Wall Street Journal Op/Ed March 26, 2009:
Thirty Years after Camp David: My Hope for Peace in the Middle East
By Jehan Sadat, Ph.D.
Thirty years ago on March 26, 1979, Anwar Sadat, Menachim Begin, and Jimmy Carter signed The Camp David Peace Accords. It was a celebration of a journey Anwar Sadat began in October 1970 following the sudden death of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Within hours of Abdel Nasser’s funeral, my husband asked the US Ambassador to convey to President Nixon that Egypt was ready for peace. There was no response, because at the time, Egypt was a defeated nation having lost Sinai in the ’67 War with Israel. It took Egypt’s victory in the October War in 1973 to put Sadat in position to restart his mission for peace.
On November 9, 1977 while addressing the Egyptian Parliament, my husband announced his intention to make peace. The audience including Yasir Arafat was at first stunned then began clapping. When Sadat arrived 10 days later in Jerusalem, former Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “Why are you late? We have been waiting for you.”
For months after that, Egypt’s ministers and those of Israel attacked the issues: the return to the pre-’67 War borders (in particular the return of Sinai), the construction of Israeli settlements on disputed territory, the status of Jerusalem, and the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. These same contentious issues remain unresolved. Sadat also advocated the creation of a Palestinian state.
Thirty years ago, we hoped the Camp David Treaty was the beginning of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. But that was then, and today that hope for a greater peace—Sadat’s dream—is yet to be realized. Oh, there have been moments when it looked otherwise: First, in 1993, when Rabin and Arafat reluctantly shook hands to symbolize Israeli-Palestinian recognition, and second, in 1996, when Jordan and Israel made peace. Since then, we have had nothing but trouble. So for 30 years, Sadat’s noble dream has waxed and waned, some times almost faded as the Palestinians and Israelis intensify the fighting between them while Lebanon and Syria are waiting to see what will happen next. In conditions like these, how could anyone hope for peace? But I do!
Now, with tensions the highest they have ever been and the urgent need for renewed efforts staring us in the face, I think it is time to re-examine my husband’s method of making peace: First, accept that people want peace. We need our leaders to commit to making and keeping peace. Second, be realistic while being real. No leader in the Arab world except Sadat believed peace could be made with a Likud leader. I hope Benjamin Netanyahu will be more like Begin this time. Furthermore, my husband was so sincere in his desire for peace, and his style of face-to-face negotiating proved it. Third, the peace process is not self-sustaining. For many, the so-called peace process in the Middle East has become a myth, a lot of talk with few results. Sadat believed that as President, he was the energy and the engine in the first peace process. Fourth, forgive. President Carter once said that my husband was “more inclined to look toward the future than to dwell on the hate-filled and often bloody past.” This is why peace was the ultimate goal of my husband’s presidency—and his life. Finally, have faith. No one can take the political and personal risks required for peace in the Middle East without having a steadfast determination to enact God’s will to love our enemy.
For nearly 30 years, Egypt—the land of Salam (which means peace in Arabic) —and Israel—the land of Shalom (which means peace in Hebrew)—have lived side-by-side as neighbors in a state of peace. The Palestinians and Israelis ought to have the same. The Palestinians deserve to live as free people in their own state and the Israelis deserve to live safely and securely among millions of Arabs.
More than thirty years ago, my husband made a difficult but simple choice to make peace his political and personal priority. In response, I made the choice of supporting him 100% even though I knew I would lose him. Sadat gave us a peace that has endured. Today, we in the Middle East must make a choice between continuing the conflicts of the past and making peace. When they choose to do all that they must do for peace, generations to come might, with our help, slowly free themselves of the pitfalls of our history.
Peace. This word, this idea—this goal—is the defining theme of my life. I am always hoping and praying for peace. I am hoping and praying that President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Palestinian leadership will finally fulfill Anwar Sadat’s dream of a fair, just and comprehensive peace for all of the people of the Middle East.
The author of the New York Times bestselling autobiography, A Woman of Egypt, she is a Senior Fellow at the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland.