This is an abridged version of my article in the current (May/June) issue of Jewish Currents. Since this was originally written more than a year and a half ago, a friend quipped that this frequent venue for my writings over the years should be called “Jewish Pasts.”
Tovah Feldshuh concluded her record-breaking one-person Broadway run of “Golda’s Balcony,” January 2, 2005, and reconvened for a brief engagement in Los Angeles. In addition, a short documentary film, “The Journey To Golda’s Balcony,” has been made about Ms. Feldshuh’s research into performing this role….
Although a capable leader in certain ways, and “Golda’s Balcony” ably dramatizes some of her triumphs, the play does not truly examine Golda Meir’s failures…. [A]s political leader of Israel for most of the time between the ’67 and ’73 wars, she must be blamed for failing to grasp the potential for peace offered separately by Egypt and Jordan.
Peace feelers from Anwar Sadat—including a public offer to sign a full peace treaty with Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai—received a cold shoulder from the real Golda. She even resisted a separation of forces agreement urged by Sadat, in which Israeli troops would withdraw to a new line at the Sinai mountain passes, permitting Egypt to peacefully resettle its civilian population in towns along the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. Such a move was favored by a number of prominent Israelis, including Abba Eban, her foreign minister. A compelling case can be made that Sadat decided upon war out of frustration at Israel’s lack of responsiveness.
Meir was under the spell of Dayan who famously declared, “Better Sharm el-Sheikh [a strategic chokepoint on the eastern Sinai coast] without peace, than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh.” Some, including her first ambassador to the US, Yitzhak Rabin, advised that Sadat’s public declaration of an intention to have peace was unprecedented from an Arab government and, as such, worthy of encouragement. When a similar feeler came from Sadat in 1977, this time suggesting that he’d be willing to address the Knesset in Jerusalem, it took the new right-wing prime minister, Menachem Begin, to respond with an invitation.
The other possibility for peace with an Arab country, prior to 1973, was even more likely [to have succeeded]. Jordan’s King Hussein had negotiated so cordially with Israel that the monarch piloted his own plane into Israeli air space; Moshe Dayan is said to have given him a night tour of Tel Aviv. And a week before the Yom Kippur War, it was Hussein who again visited Israel to personally warn of suspicious Syrian troop deployments. Yet Golda’s Labor party, which continued in and out of power through the ’80s to advocate the “Jordanian option,” instead of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, turned down King Hussein’s offer for exactly such a peace, because Jordan wanted to reclaim East Jerusalem—albeit granting some border adjustments, including Israeli access to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. If Golda had been less rigid or more imaginative, and more independent of her generals, she could have governed through 1973, not only without war, but with peace treaties with at least one and possibly two front-line Arab states.