Thanks to Rabbi Charles Arian, I was an invited speaker, Jan. 20, at an event of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut in New London. The following is from what I had prepared for my talk— although I actually skipped over all but this opening paragraph:
Abba Eban– Israel’s world-renowned diplomat in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s– famously said at one point that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” I actually believe that this can be said of Israelis as well as Palestinians. It remains to be seen whether both peoples will again miss an opportunity for peace as represented by the renewal of an active peace process inaugurated ceremonially at Annapolis, Maryland in late November. I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t want to make a prediction, but the odds are heavily for Abba Eban to again be sadly proven right, yet this is likely to be due to shortcomings among both Israelis and Palestinians.
Many of us surely know about the “three no’s” of Khartoum— the first post-Six Day War summit of the Arab League in Sept. ‘67, in which the proclamation went out of “No to negotiations, no to recognition, no to peace” with Israel. Before that point, Israel was open to trading away most of the territories won in June ‘67 in exchange for peace treaties. Israel had exceptions to this offer: it wanted to hold onto East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and some parts of the West Bank it considered of strategic importance. But even much of this might have been subject to negotiation. So the missed opportunity at this point was that of the Arabs (the Palestinians were not yet a political factor).
In Sept. 1970, Yasir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) attempted to overthrow King Hussein of Jordan and they were supported by Syria. Israel intervened with its air force against Syria. Covered by Israel, Hussein concentrated his army against the Palestinians and crushed them, driving Arafat into exile in Southern Lebanon. King Hussein suddenly owed his throne to Israel’s intervention.
From that point on, King Hussein became a friend and defacto ally of Israel. He established a personal relationship with Israel’s leaders. He is said to have toured Tel Aviv by night, in the company of Moshe Dayan. When, over 20 years later in 1994, the actual peace treaty was finally signed by King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin, they bantered with each other about when they first met, 20 odd years before.
Around that time, probably in ‘71, King Hussein offered a peace treaty to Israel, then under the leadership of Prime Minister Golda Meir. Meir turned down the offer because Hussein wanted East Jerusalem back. Mind you, Hussein was allowing Israeli control or access to the Jewish Quarter and the Western (Wailing) Wall; he also offered some territorial concessions elsewhere in the West Bank– like the strategic Latrun Salient. But the Israelis felt that time was on their side and that they could wait for a better deal in which they’d retain all of Jerusalem. This missed opportunity was primarily Israel’s responsibility.
Golda Meir then dropped the ball and missed another opportunity when Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, made peace overtures in ‘71 and/or ‘72. He demanded a return of all of the Sinai Peninsula but he promised an actual peace treaty with Israel. Some in Israel’s cabinet and government– including Abba Eban and Yitzhak Rabin– advised her to respond in a serious way.
I personally recall UN Ambassador Gideon Rafael stating publicly (in news broadcasts at the time) that the statements from Sadat were unprecedented from an Arab leader and as such sounded genuine. But Meir was under the influence of Moshe Dayan who famously declared, “Better Sharm al-Sheikh with no peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.” [Sharm el-Sheikh being the strategic chokepoint at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula where the Egyptians had blockaded Israel’s port of Eilat in 1967.] She dismissed Sadat’s statement as “nothing new.”
This was the first time that I realized (as a young person just out of college) that there was something wrong with the prevailing political consensus in Israel. This viewpoint was know as “HaConceptsia“— the concept that Israel had time on its side because the Arabs had no military option. This concept was shattered by Egypt and Syria’s coordinated attack on Yom Kippur, 1973. After his peace overtures were rebuffed, Sadat had warned that a situation of no peace and no war was impossible and he proved this in October 1973.
I’d like to jump to 1988. In 1988, Shimon Peres– then foreign minister in the national unity government with Likud– negotiated something called the “London Agreement” with King Hussein. This provided a mechanism whereby Israel could negotiate with Palestinians included in a Jordanian delegation. It also hinted at the prospect of a Palestinian entity or state being created in a federation or confederation with Jordan. But before anything could be built on this possibility, the London Agreement was shot down by Prime Minister Shamir. Still, when the peace process actually started in 1991– under the strong leadership of the first Pres. Bush– with an international conference at Madrid, the Palestinians were allowed to participate under the fig leaf that they were part of the Jordanian delegation. Click for Part 2.