Sadat's widow looks at war


April 20, 2002

More than 23 years ago, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt traveled to Jerusalem to negotiate with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel. In 1979, the two leaders signed the Camp David accords under the auspices of President Jimmy Carter, making Egypt the first Arab country to recognize Israel and ending a 31-year war between the two countries.

Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic extremists. Since then his widow, Jehan Sadat, has worked and lectured on behalf of peace and human rights. She spends part of her time in Egypt and part in the United States, where she is a research scholar at the University of Maryland College Park and helped establish the Anwar Sadat Chair for Development and Peace.

On Monday evening at 7:30, she will discuss the past, present and future of the Middle East at Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, as part of the "Unique Lives and Experiences" lecture series.

Yesterday, she discussed some of her views in a telephone interview with The Sun. Here is what she said:

Do you think the possibility exists today for Arab leaders to do what your husband did in the 1970s - when Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel?

I still have the hope - though we have witnessed a bloody cycle of violence that has shattered many hopes. Still, I believe that the day will come when Israelis and Arabs will sit at the table and negotiate - so that what my husband did will not have been done in vain.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah has proposed a peace plan - normal diplomatic and trade relations between the Arab states and Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which Israel has held since the Six-Day War in June 1967. Do you think this land-for-peace deal stands a chance?

Yes. I believe this is a good proposal ... and during the recent Arab League conference in Beirut, they all agreed upon it. Even the Palestinians and the Israelis said they would look at it.

I believe it's right. It would allow Israel to live among the Arab countries in security and peace. This is what we want to see. We want to see Israelis living in peace and the Palestinian people independent and having their homeland, with East Jerusalem as their capital. That is fair enough for both sides.

Is there any possibility this would really happen?

They could do it if they wanted to make peace. There is nothing impossible in this world. The leaders [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat should think not about themselves but about the future of their countries, the future of the new generation. They shouldn't think of retaliation or personal animosities. They should think of their people and negotiate together, believing they can reach a peaceful solution.

It is possible to do what my husband did. If they have the same vision, the same courage, the same belief in peace, they will do it.

My husband never thought of himself. He always thought of his responsibility toward his people. He believed in peace. He knew both sides would lose otherwise. So why not put an end to the bloodshed and save all of our sons from death?

He could have remained president, just saying slogans. But he was a doer. That's why he went directly to the Knesset [the Israeli parliament] to speak to the Israeli people.

What do you think Palestinians represent to the Arab world?

Well, Palestinians represent another Arab country with people who have the right to live in independence, in their own country. They are scattered all over the Arab countries. They have no homeland. I'm not biased to Palestinians or Israelis. What I want to see is Palestinians having a homeland and Israelis having security, living side by side as neighbors. It would be good for all of us and make the whole area stable and secure.

The Arab countries look at Israel as occupying Palestinian land and not treating Palestinians well enough. They see the Palestinians living in despair, living in poverty. All the Arab countries want to see Israel pull out and give Palestinians the right to live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

The violence is felt in all Arab countries. Everything is on TV. They see Jenin [a Palestinian refugee camp invaded by Israeli forces], the bodies thrown on the streets. We condemn also the suicide bombers killing innocent people. This is wrong also.

Do you think the Palestinians are getting their side of the story across to the world?

The Israelis are very good at publicity. The Palestinians are not as clever. But just see what happened in Jenin - to see five bodies in a home. The mother can see her children or husband or brother, dying in their home. I cannot bear to see something like that. I couldn't sleep all night.

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