Press Releases

    SG/SM/8491
    14 November 2002

     

    DELIVERING SADAT MEMORIAL LECTURE, SECRETARY-GENERAL
    URGES PALESTINIANS, ISRAELIS TO EMULATE LATE EGYPTIAN
    LEADER’S COURAGE "BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE"

    NEW YORK, 13 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Anwar Sadat Memorial Lecture at the University of Maryland, 13 November 2002:

    Thank you, Mrs. Sadat and dear friends,

    It is indeed a great honour to give this lecture in your presence, and in the memory of your late husband, one of the outstanding political leaders of recent history.

    It is also, ladies and gentlemen, a great honour for me to receive a doctorate from this distinguished University, of which the State of Maryland is rightly proud, in the presence of Governor Glendening, President Mote and Dean Goldstein.

    Ladies and gentlemen, your University makes a very important contribution to the understanding of international affairs -- not least through the admirable work of Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development.

    Let me congratulate you particularly on your inspired initiative in sponsoring the Sadat Essay for Peace competition for high school students, and the Sadat Art for Peace competition for students in your own Art Department. Few aspects of education can be more important than encouraging young people to think creatively about peace and ways to secure it.

    And let me also thank you for the work of your Program on Global Security and Disarmament, which over the past two years has been cooperating very effectively with the United Nations Expert Group on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education. We need such education more than ever today, at a time when the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction are on all our minds.

    In just one week’s time, we shall reach the twenty-fifth anniversary of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, in 1977.

    Seldom has a political move deserved so richly to be called "historic".

    It caught the imagination of the world. It transformed the political landscape of the Middle East. And it defined Anwar Sadat as a historical figure.

    President Sadat showed courage, decisiveness and extraordinary political insight when he did what until then had seemed unthinkable for any Arab leader: he went to Jerusalem and declared, directly to the Israeli Parliament and people, that "we welcome you among us with full security and safety".

    His visit represented an extraordinary leap of faith and imagination. He understood that the Arabs could not recover the land that Israel had occupied unless, in return, they offered full and genuine peace.

    And he had the intelligence and imagination to make a gesture that sparked a response in the hearts of the Israeli people.

    As a result, he was able to convince them that they really could enjoy peace with Egypt if -- but only if -- they gave up their occupation of Egyptian land. As he said, "there is no peace that could be built on the occupation of the land of others".

    And thus his gesture started a process leading to a peace treaty between the two countries based on normal relations and full Israeli withdrawal from Egyptian territory. In other words, land for peace.

    Alas, Sadat’s journey also led, or at least contributed, to his untimely death. He himself must have known the risk he was taking, and that is the measure of his courage. Like Yitzhak Rabin 14 years later, he paid the price of peace with his own life.

    Looking at the Middle East peace process today, I wish I could say that those two sacrifices had brought a just, lasting and comprehensive peace to the Middle East, or at least that the leaders of today had shown a similar level of courage, vision and statesmanship.

    Sadly, I cannot. As we speak, Israelis and Palestinians are still locked in bitter conflict.

    Nor is there yet peace between Israel and its northern neighbours. The truce on that front remains fragile and precarious.

    An atmosphere of gloom and defeatism has descended on the region. There is the same "utter suspicion and absolute lack of confidence" between the two sides, of which Sadat spoke in the Knesset. How right he was to warn that "in the absence of a just solution of the Palestinian problem, never will there be that durable and just peace upon which the entire world insists"!

    On both sides -- Palestinian and Israeli -- only those who believe their enemy can be defeated by force, and violence show a grim confidence in the ultimate success of their chosen path.

    Yet on both sides, that confidence is surely misplaced.

    No matter what price they are forced to pay, Israelis will not abandon the State they have built.

    Nor indeed, I venture to affirm, would the United Nations ever allow one of its Member States to be destroyed by external force. It was to prevent such things from happening that the United Nations was founded, and 12 years ago, in Kuwait, it showed itself capable of rising to the challenge.

    But it should also be clear by now that Palestinians will never reconcile themselves to the continued occupation and expropriation of their land, nor renounce their claim to statehood and national independence.

    They are just as firmly attached to their land as Israelis are to theirs, and just as strong in their national aspirations. They too have a right to their own State, supported by the United Nations and by public opinion worldwide.

    The only way to settle this conflict remains the solution envisioned by the United Nations Security Council, and indeed by Anwar Sadat in that historic speech to the Knesset 25 years ago: two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders.

    And while the precise location of those borders is to be negotiated between the parties, surely no one doubts that they must be based, as Sadat said, on "ending the occupation of the Arab territories occupied in 1967".

    In that very year 1967, shortly after Israel occupied the remaining parts of mandatory Palestine, along with Egyptian Sinai and Syrian Golan, the Security Council emphasized the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and affirmed that just and lasting peace in the Middle East must be based on Israeli withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent conflict", as well as the right of every State in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force".

    That is the principle of "land for peace" -- and that resolution, number 242, has long been accepted by all parties as the basis of a peaceful settlement.

    Such a settlement is envisaged in the Saudi peace initiative, endorsed by the Arab States at their summit last March -- and it remains the preferred solution of both Israelis and Palestinians -- and President Bush in his speech to the General Assembly also endorsed this solution.

    On this point, all opinion polls concur.

    The majority of Palestinians accept the continued existence of Israel, and are ready to live alongside it in their own State.

    And the majority of Israelis accept that peace requires the establishment of a Palestinian State in nearly all of the territory occupied in 1967.

    What is missing, on each side, is trust in the other -- and without that trust, the hope of peace becomes hard to sustain.

    Israelis, bludgeoned by repeated terrorist attacks which take a horrible toll of civilian life, have lost faith in the Palestinian will to peace.

    They ask themselves if the partner they thought they had found in the Oslo accords really exists. They wonder if the Palestinian intention is really, after all, to drive them into the sea. Their doubts are fed by the words, as well as the deeds, of Palestinian extremists, and by the joy that sometimes erupts in the Palestinian streets after a particularly bloody terrorist outrage.

    This leads to increasing public support for the draconian security measures that have pushed more than a million Palestinians below the poverty line; and the majority of Israelis who favour trading land for peace are reluctant, with no peace in sight, to confront the powerful minority who wish to keep the occupied land for ever.

    Yet, tragically, those same draconian measures, combined with the continued and intensifying process of Israeli settlement in the occupied territory, have the effect of pushing the prospect of peace and lasting security further and further away.

    Palestinians, on their side, have lost faith in the Israeli will to peace. They point to the unacceptable policy of assassinations of militants -- some of them carried out in densely populated areas and causing large-scale civilian casualties. They note that Israel piles precondition on precondition for a return to the negotiating table, and destroys the governing institutions of the Palestinian Authority even while calling for their reform.

    Confined by roadblocks to their towns and villages, and much of the time by curfews in their homes, the Palestinians watch hilltop after hilltop covered by new Israeli buildings, and valley after valley criss-crossed by roads reserved for Israeli settlers.

    In some places, Palestinian farmers have even been shot dead by extremist settlers intent on robbing them of their olive harvest. As one Israeli journalist has put it, this sends a message that "it’s not a war on terror in the territories but a campaign to deepen the poverty and hunger of the Palestinian population", and so to drive them off their land.

    There are Palestinians who have courageously raised their voices against the wicked and counterproductive tactics of terror and suicide bombing. But in the present atmosphere, they find it hard to make themselves heard.

    Given the events of the past two years, it was perhaps inevitable that both peoples would come to doubt, fundamentally, each other’s real commitment to peace. With every passing day, such doubts become more deeply embedded, and the task of renewing political negotiations gets even harder.

    Somehow, we have to restore hope to both peoples, by patiently rebuilding their trust in each other. And that is what the Quartet of interested external parties -- the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russian Federation -- is seeking to do, by setting out a credible road map: a road map of synchronized steps that can lead, within three years, from the grim situation we are in now, to the peaceful two-State solution that the majority on both sides desire.

    This road map is being prepared with great care. It is now very nearly finalized.

    We in the Quartet fully realize that the credibility of this road map will depend on performance. But performance, in turn, depends on hope. Without a clear promise of the end result, and visible political progress towards it, neither side is likely to summon the will to take the risks that each must take, right from the start, to improve the security and living conditions of the other. That is why we say that the process must be "hope-driven", as well as performance-driven.

    And that, surely, is where all parties can learn from the example of Anwar Sadat.

    By all conventional wisdom, he should not have done what he did. Going to Jerusalem, with no assurance in advance of any concessions from the other side, seemed to almost all Arabs at the time an act of folly, if not outright treason.

    Yet President Sadat understood the vital importance of psychology in war and peace.

    He understood that political behaviour is deeply influenced by the mental image that each side has of the other -- and that sometimes this image can only be changed by an act of breathtakingly radical daring.

    By a leap of imagination, Sadat understood that, while Arabs felt oppressed by Israel’s seemingly overwhelming strength, Israel felt threatened by the uniform hostility of the surrounding Arab world.

    More than anything, the Israeli people needed -- and still need -- the sense of being accepted by their neighbours, in order to find the courage to renew negotiations in good faith, despite all the traumas of the last two years, and to make the necessary concessions.

    In the stage the conflict has now reached, I believe both sides are aching for that sense of acceptance.

    Many Palestinians, seeing the devastation Israel is able to inflict on their society, find it hard to imagine that Israelis also live in fear, and that only by removing that fear can they hope to reach a new and more balanced relationship. Yet it is true.

    And many Israelis believe they have already done enough to prove their willingness to accept Palestinians as neighbours, and allow them space in which to develop their national life.

    Unhappily, the life experience of many Palestinians has been very different, and Israel needs to do much more to win their trust. As long as the settlement building and land confiscation continue, as long as a political horizon is missing, as long as there is no real commitment to negotiate the remaining final status issues, Palestinians will never be convinced of Israel’s desire for peace.

    That may be hard for Israelis to believe. Yet it is true.

    The international community stands ready to help. Indeed, we must help both Israelis and Palestinians to break through the barrier of which Sadat spoke: "a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection; a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination a barrier of distorted interpretation of every event and statement".

    But we can only help those who are willing to be helped.

    What is needed on both sides is true leadership, such as Anwar Sadat provided in his time. Let us pray that they find it before it is too late.

    Thank you very much.

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