It was high summer 1977.
On yet another day the music died, Elvis Aaron Presley passed away on August 16, 1977 at his Graceland home in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 42. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he was often referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll.”
New President Jimmy Carter was settling into office and determined to bring peace to the Middle East. Initially, Carter favored a comprehensive approach, whereby all the outstanding issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict could be addressed simultaneously at an international conference. Such a conference would include Israel, the Arab states, and the key powers of the world. Carter proposed holding the conference in Geneva.
The Soviets and most Arab states welcomed the Geneva formula, but Israel strongly objected to it. Israel feared it would be outnumbered at a multilateral conference and forced to make bigger concessions than it wished. It also preferred to deal with the Arab states individually. Israel was also determined to keep the Soviet Union out of Arab-Israeli diplomacy.
Israel’s objections and strong domestic pressure within the U.S. caused Carter to begin backing away from his own proposal. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt also became convinced that no Geneva conference would be possible and decided to return to a bilateral process approach.
David Horowitz heard from an old friend when he received a letter from former Ambassador to the UN, Yosef Tekoah. At that time the president of the Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Tekoah expressed deep appreciation for clippings of a review Horowitz had written about his last book, “In the Face of the Nations: Israel’s Struggle for Peace,” published by Simon and Shuster. He also thanked David for the United Israel Bulletins he received.
In late August, David Horowitz welcomed the Reverend Vendyl Jones, a former Baptist minister who left the ministry to study Hebraica and engage in excavations in Israel. The two-hour interview was conducted at David’s UN office.
Discussing the newly elected Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, Jones called the former Irgun leader a “military and political genius and a true statesman.” Justifying Begin’s heroic struggle against the British in Palestine during the Irgun underground days, Jones said, “It is totally unfair to categorize him as a terrorist. If he were, so were Chaim Salomon and George Washington who did the same thing to the same British government on different soil.” Jones expressed his belief that with Begin, peace was closer that ever before.
As the notion of a Geneva conference faded, Anwar Sadat grew increasingly impatient.
Through a variety of secret contacts, many conducted in Morocco with the assistance of King Hassan, the Israelis conveyed to Sadat the message that they were prepared to trade land for peace. Sadat decided to make a bold gesture and announced to the Egyptian parliament on November 9th that he was prepared to go to Jerusalem and speak directly to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, if that would help bring peace.
A key to building trust between Begin and Sadat was the Israeli decision to pass on intelligence that the Mossad (the Israeli government’s intelligence agency) had collected of an assassination plot against Sadat. The would-be killers were Palestinians backed by Libya. Based on the Israeli information, Sadat had all the conspirators arrested and launched an airstrike against Libyan targets. Sadat was indeed grateful and the incident helped to pave the way for the peace negotiations.
Realizing the opportunity, Menachem Begin formally extended an invitation. Sadat accepted and in an unprecedented move for an Arab leader, traveled to Jerusalem on November 19, 1977 where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Begin and spoke before the Knesset. The bold move stunned the international community and was met with outrage in most of the Arab world.
It is difficult to understate the impact of Sadat’s gesture. His presence in Israel broke an Arab policy of not dealing publically with the Jewish state since it’s creation in 1948.
He had achieved a remarkable psychological breakthrough that could not have been accomplished with regular diplomacy. For the first time, Israelis saw an Arab leader extend his hand in friendship, and in their capital.
The radical Arabs: the PLO, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Algeria, were fuming over the bombshell event of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s world-shaking visit to Israel.
Stunned by the unbelievable happening, Israel’s enemies at the UN were thrown off base.
David Horowitz reported that the embittered and bewildered Syrian Ambassador described the Egyptian visit in a speech before the General Assembly as a bad dream.
In an anxious tone, the Ambassador lamented “People all over the world rub their eyes in disbelief. They listen in amazement. Are we truly awake or are we dreaming? Is this one of a series of science-fiction illusions or are we still on earth?”
In one of his regular columns, Horowitz provided a response: “Indeed, it was not a dream. It happened in the City of David, in Jerusalem of biblical and prophetic renown. A descendent of the Pharaohs, spiritually imbued, communed with a son of Israel, mighty in the Torah-faith of Moses when Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin found common ground in their common ancestor Abraham.”
In a beautifully poetic style, Horowitz described the scene and it’s implications; “The great Prophet Isaiah came back to life in the modern setting of the Knesset as the speaker, introducing the noted Egyptian visitor, read out before the eyes and ears of the world the famous peace-passage describing the final redemption of mankind. There was something truly biblical to what the world witnessed in the Holy City, a touch of the messianic.”
Horowitz continued, “Throughout the weekend visit, people everywhere saw and heard via satellite, the son of the Torah and the disciple of the Koran gave voice to the will of the Almighty for peace among brethren as they both invoked Providence for guidance and prayed for a successful outcome of the mission.”
Leading commentators and columnists were moved to put special emphasis on this Biblical-Koranic theme. Noted journalist and radio commentator, Shelomo ben-Israel, broadcasting over radio station WEVD in New York, called the Jerusalem event “one of the miracles of our times, the significance of which only the future would reveal.”
Both the Libyan and Iraqi spokesmen, bemoaning the “tragedy” that had befallen the Arab Nation, later outdid the Syrian Ambassador’s reaction at the UN in vehemence and vituperation. Calling it “painful to see,” the Libyan delegate cited the “serious damage” Sadat had inflicted on the Arab cause of destiny.
On December 2, 1977, representatives from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria, South Yemen and the PLO met in Libya to discuss ways of stopping the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.
Three days later, Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and South Yemen. That didn’t take long. Sadat had made it very clear that he would not be deterred.
Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem caused enormous excitement throughout the world.
President Carter himself was greatly encouraged by this development. He dropped his plans for an international conference and threw his support behind Sadat’s bilateral initiative.
Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat met again in Ismailia, Egypt on Christmas Day in 1977, but the meeting did not produce an agreement. The Egyptian president was holding out for more territory and wanted to give less than full peace in return.
Little progress was made over the next several months. President Carter also met personally with Sadat and the two men began to develop a close personal relationship that helped bring the countries together.
The 34th annual meeting of United Israel World Union was held in the Empire State offices of Vice President Harry Leventhal on February 19, 1978. Key reports were given on the activities of the organization and the state of UN affairs regarding the Egypt-Israel peace initiative.
In the opening months of 1978, Egypt and Israel made little substantive progress in their efforts to achieve peace. To jump-start the process in the summer of ’78 Carter, ignoring his advisors’ counsel, invited Sadat and Begin to come to Camp David for a summit meeting and negotiate directly with each other, with Carter himself serving as intermediary.
Carter felt that by getting them to Camp David, away from the press and out of the glare of publicity and away from their own political constituencies, he had a better chance to bring them to an understanding of each other’s positions.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin both accepted President Carter’s invitation.
What had begun in the City of David was about to continue in the United States at a Camp called David.
Ralph Buntyn is executive vice president and associate editor of United Israel World Union. A historian and researcher, his many articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets.
This post is the thirty first in the ongoing series “Remembering David Horowitz.” For the complete archive see here.