203. Editorial Note

On February 4, 1971, United Arab Republic President Anwar al-Sadat made a 45-minute speech before the country’s National Assembly in which he extended the cease-fire with Israel for 30 days and also proposed an interim settlement that would pave the way for reopening the Suez Canal. (New York Times, February 5, 1971, page 3) Regarding the cease-fire, he said: “We accept the appeal of the U.N. Secretary-General and decide to refrain from opening fire for a period which we cannot make extend beyond 30 days, ending on March 7. During this period, the Secretary-General and the entire world community must insure that there is genuine progress regarding the heart of the problem and not in its outward manifestations.” While the announcement about the cease-fire’s continuation was expected after Thant’s appeal, the proposal for reopening the Suez Canal came as a surprise. The UAR President declared: “During this period in which we will refrain from opening fire, we demand that a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces on the Eastern bank of the Suez Canal be realized as a first stage of a timetable which will be prepared later to implement the other provisions of the Security Council Resolution. If this is realized within this period, we will be prepared to begin immediately to clear the Suez Canal course and reopen it for international navigation to serve the world economy.” (Foreign Broadcast Information Service 72, February 5; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1160, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files, Middle East—Jarring Talks Edited and Indexed, February 1–7, 1971)

Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s public reaction emphasized the “gravity and danger” of Sadat’s proposal. In a statement to the Knesset on February 9, she said, concerning a cease-fire: “to my great regret I must state the grave truth: that the announcement of abstention from shooting for not more than 30 days is equivalent to a threat to renew the war on 7 March 1971. We are invited to continue with talks in an eve-of-war atmosphere, in the shadow of an ultimatum, and on the basis of the unrealistic claim that agreement can be reached on such a complex subject in such a brief period.” As for opening the Suez Canal, she said that Sadat’s “proposal, as presented in his speech, tries to achieve a strategic advantage by the withdrawal of Israel’s forces without actual progress towards peace. To me, it seems strange to propose the withdrawal of our forces from the Canal outside a framework of agreed arrangements for the absolute termination of the war.” For the full text of her statement, see Israel’s Foreign Policy: Historical Documents, volumes 1–2, 1947–1974, Chapter XII, The War of Attrition and the Cease Fire, Document 29.