Golda Never Said No

The prevalent belief that Golda Meir rejected a peace proposal in the months leading up to the Yom Kippur War is unfounded. Meir accepted the proposal. It was Sadat who rejected it.

Amir Oren writes in his article, “The folly committed by statesmen” (Haaretz, September 21), that before the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir rejected an American-Egyptian proposal to withdraw from Sinai in exchange for non-belligerence. This statement is completely untrue.

The proposal was not of American-Egyptian origin. It was purely American. Developed by Harold Saunders of the National Security Council in the last months of 1972 and the beginning of 1973, its purpose was to move the peace process forward after the White House reached the conclusion that the initiatives by Secretary of State William Rogers were leading nowhere. The plan was shown to Hafez Ismail, Anwar Sadat’s national security adviser, during his secret visit to Washington at the end of February 1973, during which he met with President Richard Nixon and his adviser, Henry Kissinger. A day later, the proposal was shown to Golda Meir, who was also in Washington at the time.

This is how Yitzhak Rabin, who was then Israel’s ambassador to Washington, described the first meeting between Kissinger and Ismail in his memoir, “A Service Notebook.” On February 27, Kissinger showed Ismail the document, which stated that Egyptian sovereignty over the Sinai peninsula would be recognized in exchange for several temporary security arrangements by Israel. On February 28, the day after the meeting between Kissinger and Ismail, Meir received a report about these talks and gave Kissinger the authority to show the proposal to the Egyptians. According to Rabin, Meir approved the idea despite Kissinger’s warning that an Israeli military presence would have to be disguised as a civilian one.

Israel’s agreement of the American proposal, which was tantamount to a full withdrawal from Sinai in exchange for security arrangements, was passed to Egypt during the second secret meeting between Kissinger and Ismail. This private meeting between the two high officials took place on May 20 in a Paris suburb. The content of the conversation, which was taken down from Kissinger’s account immediately afterward, is included in American documents that were declassified more than a decade ago.

The relevant section of the report states as follows: “Mr. Ismail had asked Dr. Kissinger what he thought was the most Egypt could get from Israel. Dr. Kissinger had said that he thought the most that he could foresee Israel giving now was nominal Egyptian sovereignty in the Sinai with Israeli security positions at key points.

“Ismail said that he could not give any commitments now; he would have to talk to Sadat. He would send word back to Dr. Kissinger within the next ten days or so, in time for the US-USSR summit [which was to take place that June – S.R.]. After the meeting with Ismail, Dr. Kissinger acknowledged that the principal problem is with President Sadat; he may very well decide that he does not wish to engage in this process and send word that such is the case.”

In a report to Nixon about the meeting in May, Kissinger wrote, “In short, Ismail came to this meeting to probe White House intentions further – not to discuss concrete elements of a possible Egypt-Israel agreement.”

No Egyptian answer came, as we know from the historical chain of events. But during the summer, Kissinger tried to get an answer from the Egyptians. On August 13, he met with the Iranian ambassador to Washington, Ardeshir Zahedi, and complained that he could not get personally involved in the process if Ismail just recited positions that he could read in the newspaper. Together with Zahedi, Kissinger conveyed a message to Ismail, in the name of the Shah of Iran, in an effort to push the Egyptians into answering the American proposal, which Meir had already accepted.

In the hours leading up to the war, Ismail was kept out of the circle of Sadat’s close advisers. Experts believe that this was because of his opposition to the war – opposition that stemmed from the secret talks that had taken place in the months and weeks preceding it.

It was Anwar Sadat, not Golda Meir, who rejected the American (and Israeli) proposal and refused to enter direct or indirect negotiations with Israel based on it. He agreed to it only after thousands of casualties and psychological achievements on the battlefield.

Although none of this information is new, Oren, like many others, does not want to be confused with the facts. His suggestion of a government-historical committee deserves serious consideration. Perhaps in light of these facts, we will see that there is room to investigate the Yom Kippur Lie as well.

The author is Golda Meir's grandson.