Thirty years ago today, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin singed an historic peace treaty, consummated by an emphatic handshake that promised change to the Middle East. As the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state, it became the model for regional diplomacy and confirmed that peace in our region can be achieved.
Today, Arab leaders in the region interested in committing themselves to peace with Israel must not ignore one of Sadat's most overlooked accomplishments: understanding the need to secure support from the Israeli public.
Both Begin and Sadat faced fierce and growing opposition from their own constituencies when they announced their intentions to open direct negotiations toward peace. With Egypt's 1973 surprise attack against Israel and the Yom Kippur War still fresh on their minds, Israelis were wary of the Egyptian leadership and the years of war, terror and bloodshed.
The turning point came when Sadat made a strategic decision not only to reach across the table but to reach across the border. In November 1977, he became the first leader of an Arab state to set foot in Israel, which demonstrated to the Israeli public that he was serious about peace. From that point on, the Israeli street decided that it was willing to offer difficult and painful concessions for a lasting peace, a goal that suddenly did not seem so abstract.
After much introspection, Israel relinquished the Sinai Peninsula -- an enormous strategic buffer zone -- to Egypt in exchange for peace. The Alma oil field, discovered and developed by Israel, was handed over to Egypt, abandoning Israel's only chance to become energy independent. Israel surrendered factories, businesses, hotels, agricultural villages and, most importantly, uprooted 7,000 civilians who had made the Sinai their home. The removal of Israelis demonstrated for the first time Israel's willingness to evacuate its citizens in the name of peace.
Over the years, Israel has initiated concession after painful concession in hopes that its citizens can live in peace and security. Most recently, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, a painful move for many. Ultimately, the hopes of peace -- however intangible -- outweighed the pain of forcing some of Israel's most selfless and dedicated citizens to leave their homes and communities. Given the opportunity at self-governance in Gaza, the Palestinian response of terror and constant rocket attacks has infiltrated the Israeli psyche once again.
If Arab leaders hope to successfully negotiate with Israel, they must not marginalize the effect that this response has had on Israel. The leaders must recognize Israel's public opinion and address its concerns.
One way to engender trust among the Israeli public would be for Arab leaders of countries who wish to make peace with Israel, as well as those who already have, to end the demonization of Israel in the media and to extend the same rights and freedoms to their people that Israelis enjoy. They must be allowed the opportunity to think positively about Israelis and their accomplishments in building a vibrant and democratic society, and to learn about the State of Israel and its peoples' desires to live in peace. Only then can their leaders fully appreciate the path we have already traveled and the distance we are willing to go for peace.
We are eager for signs of sincere Arab recognition and acceptance of the State of Israel and everything that comes with it. As we have shown in the past, sincere and peaceful overtures will result in a willing Israeli partner. Sadat and Begin led with courage and resolve, and their respective citizens followed their lead by upholding the terms negotiated. Today we recognize and celebrate the peace treaty that has been honored for 30 years -- no small achievement. We look forward to the day when the next Sadat will emerge.