The Spirit of Golda

The Golda era is making a comeback. I hear the heavy pounding of her footsteps moving down the corridors between the darkened brain cells of our leaders, like a warder making the rounds among the cells of a prison.

The Golda era is making a comeback. I hear the heavy pounding of her footsteps moving down the corridors between the darkened brain cells of our leaders, like a warder making the rounds among the cells of a prison.

The repeated signals emanating from Syrian President Bashar Assad remind me very much of Anwar Sadat more than 30 years ago. Using various channels, he sent a message to Israel: I, the president of Egypt, want to talk to you. I myself was involved in one of those efforts. An acquaintance of mine arrived in Israel from Cairo and told me, with great excitement, that Sadat had authorized him to tell the prime minister, Golda Meir, about his intention to hold a dialogue, and that he, the emissary, wanted to make use of my good services.

Now excited myself, I saw Golda that very day and gave her the message. She gave me an icy look - if looks could kill, I would have perished on the spot. She told me the following: first, there is nothing new here; I've already heard about it. Second, do you have any idea what he wants from us, Sadat? He wants all of Sinai. And she then fell gloomily and angrily silent. Seeing that I might as well be talking to the wall, I added no more. I left feeling embarrassed and was ashamed to tell my acquaintance what the prime minister of Israel has said in response to his message. I toned down my report somewhat.

Assad junior is now expressing a desire to resume the dialogue with Israel. As was the case then, his motives are being subjected to analysis. Yet whatever his motives are - and they are undoubtedly distinctly Syrian in character - it's very possible that the spirit of Gadhafi has descended on Assad, too. He may be serious, or he may not. Maybe all he wants to do is curry favor with Washington to ward off possible international sanctions on his country. What's the right thing to do in such circumstances of uncertainty? Nothing could be simpler: check it out. But sincerely and seriously, not just to discharge an obligation.

There is no readiness here to carry out such a check at present. Covert spokesmen of the government are hinting that it's very difficult to conduct negotiations simultaneously on two fronts - the Palestinian and the Syrian - and to make concessions in both. What a joke - as if negotiations worthy of the name were now under way with the Palestinian Authority, or as if concessions of any kind to the Palestinians were on the agenda. And besides, anyone who wants to make things easier for himself in the Palestinian arena should want to enter into practical and purposeful talks with the Syrians.

However, Golda's footsteps are still thundering here. Ariel Sharon is another ghostly incarnation of her. Like her, he likes to stride with head held high, but in place, and let no one bother him with trivialities that "are old hat." I can imagine a conversation with Sharon: he doesn't have Golda's killer eyes, but he, too, would surely ask me aggressively, as though I were the village idiot: And do you have any idea what Assad wants from us? He wants the whole of the Golan Heights.

Which is, in fact, true: Assad wants the whole Golan. Sharon, then, is Golda, certainly not Menachem Begin, who handed over the whole of Sinai, uprooted all the settlements, and withdrew to the last millimeter - and all with the blessing of Sharon, who as number two sometimes shows intelligent glimmerings, but who as number one is at a total loss and, to his chagrin, has no one to blame, either.

Assad's current approach is very interesting. Unlike the past, he is ready to begin negotiations "without prior conditions." He is also ready, as far as is known, to normalize relations between the two countries. There is even an intelligence basis for the view that he is no longer insisting on the rigid old Syrian condition of an Israeli withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967, and that he is also willing to talk about the "international border."

In the wake of Golda's intransigence, the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted. The war was an earthquake, and the aftershocks are still being felt today. What is going to happen here in the wake of Sharon's intransigence? It's not hard to guess. There is no reason to wait for a blow to be delivered before we withdraw from the Golan, as in Sinai and Lebanon. And don't tell us that our geo-strategic position has never been better, because we were told the same thing in 1973, and the experts even offered learned analyses to prove that war was out of the question then. The analyses were undoubtedly brilliant, but for some reason, reality wasn't impressed.