in Egypt's policy. The problem does not lie just between Egypt and Israel; moreover, no separate peace between Egypt and Israel—or between any confrontation state and Israel—could secure a lasting and just peace in the region as a whole. Even if a peace agreement was achieved between all the confrontation states and Israel, without a just solution to the Palestinian problem it would never ensure the establishment of the durable, lasting peace the entire world is now trying to achieve ... .

I have come to you so that together we can build a lasting and just peace, so that not one more drop of the blood of either side may be shed ... .

This in itself forms a giant turning-point, a decisive landmark of an historic transformation. We used to reject you, and we had our reasons and grievances. Yes, we used to reject meeting you anywhere. Yes, we used to describe you as "so-called Israel." Yes, conferences and international organizations used to bring us together. Our representatives have never and still do not exchange greetings and salaams. Yes, this is what happened, and it still goes on ... . But I say to you today and I say to the whole world that we accept that we should live with you in a lasting and just peace. We do not want to surround you or to be surrounded ourselves with missiles which are ready to destroy, with the missiles of hatred and bitterness.

More than once, I have said that Israel has become a living reality. The world recognized it and the two superpowers shouldered the responsibility of its security and the defense of its existence. And when we want peace both in theory and in practice we welcome you to live amongst us in security and peace, in theory and practice ... .

Ladies and gentlemen, the truth is—and it is the truth that I am telling you—that there can be no peace in the true sense of the word, unless this peace is based on justice and not on the occupation of the territory of others. It is not right that you seek for yourselves what you deny to others. In all frankness and in the spirit which prompted me to come to you, I say to you: You have finally to abandon the dreams of tomorrow and you have also to abandon the belief that force is the best means of dealing with the Arabs. You have to absorb very well the lessons of confrontation between ourselves and you; expansion will be of no avail to you ... .

To put it clearly, our territory is not a subject of bargaining; it is not a topic for wrangling ... .

What is peace to Israel? To live in the region, together with her Arab neighbours, in security and safety—this is a logic to which I say: "Yes." For Israel to live within her borders secure from any aggression—this is a logic to which I say: "Yes." For Israel to get all kinds of assurances that ensure for her these two facts—this is a demand to which I say "YES." ...

But how can this be achieved? How can we arrive at this result so that it can take us to a permanent and just peace? There are facts that must be confronted with all courage and clarity. There is Arab land which Israel has occupied and still occupies by armed force. And we insist that complete withdrawal from this land be undertaken and this includes Arab Jerusalem, Jerusalem to which I have come, as it is considered the city of peace and which has been and will always be the living embodiment of coexistence between believers of the three religions. It is inadmissible for anyone to think of Jerusalem's special position within the context of annexation and expansion. It must be made a free city, open to all the faithful. What is more important is that the city must not be closed to those who have chosen it as a place of residence for several centuries ... .

Let me tell you without hesitation that I have not come to you, under this dome, to beg you to withdraw your forces from the occupied territory. This is because complete withdrawal from the Arab territories occupied after 1967 is a matter that goes without saying, over which we accept no controversy and in respect of which there is no begging to anyone or from anyone. There will be no meaning to talk about a lasting, just peace and there will be no meaning to any step to guarantee our lives together in this part of the world in peace and security while you occupy an Arab land by armed forces. There can never be peace established or built with the occupation of others' land ... .

As regards the Palestine question, nobody denies that it is the essence of the entire problem. Nobody throughout the entire world accepts today slogans raised here in Israel which disregard the existence of the people of Palestine and even ask where the people of Palestine are. The problem of the Palestinian people, and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are now no longer ignored or rejected by anybody; no thinking mind supposes that they could be ignored or rejected; they are facts that meet with the support and recognition of the international community both in the West and the East and in international documents and official declarations ... .

Even the USA—your first ally, which is the most committed to the protection of the existence and security of Israel ... has opted for facing up to the reality and to facts, to recognize that the Palestinian people have legitimate rights, and that the Palestine question is the crux and essence of the conflict ... .

In all sincerity, I tell you that peace cannot be achieved without the Palestinians, and that it would be a great mistake, the effect of which no one knows, to turn a blind eye to this question or to set it aside ... .

When the bells of peace ring, there will be no hand to beat the drums of war; should such a hand exist, it will not be heard. Imagine with me the peace agreement in Geneva, the good news of which we herald to a world thirsty for peace: (Firstly) a peace agreement based on ending the Israeli occupation of the Arab territory occupied in 1967; (secondly) the realization of basic rights of the Palestinian people and this people's right to self-determination, including their right to setting up their own state; thirdly, the right of all the countries of the region to live in peace within their secure and guaranteed borders, through agreed measures for the appropriate security of international borders, in addition to the appropriate international guarantees; fourthly, all the States in the region will undertake to administer relations among themselves in accordance with the principles and aims of the UN Charter, in particular eschewing the use of force and settling differences among them by peaceful means; and fifthly, ending the state of war that exists in the region ... .

The experiences of past and contemporary history teach us all that missiles, warships and nuclear weapons, perhaps, cannot establish security. On the contrary, they destroy all that was built by security. For the sake of our peoples, for the sake of a civilization made by man, we must protect man in every place from the rule of the force of arms. We must raise high the rule of humanity with the full force of principles and values which hold man high ... .

Excerpt from Menachem Begin's Reply to President Sadat (November 20, 1977)

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President of the State of Israel, Mr. President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the Knesset, we send our greetings to the President and to all the people of the Islamic religion in our country, and wherever they may be, on the occasion of the Feast, the Festival of the Sacrifice, Id al-Adha. This feast reminds us of the binding of Isaac. This was the way in which the Creator of the World tested our forefather, Abraham—our common forefather—to test his faith, and Abraham passed this test ... . Thus we contributed, the people of Israel and the Arab people, to the progress of mankind, and thus we are continuing to contribute to human civilization to this day.

I greet and welcome the President of Egypt for coming to our country and on his participating in the Knesset session. The flight time between Cairo and Jerusalem is short, but the distance between Cairo and Jerusalem was until last night almost endless. President Sadat crossed the distance courageously. We, the Jews, know how to appreciate such courage, and we know how to appreciate it in our guest, because it is with courage that we are here and this is how we continue to exist, and we shall continue to exist.

Mr. Speaker, this small nation, the remaining refuge of the Jewish People which returned to its historic homeland—has always wanted peace and, since the dawn of our independence, on 14 May 1948 ..., in the Declaration of Independence in the founding scroll of our national freedom, David Ben-Gurion said: We extend a hand of peace and good-neighbourliness to all neighbouring countries and their peoples. We call upon them to cooperate, to help each other, with the Hebrew people independent in its own country. One year earlier, even from the underground, when we were in the midst of the fateful struggle for the liberation of the country and the redemption of the people, we called on our neighbours in these terms: In this country we shall live together and we shall advance together and we shall live a life of freedom and happiness. Our Arab neighbours: Do not reject the hand stretched out to you in peace.

But it is my bounden duty, Mr. Speaker, and not only my right, not to pass over the truth, that our hand outstretched for peace was not grasped and, one day after we had renewed our independence—as was our right, eternal right, which cannot be disputed—we were attacked on three fronts and we stood almost without arms, the few against many, the weak against the strong, while an attempt was made, one day after the Declaration of Independence, to strangle it at birth, to put an end to the last hope of the Jewish People, the yearning renewed after the years of destruction and holocaust.

No, we do not believe in might and we have never based our attitude to the Arab people on might; quite the contrary, force was used against us. Over all the years of this generation we have never stopped being attacked by might, the might of the strong arm stretched

out to exterminate our people, to destroy our independence, to deny our rights. We defended ourselves, it is true ... . With the help of Almighty God, we overcame the forces of aggression, and we have guaranteed the existence of our nation, not only for this generation, but for the coming generations too. We do not believe in might; we believe in right, only in right and therefore our aspiration, from the depth of our hearts, has always been, to this very day, for peace ... .

Therefore, permit me, today, to set out the peace programme as we understand it. We want full, real peace, with absolute reconciliation between the Jewish and the Arab peoples ... .

The first clause of a peace treaty is cessation of the state of war, for ever. We want to establish normal relations between us, as they exist between all nations, even after wars ... .

Let us sign a peace treaty and let us establish this situation forever, both in Jerusalem and in Cairo ... .

Mr. Speaker, it is my duty today to tell our guest and all the peoples watching us and listening to our words about the link between our people and this land. The President [of Egypt] recalled the Balfour Declaration. No, sir, we did not take over any strange land; we returned to our homeland. The link between our people and this land is eternal. It arose in the earliest days of humanity and was never altered. In this country we developed our civilization ... . And when we were expelled from our land, when force was used against us, no matter how far we went from our land, we never forgot it for even one day. We prayed for it; we longed for it; we have believed in our return to it ... .

This, our right, was recognized. The Balfour Declaration was included in the mandate laid down by the nations of the world, including the United States of America, and the preface to this recognized international document says: Whereas recognition has the bible given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country, the historic connection between the Jewish people and Palestine or, in Hebrew Eretz Yisra'el, was given reconfirmation—reconfirmation—as the national homeland in that country, that is in Eretz Yisra'el ... .

President Sadat knows and he knew from us before he came to Jerusalem that we have a different position from his with regard to the permanent borders between us and our neighbours. However, I say to the President of Egypt and to all our neighbours: Do not say there is not, there will not be negotiations about any particular issue. I propose, with the agreement of the decisive majority of this parliament, that everything will be open to negotiation. Anyone who says, with reference to relations between the Arab people, or the Arab peoples around us, and the State of Israel, that there are things which should be omitted from negotiations is taking upon himself a grave responsibility, everything can be negotiated. No side will say the contrary. No side will present prior conditions. We will conduct the negotiations honourably. If there are differences of opinion between us, this is not unusual. Anyone who has studied the history of wars and the signing of peace treaties knows that all negotiations over a peace treaty began with differences of opinion between the sides. And in the course of the negotiations they came to an agreement which permitted the signing of peace treaties and agreements. And this is the road we propose to take.

What happened next ...

After unsuccessful attempts to conduct peace negotiations, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin met with U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, from September 5 to September 17, 1978. The meeting concluded with the signing of two agreements, known as the Camp David Accords, at the White House. The first agreement outlined a compromise over the Sinai Peninsula, which had been captured from Egypt by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. The second established a framework in which negotiations about the future of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be conducted. The Camp David Accords generated further negotiations which culminated in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, which was signed in Washington on March 26, 1979.

Did you know ...

  • Although Anwar Sadat had noted that the Palestinians were central to peace in the Middle East, the Israel-Egypt peace treaty signed in 1979 did not include a plan for lasting peace with the Palestinians.
  • The Arab League, a group of Arab Nations that worked together to keep Arab power strong in the Middle East, expelled Egypt from its membership and issued political and economic sanctions against Egypt as punishment for signing the peace agreement with Israel. Arab League members, except for Oman and Sudan, refused to conduct diplomatic relations with Egypt after it signed the peace agreement.
  • The Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement did not include guarantees for the Arab Palestinian refugees. After Egypt signed the agreement the PLO broke off relations with it.
  • Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by activists opposed to Egypt's peace with Israel.

Consider the following ...

  • Why might a peace agreement with Israel be more important to Egypt than maintaining its place as a leader among Arab nations?
  • Sadat and Begin had very different opinions about how to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East. What is the biggest difference of opinion between the two speeches?
  • In the two speeches are there clues that predict why a solution regarding the Arab Palestinians was ultimately left out of the final peace agreement?

For More Information


Amdur, Richard. Menachem Begin, New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Brackett, Virginia. Menachem Begin, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Israeli, Raphael, with Carol Bardenstein. Man of Defiance: A Political Biography of Anwar Sadat. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 1985.

Kras, Sara Louise. Anwar Sadat. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Smith, Charles D., ed. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. 4th ed. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

Web Sites

"Guide to the Middle East Peace Process." Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (accessed on June 24, 2005).