The first agreement
Negotiations with Hassan Touhami during Sadat's visit to Jerusalem / The Claims Conference's billions.
In 1977, I was the bureau chief for Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. This week I found a few pages of notes I jotted down on the evening of November 20, the day of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's visit:
Teddy returns to the office after touring the city with Sadat. About two hours later, a call from Rehavam Amir, the chief of protocol [in the Foreign Ministry]. "Dr. Hassan Touhami, the deputy prime minister of Egypt, would like to meet with you." Teddy: "About what?" Amir: "I don't know, but he is ready to cancel his visit to Yad Vashem with Sadat if you come immediately." Teddy: "I'll come." Where is Nahum, the chauffeur? Where is Nahum? We drove in my red Fiat 127. By the time I managed to find a parking place and enter the King David [Hotel], Teddy had already found Touhami and heard what he wanted. Sadat wants to repair Al-Aqsa Mosque and also make a donation to the Coptic church. He wants Teddy to inform the press about this.
Puzzling - amazing - this is undoubtedly recognition of Teddy's status in the whole unified city, but also a gesture that means: I am protecting the eastern city. Teddy says he will consult. Touhami waits. Scurrying about; where is there a phone. Moshe Dayan agrees. We sit on the hotel balcony, autumnal sun, drafting a statement to the press. In English. Lots of nerves. There is no stenographer. Touhami wants different wording. A kind of negotiation takes place. Discussion of almost every word. Also present are Gabi Padon and Ziama Divon, Foreign Ministry.
A problem with the Copts. They have a conflict with the Ethiopians over some small room in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Israel is taking the Ethiopians' side. Teddy suggests instead of a donation to the church - a donation to the Coptic school. Touhami agrees. A fat person joins us. Othman Ahmed Othman. Minister of construction and a big contractor. He is Sadat's strongman. Half a draft, a draft and a second draft - done. Teddy goes to dictate the text: he is the only one who can read his handwriting. I remain alone with Touhami.
He asks if I am Austrian. No, why? He spent a few years in Austria and I look like an Austrian to him. I am not, but Teddy is. Maybe you can speak German to each other. Touhami - not worth my while, he will win. Asked me for my opinion. My opinion is that this visit will bring war. Tried to persuade me that I am wrong. Touhami: Yes, I will persuade you.
Israel must compromise because it needs peace. Peace is vital for the country and it understands this. There is also international pressure on Israel and an opportunity to reach an agreement without the Soviets. Therefore Sadat believes that there is a chance that [Menachem] Begin will make concessions.
- Does he really believe that? After all, he didn't succeed in reaching an agreement even with [Yitzhak] Rabin and Golda [Meir]. Why with Begin?
Touhami: Precisely with Begin. We had no confidence in either Golda or Rabin. They are weak. We need someone strong.
- And there is a chance that Begin will make concessions?
T: Yes. There were contacts, already a few weeks, in America, in Europe, and there were even Israelis who came to Egypt. Yes, yes, yes, what you are hearing. They came from America and from Europe.
- Ah, you mean Jews?
T: I, thank God, am capable of distinguishing between Jews and Israelis. I tell you that they were Israelis. But for cover they came with American passports. They were disguised as businessmen. They heard what we had to say - we heard them - we passed information back and forth, and that is how this visit was prepared.
- So what will be in the end?
T: All will be well.
- Israel-Egypt? A separate peace?
T: No, not a separate peace, but a model for an agreement, a basis for negotiations between us, and afterward other states as well.
- What will be the basis?
T: Of course, full withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
- The 1967 borders? So why did you bother coming? There will be no withdrawal to 1967. What about the Gaza Strip?
T: The Gaza Strip is not ours.
- Sharm Al-Sheikh?
T: Sharm is ours.
(International force, also along the Jordan and on the Golan, peace within a year to five years.)
T: In Jerusalem we are talking about East Jerusalem. We have no claims on the western city. We are thinking of establishing a separate administration in the eastern city.
- And the Israelis? For example, in the Jewish Quarter?
T: They will be able to keep their citizenship.
- And all the new residential neighborhoods?
T: We will be able to view the Jews' settlement as religious settlement - that will facilitate the question of sovereignty.
- But are you thinking of divided sovereignty?
T: Not to divide the city, but divided sovereignty, yes, definitely.
- And Sadat really believes he will succeed in this move?
T: He believes that if he fails - there will be war.
So that is the crux of the matter. Because it does not appear that Begin can make concessions, the sad conclusion is that the Sadat visit will likely bring war. There is something depressing in this whole festival - the biggest show of all - I want to run wild with enthusiasm - I have to pinch myself to believe that all this is actually happening - But it seems to me that it has no chance and therefore there is no averting war. It's impossible to know with certainty. An insane situation: me and the deputy premier of Egypt in diplomatic negotiations. A senior Egyptian official trying to persuade an Israeli left-winger that peace is possible and the left-winger turning up his nose.
Teddy returned with the paper; he almost got into a fight with the stenographers. In the elevator we met Walter Cronkite. Teddy gave him the scoop. The first agreement.
On Saturday night, viewers of cable Channel 8 will be able to see an American Jew who makes $50,000 a month. There are Jews in America who make more, but Gideon Taylor gets his salary from the "Claims Conference," which was established in the 1950s to represent Holocaust survivors in the negotiations with Germany. Taylor looks like a nice Brooklyn boy, but the "Conference" he administers comes across in the documentary as an organization of gangsters. It controls more than $20 billion, all of which belongs to the survivors, but keeps most of the money for itself.
"In the Name of the Victims," directed by Ilan Ziv, is an infuriating and shaming must-see film that should be broadcast at the beginning of newscasts, and also justifies a commission of inquiry.