On the tarmac, near a plane readying for takeoff, a woman stood and waited for a man. Not Ingrid Bergman waiting for Humphrey Bogart, but Golda Meir waiting for Leonard Garment. Not Casablanca, but New York, in late 1969, alone under the Boeing at La Guardia, the prime minister received a secret message from President Richard Nixon’s adviser on Jewish affairs: Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger urge her to incite the U.S. Jewish community against Secretary of State William Rogers. In her speeches and press conferences, Golda was asked to “trash” Rogers and his plan for peace in exchange for land.
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Incredible but true, and documented, in Garment’s memoirs, inter alia. The anti-Semitic, pro-Israel Nixon suspected that Kissinger’s Judaism would prevent him from being evenhanded toward the Israeli-Arab conflict. As punishment, Nixon barred Kissinger from the arena, while allowing him to undermine Rogers’ attempts to build bridges between Israel and Egypt and Jordan. Still, circumventing a secretary of state is not the same as encouraging a foreign government to thwart, through actions in the secretary’s own country, a diplomatic initiative that was launched with the president’s agreement.
Scholars have known for years, but only in August, when the State Department released a volume of documents covering the years of the War of Attrition and the cease-fire on the Suez Canal, was it made official how the president and his next secretary of state sent Golda a knife with which to stab the incumbent secretary in the chest.
The magnificent victory lasted for six months and contributed to the heavy price Israel paid in the Yom Kippur War; in 1970 the Israel Air Force did not have the means to counter Soviet ground-to-air missiles in Egypt, and in exchange for sophisticated American weaponry Golda pledged not to violate the cease-fire but only to respond to an Egyptian violation. That was the basis for the decision not to launch a preemptive strike against Egypt in 1973 and not to call up the reserves, lest the steps be seen as a provocation that would invite Egypt to start a war.
This incident has two contemporary aspects. One is that in America you can steal horses if the owner agrees, as in the case of Nixon and Golda, not by a costly and unsuccessful stirring of the political cauldron a la Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against President Barack Obama in the Iran nuclear deal.
The second is the inherent difference between Israel and the territories. Nixon’s Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, conditioned the transfer of advanced weapons to Israel on distinguishing between the defense of Israel proper and the territories occupied in 1967 — Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. To foreign eyes, in 1973 Egypt and Syria went to war to reclaim territory, and by launching the peace process they achieved their goal.
Israel is the only state in the region that has not accepted the outcome of the Six-Day War and recognized the June 5, 1967 borders. For 48 years it has failed to blur the green lines and annex the territories de facto, through laws and settlement. The world does not marvel at the illusion of an irreversible hold on the territories, and is determined to effect a separation. The small victories over the Rogerses add up to one big defeat. The labeling of products from the settlements and the Palestinian flag at the United Nations are merely today’s signs of the battle that will end only when there is a government in Jerusalem that admits that the issue is not Israel and the territories, but rather Israel or the territories.