Address by Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom
25th Anniversary of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty
Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, 28 March, 2004
The desire to live in peace has always been the cornerstone of the Zionist enterprise, from its beginnings and up to this very day.
For the people of Israel, who have been reborn in the land of their forefathers, peace has moral value as well as national, strategic importance. Throughout the 56 years of our independence, all of Israel’s governments and leaders have striven to build relations of peace and understanding with our neighbors, the Arab states.
We have come here tonight to celebrate the first and most significant success in our long journey towards our goal of peace and national security – the Peace Treaty that Israel and Egypt signed 25 years ago.
Shortly after the Israeli elections upheaval of 17 May 1977, when the Likud first came into power, secret contacts began between Israel and Egypt. Under the inspired leadership of Egypt’s President, the late Anwar Sadat, and Israel’s Prime Minister, the late Menahem Begin, these contacts bore fruit, and, after enormous effort and complicated negotiations, a peace treaty was concluded between the two states – an upheaval in perception no less than in diplomacy, the importance of which is inestimable.
The treaty that these two great leaders brought to their respective countries changed forever the face of the Middle East and Israel’s place in the region.
Although we are celebrating this anniversary today without the "bride," so to speak, I would like to note the achievements that peace with Egypt has brought us:
Peace with Egypt broke the psychological barrier among the Arab states, which until then had prevented any possibility of Israel’s integration into the region. Peace forced the Arab world to recognize the fact that Israel is here to stay, and does not intend to disappear. In this way, it reinforced Israel’s historical right to exist here as the state of the Jewish people.
Peace with Egypt radically changed Israel’s security situation, removing the threat of unbridled war from the shoulders of the leaders and the people alike.
Peace with Egypt also brought us many opportunities in the fields of economics and tourism, and we continue to promote these interests together with the Egyptian Government to this day.
Even if we sometimes complain that it isn’t enough, we should remind ourselves that at the end of the day, this is a success story. The treaty is an anchor of regional stability that has survived formidable pitfalls; it has brought much blessing to both countries and has served as an example to the region of the path that should be taken.
Among our guests today are some who played an active role in the process that resulted in the peace treaty. They know better than anyone the enormous efforts made by both sides, Israel and Egypt, and also by the United States, to reach that historic moment. On behalf of us all, I would like to thank them and their colleagues – it was their determination and faith in the path of peace that brought us to where we are today.
My dear friends,
In the last 25 years, peace with Egypt has become part of our daily lives and we tend to take it for granted. We’ve gotten used to it. It is therefore hard – but important, nonetheless – to relive the excitement that gripped the entire country on that day in 1977, when President Sadat landed in Israel and delivered his brave speech in the Knesset. We must never forget that excitement.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that it is not appropriate to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the peace treaty with Egypt without the participation of the Egyptian side. Many of them advised me to cancel this lovely reception. However, I decided differently. I firmly believe that it is fitting to commemorate this special day in the annals of our people and to celebrate peace, which is a value and a national goal for us, as well as a personal, strategic concern of the state and each and every one of its citizens.
And so, I would like to take this opportunity to send my warmest regards to President Mubarak, and to the Government and people of Egypt, and to assure them of our commitment to continue to build relations of peace and friendship between our two nations.
Egypt’s decision not to send a representative to this ceremony comes against the backdrop of the elimination of Ahmed Yassin. I would like to emphasize that terrorism – and the Hamas in particular – endangers not only Israel, but also moderate Arab regimes. The extremist Islamic organizations pose a real threat to regional stability. And therefore, the Middle East without Yassin is a safer place, and Egypt should not forget this.
Of course, it would have been preferable if Egypt had avoided boycotts, and I am referring not only to this ceremony. Egypt has the authority and the ability to stand up to those opposed to peace and normalization; those who are against direct contact and dialogue with us. When all is said and done, there is no other way for the region to move forward.
We in the Foreign Ministry will not allow anyone to stop us from expressing our national interests and values, and our willingness to continue on the path paved for us by Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat. This is the right thing to do and we will continue doing it.
Despite the ups and downs of our relationship, only a few weeks ago I was a guest at the Egyptian presidential palace in Cairo, and before that I hosted, in this building, my colleague, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher. The channels of communication between us are open and we are determined to promote and develop our relations in all fields, including trade and the economy, for the benefit of the citizens of both sides.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The importance of peace with Egypt is measured not only by the degree of warmth of the relations between the two states. For us, the treaty with Egypt constitutes an essential pillar in our ambition to achieve peace with all of our neighbors. For us, from an historical perspective, Egypt represents the vanguard of peace, a state that has the ability to generate real change in our region.
I call tonight upon the President of Egypt to lead the Arab world towards acceptance and peace with Israel, for the sake of all of the peoples in the region.
Radical Islamic terror is growing ever stronger in our region. There are those who believe that it has become the central existential threat to the stability of the regimes in the Middle East. Close and visible cooperation between the moderate states in the region is the only appropriate answer to this spreading scourge. Implementation of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt should serve as a model for dealing with the challenge of repulsing the extremists and building stability and prosperity.
Indeed, the State of Israel has no dispute with the great majority of Arab states – not with regard to borders, territory, rights or even trade. We all have a common interest in the building of relationships which will strengthen regional stability, bring prosperity to our citizens and protect us all from the forces of extremism which threaten our well-being.
During the 1960s and 1970s, when Israelis envisioned how peace would appear, there was a broad consensus among us regarding the pioneering role that Egypt would have to play in order to break out of the existing cycle of hostility. There was also consensus that Lebanon would be the second Arab state to conclude a peace treaty with us. Regrettably this did not come about, due to the Syrian takeover of its neighbor in 1976. Since that time, despite the fact that it is still a member of the United Nations, Lebanon is no longer an independent state. Syria does there as it pleases, in a manner that harms not only the Lebanese people, but also the security of Israel and the region as a whole, to this very day.
Today, on a day where we are celebrating peace itself, I call from this podium for an end to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and a restoration of both the sovereignty of Lebanon and with it the chance to build with the Lebanese people peaceful and neighborly relations.
Since we concluded the peace treaty with Egypt, and took upon ourselves obligations toward a common future, our relations with our Palestinian neighbors have undergone many upheavals. Over the course of the last quarter-century, and regrettably, even before, a single and salient motif has come to characterize the Palestinian condition – the lack of responsible leadership capable of guiding them toward the path of peace. Even during the heydays of the Oslo Accord, Yasser Arafat and his cronies were unable to take the basic steps needed in order to enable the process to succeed—namely disarming the terrorist groups of their weapons and of their capacity to torpedo progress towards peace, and uprooting hatred and cultivating in its place a culture of peace. Unfortunately, the price for this failure is being paid to this very day by both peoples.
Israel remains dedicated to the Roadmap and to the vision of President Bush outlined in his June 24, 2002 speech. We welcome any efforts from the other side to move toward peace. The Palestinians must take the strategic decision to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and to build an infrastructure of peace. Unfortunately, while Arafat is still in the region there is not much hope that a new more moderate Palestinian leadership will emerge.
I call on Egyptian leaders to encourage the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel. I believe that there are moderate Palestinians. They are there. Just one week ago, 70 Palestinians signed a letter that stated clearly their wish to move toward peace with Israel. The letter also noted that they are opposed to reacting to the killing of the Hamas leader Yassin.
The Government of Israel is a true peace partner. If the Palestinians abandon terrorism, they will find Israel ready and willing to compromise. History certainly proves this. When we had a partner—Egypt—we made far reaching compromises for peace, withdrawing from the Sinai desert and evacuating Jewish settlements. Compromise is the only way—the way marked by Sadat and Begin.
Begin and Sadat both won the Nobel Peace Prize. They deserved it. They paid a high, personal price for the future and benefit of their respective peoples. Years later, Arafat won the Nobel Peace Prize. He has been trying to eliminate any chance for peace. He did not deserve the prize.
It is very difficult to bridge the gaps between ourselves and the Palestinians. To some, it may even look impossible. But let us remember that a year before Sadat made his historic and courageous visit to Jerusalem, peace with Egypt looked impossible as well. Many things that look impossible today can be possible in the future.
My dear friends,
Just as there are leaders among men, so too, there are leaders among nations. Over the past few decades, none can compare with the United States of America.
America’s continuous support of the values of freedom, democracy and justice, is worthy of our most profound recognition and praise. The United States played a vital role in the political and economic restoration of Western Europe in the twentieth century. In recent years, in the face of the threat of terrorism, the United States has shown the world that its readiness to defend its values remains as strong as ever.
We have expressed our appreciation to the United States led by President Jimmy Carter for the crucial role it played in achieving the Peace Treaty with Egypt, and we are grateful – now as then – for its ongoing and vital support of Israel’s right to security, and its efforts to promote peace in the region. We are indeed confident that the US will continue to guide the region forward toward a safer and more peaceful future.
Israel is committed to peace, and we shall continue to work to promote peace, for our own sake and for the sake of the entire region.