(Host) It is the Season of Peace, and commentator Barrie Dunsmore has been thinking about some of the people who have taken great risks pursuing peace.
(Dunsmore) Blessed are the peacemakers. And if there was ever a place in need of peacemakers, it is the Middle East.
One such man I had the privilege to watch and talk with many times over several years, was Anwar Sadat. Egypt’s President Sadat proved the adage that one man can make a difference. Twenty-six years ago, he shattered all the Mid-East shibboleths with his dramatic trip to Jerusalem. It was an act that took enormous courage. And, ultimately, it transformed the region.
Until the mid-seventies, both the Arabs and the Israelis were in total denial. For decades, all Arab states refused to accept Israel’s right to exist. Sadat’s actions changed that.
On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Golda Meir said to me many times, There is no such thing as a Palestinian. Now even Israeli hardliners accept that the Palestinians need some kind of state of their own.
Aso in those years, as the US and the Soviet Union backed the opposing sides, there was the real danger that the Mid-East conflict could set off World War Three. That came dangerously close to happening during the October ’73 Mid-East war. But by breaking with the Soviets and making peace with Israel, Sadat removed the Mid-East from the front lines of the Cold War.
But peace didn’t come easily. This Christmas will be the 26th Anniversary of perhaps the first trip to Egypt by the top Israeli leader since Moses left. Prime Minister Menachem Begin was making a reciprocal visit following Sadat’s Jerusalem trip. The world’s media were present in the Suez Canal town of Ismailia, and there were huge expectations that peace was at hand.
At one point, the leaders suddenly appeared. Sadat jumped behind the wheel of his Cadillac, motioning Prime Minister Begin to get in beside him while Israeli Foreign and Defense Ministers Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman piled into the back. As they sped off on a totally unplanned tour of the Suez Canal, photographers had a field day, while security men on both sides were apoplectic. This was typical Sadat — spontaneous and unconventional. But such tactics could not save that day. The Christmas summit of Ismailia ended in failure.
It would take another sixteen months of American coaxing, cajoling and, yes, bribery, to achieve the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel signed in Washington in March of 1979. Sadat and Begin got the Nobel Peace Prize. President Jimmy Carter did not. That was a great injustice because the agreement would never have been reached without him.
Sadat was assassinated by Islamic Fundamentalists two and a half years after making peace with Israel. And in 1995 another Mid-East peacemaker, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was gunned down by a Jewish Fundamentalist after signing an agreement with the Palestinians.
Making peace in the Middle-East is dangerous. It requires leaders of vision, with great personal and political courage — not commodities in great supply.
This is Barrie Dunsmore.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.