This Day in World History
November 20, 1977
Egypt’s President Sadat addresses Israeli Knesset
On November 20, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat made an historic speech before Israel’s Knesset, or Parliament, becoming the first leader of an Arab nation to speak there. He was also the first of Israel’s Arab neighbors to publicly say anything like these words: “Today I tell you, and I declare it to the whole world, that we accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice.”
By 1977, Israel and the nearby Arab states had fought four wars in less than 30 years. Sadat himself had been a principal architect of the most recent conflict, the Yom Kippur War of 1973. That conflict ended when Egypt, Syria, and Israel accepted a United Nations–imposed cease-fire. This time, though, the uneasy peace was not followed by yet another war. Sadat failed in peace talks to regain control of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied in 1967. To break the deadlock, on November 9, 1977, he stunned the world by telling Egypt’s Parliament that he was willing to travel to Israel to negotiate peace. No Arab state had ever recognized Israel’s existence, let alone sent a leader to the Jewish state. Israel quickly accepted his offer, and arrangements for the historic visit were made.
Sadat’s bold move set in course discussions that resulted in the Camp David Accords the following September, and a peace treaty in early 1979—the first treaty signed by Israel and an Arab nation. Both Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin received Nobel Peace Prizes for their historic agreement. While Sadat was hailed across the world, he was less well received in the Arab world, however. The Arab League denounced Egypt in September of 1978, and Sadat was assassinated in his homeland by radical Islamists because of his overtures to Israel and the western world.