1977: Transforming 30 years of war into 40 years of peace
"No more war, no more bloodshed"
PM Menachem Begin
After Egypt had waged (and lost) four wars against Israel, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat accepted Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's call to peace, agreeing to meet him in Jerusalem and address the Israeli people directly in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Sadat had come to recognize not only that Israel could not be destroyed militarily but that peace would benefit Egypt no less than Israel. He also had come to accept the principle â€“ long advanced by Israel â€“ that the key to peace was mutual recognition and direct negotiations without preconditions.
Sadat's historic visit, which broke with the Arab policy of not engaging publically with the Jewish state, reinvigorated hopes for peace, and he was warmly received by Israeli citizens and officials alike. When his plane landed in Israel on 19 November 1977, Sadat was greeted at the airport by PM Begin and Israeli President Ephraim Katzir, with a 21-gun salute and an honor guard.
Sadat's message in his speech to the Knesset the next day â€“ "We really and truly seek peace, we really and truly welcome you to live among us in peace and security" â€“ was eagerly and warmly applauded by his Israeli hosts.
This courageous first visit by an Arab leader to Israel is considered a pivotal moment, credited with opening the path to peace between Israel and the Arab world. The two countries immediately began intensive negotiations, culminating in the Camp David Accords of September 1978 and the Israel-Egypt Treaty of Peace, which was signed in Washington on 26 March 1979.
Israel took great risks for peace with Egypt. In accordance with the 1979 treaty, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula, which had served as a buffer-zone and constituted 91% of all the territory gained in the Six-Day War. Israel uprooted 7,000 of its citizens from their homes in Sinai, relinquished vital early-warning stations, closed military installations and abandoned an oil field it had discovered. But Israel was willing to make great sacrifices for the promise of peace, and this peace treaty, the first to be signed between Israel and any of its Arab neighbors, continues to serve to this day as a cornerstone of regional stability.