“I have yet to meet the Palestinian Sadat who will declare his desire to end the conflict,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
He was speaking at a special Knesset session to mark the 40th anniversary of Anwar Sadat’s ground-breaking visit to Israel. That visit, whose highlight was Sadat’s speech in the Knesset, paved the way for the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.
“We must expand the circle of peace,” Netanyahu said, adding that U.S. President Donald Trump is also committed to this. “The biggest obstacle isn’t found in the leaders of the states around us. The biggest obstacle is public opinion in the Arab street, which has been brainwashed for years by an erroneous and misleading portrayal of Israel.”
Netanyahu stressed that “a cold peace is preferable to a hot war. But a warm peace is preferable to a cold one. We all want this. But we must change the view of Israel.” Otherwise, he said, it will be impossible to overcome the “incessant Palestinian propaganda.”
Despite this “propaganda,” he continued, “I see seeds of change in public opinion in the Arab world. We’re seeing some changes in some parts of Mideast public opinion. This is something we need to encourage and develop.”
Doing so will ultimately impact the chance of peace with the Palestinians as well, he continued, because that peace will have to be made “from the outside in, including the ability to leverage our ties with Arab states to break through the Palestinian roadblock.”
Netanyahu said he would like the peace with Egypt to include more contact between the peoples. “I hope we are at the beginning of this process, but not everything is in our hands. The change, if it happens, is likely to take more time.”
He said he was disappointed that so few Knesset members attended the special session, given the strategic importance of the peace with Egypt. “Perhaps one reason is that in truth, we’ve gotten used to this too quickly. It’s become routine, something matter of fact. But it isn’t.“
Netanyahu then described the excitement he and other Israelis felt when Sadat arrived. “In the 40 minutes he spent in his plane from Egypt to Israel, he changed history,” Netanyahu said. “Two neighboring nations who had fought total wars for generations extended their hands to each other in peace.”
The visit led to Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab country, “and time has shown,” he said, “that this peace is a stable anchor in our explosive, bloody region. Perhaps it isn’t a perfect peace, but it’s a peace that definitely pays for both countries.”
Netanyahu stressed that a strong Israel is “a fundamental condition for peace,” noting that Sadat decided to make peace only after Israel had repeatedly defeated Egypt in battle. When Sadat addressed the Knesset, Netanyahu recalled, the Egyptian leader termed Israel’s existence a “fact.”
“We must always be strong enough that there’s no doubt about the permanence of our existence,” Netanyahu added, charging that unlike Sadat, “The Palestinians still refuse to recognize Israel’s existence.”
Today, he continued, many Arab states “know that the threat to the Middle East doesn’t come from Israel. On the contrary, Israel is a modest, responsible player, and also a forceful one that’s fighting this threat – a threat led by Iran on one hand and the Islamic State on the other.”
After Sadat was assassinated by an Islamic extremist, the peace with Egypt experienced ups and downs, Netanyahu noted. But today, under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, it is flourishing, he said.