Today’s article posted by Gavriel Fiske in the Times of Israel, Golda Meir offered most of Sinai for peace before 1973 war, demands a breathtaking rewrite of the history of the events leading to the Yom Kippur War. In that article Fiske describes newly declassified German documents which show that Prime Minister Golda Meir attempted to start negotiations with the Egyptians in the months prior to the war. It further shows that Golda’s opening position was to return the majority of Sinai to Egypt in return for peace. That opening stance was supposedly rejected by the Egyptians, who demanded the return of the entire peninsular as a precondition for talks.
If these documents are indeed a reflection of events, it completely changes our historic understanding of the 1973 war, and would require a complete turn-about and reset of our views on Golda. The historically accepted narrative of the Yom Kippur War has been, the military engagement was avoidable– We bemoaned and assumed as fact that many lives would have been spared if only Golda had heeded the signs that Sadat wanted to negotiate. That view has clouded history’s judgment of Golda and completely colored her career and legacy as Prime Minister. The sense was that over 3,000 of our finest young men died as a result of her failure to negotiate. Today’s account turns that judgement on its head. If Golda indeed made an offer to give back the majority of Sinai to Egypt– as an opening offer– and that offer was rejected, It proves that Golda was not a passive actress allowing events to overcome her. Such new revelation would further prove that the ’73 war was unavoidable, as the Egyptians could only negotiate with Israel from a perceived position of strength. That strength came from their victory in the early part of the Yom Kippur War. Without that “victory” there could be no serious negotiations.
While Golda was far from perfect, she was clearly one of a small group of heroes of my youth. On a personal note, after Golda retired, and I made Aliyah, I was invited with two friends to have tea with her. Unfortunately to my great disappointment, on the day of the scheduled meeting she was not feeling well and had to cancel.
I wholeheartedly hope this new revelation will be corroborated. In the coming months we will learn much more about the events leading up to and surrounding that difficult war– as we have reached the 40 year mark when most classified documents become unclassified. It will be good to know definitively, that we did not pass up an opportunity to reach peace and avoid war. Even though such a revelation will not bring back the 3,000 soldiers who gave their lives, it might provide slight comfort to all the loved ones our soldiers left behind– knowing that at least from our side– the war was unavoidable.
Let’s hope that future historians will also discover that our current government has actually been doing all it can to bring about peace.