On November 19, 1977, the world watched in disbelief as Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat visited Jerusalem. In one dramatic stroke, Sadat met with Israel's leaders, promised “no more war,” and offered Israel de facto recognition. Recently declassified archival sources provide new insight into why Sadat suddenly made all these concessions and why he chose to initiate conciliation through such a bold move. The historical evidence supports a prospect-theoretic explanation of Sadat's risk acceptance. Sadat never accepted Egypt's loss of the Sinai Peninsula but, unable to recover it either militarily or diplomatically (through U.S. mediation), he became willing to accept greater risks to recoup Egypt's territorial losses. As Sadat grew frustrated with the efforts of Jimmy Carter's administration to reconvene the Geneva Middle East Peace Conference, he sought to accelerate the peace process by abandoning multilateral diplomacy in favor of direct negotiations with Israel. He understood, however, that bilateral talks would fail given Israel's deep suspicion and mistrust of its Arab neighbors. By empathetically responding to its fears and security concerns, Sadat reasoned that he could reassure Israel of Egypt's benign intentions and remove, as he often said, the “psychological barriers” of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such an approach might help Israel feel secure enough so that its leaders would trade land for peace.

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