It has been said many times in recent days that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is a man of great courage. I agree. I would add that he is also a man of considerable intelligence.
Sadat did what common sense indicated needed to be done, even though the conventional wisdom in many Arabs lands held that it couldn't be done - and even if it could, he shouldn't attempt it.
For many years, Arabs have been told by their religious and political leaders that the Israelis are trespassers who must be wiped out. Implacable hatred became an official position, incessantly repeated until it was accepted by most Arabs as a fundamental truths.
And having been born into a world knew no peace, the Israelis also developed a determined cadre of haters. Arabs were as much disliked and distrusted in Tel Aviv as Jews were disliked and distrusted in Cairo.
Any man who steps between two such bitter antagonists in is in grave danger of being clobbered by both. I am sure President Sadat knew this, but he took the risk anyhow; and whatever the outsome of his effort, he will long be rembered as the politician who risked everything in an attempt to be a peacemaker.
Fortunately for Sadat and for all of us, the press and speech are relatively free in Egypt. People can discuss touchy issues in public as well as in private, and even a bold and unconventional move like Sadat's suggestion of face-to-face negotiation with the untouchable Israelis can be debated and given cautious acceptance without fear of arrest.
Israelis are, if anything, even more free to argue politics and to lend validity to the only half-humorous allegation that any time two Jews meet to discuss foreign affairs, they will generate at least three opinions.
Sadat's type of innovative and imaginative leadership could not have come from the leader of a closed society. Once a closed society commits its propaganda machinery to a firm position for or against somebody or something, it is difficult for Big Brother to change that position without discrediting himself and briging down on his head the wrath of his own Establishment.
Big Brother discovers that although there may be advantages to holding complete control of public opinion, there are also disadvantages. Once you've created a national hate object, you find it's like having a bear by the tail. It's risky to turn the critter loose.
As these lines are written on Sunday, President Sadat and Israeli's Prime Minister Menahem Begin are discovering that they like each other. It boggles the mind to consider the possibility that Cairo's citizens and Tel Aviv's might develop a similar rapport. I wish the worst of luck to all those who are working to prevent such an outcome.