Wanted: A true partner

Remembrance Day and Independence Day elicit for me conflicting feelings of pain and pride, of grief and joy, since they fall only one week apart.

Peace Now (R390) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Peace Now (R390)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Remembrance Day and Independence Day elicit for me conflicting feelings of pain and pride, of grief and joy, since they fall only one week apart.
I feel a deep sadness for my close friends who are no longer with us and for our nation’s great loss. But I also feel happiness for our blossoming and prospering country, as well as for our booming economy and our far-reaching scientific discoveries.
Israel today is democracy at its best.
But this year, unlike in past years, I am angry. Angry at decision-makers who throughout the years have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It turns out that the claim that Israel has no partner in the Egyptian leadership was just a cover-up for Israel’s ineffectual governing; a type of armor to protect it from having to make important decisions and from the fear of having to pay the political price for progress.
Recently, correspondence between prime minister Moshe Sharett and Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had just begun his term, was released for public scrutiny. It appears that the Egyptian president had indeed expressed readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel. According to reports, Sharett welcomed the initiative, but did not take the bull by its horns.
Instead, he set unrealistic prerequisites that of course were never met, and the rest is history: Fedayeen, reprisals and the Six Day War.
Sharett did not share this initiative with the public or even with his cabinet. We had to wait 60 years to learn about it. It turns out that at the beginning of his career, Nasser could have been a partner for Israel, albeit a tough and complex one. He might not have been trustworthy, but it definitely would have been worthwhile to give negotiations with him a chance.
Sharett had no right to disqualify Nasser outright.
Yigal Kipnis’s disturbing book, 1973, The Road to War, which was recently published, is based on documents that describe Israeli efforts to torpedo Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative just before the Yom Kippur War. According to Kipnis, Sadat sent his foreign minister to the US with a peace initiative that was much more generous than the one signed after the war.
The Israel of Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Yisrael Galili used every trick in its diplomatic arsenal to quash the initiative – from the bizarre request to receive the initiative in writing, which surprisingly the Egyptians agreed to provide, to dragging out the process for an unrealistic amount of time.
Looking back, the book says, the US wanted Israel’s word that it would not to strike preemptively even if it knew for sure that Egypt was about to declare war.
We know all too well how terrible this war was. On Remembrance Day we visit the graves of more than 2,700 young people who paid for this refusal to pursue peace with their lives. It is important to remember that the phrase, “We have no partner to talk to,” was often heard at the time from policy-makers who were hiding the Sadat initiative from the government and the public. They would systematically use the words “We have no one to talk to.”
Today, after 65 years of Israeli independence, I have a feeling of déjà vu.
The “We-have-no-partner” attitude regarding the Palestinians has taken root and become ubiquitous. Since the founding of the state, the Palestinian issue has not been a priority for Israel. Granted, Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz’s Hatnua Party based its platform on the issue, and Zehava Gal-On of Meretz is also keen to deal with it. But these two parties won only six and five mandates, respectively in the recent election. The vast majority of the public is convinced that there is no one to talk with, and therefore none of the other parties focused on diplomacy.
Following the Sharett-Nasser and Golda-Sadat affairs, we need to make an effort not to miss signals from the other side. Mahmoud Abbas is not a member of the Lovers of Zion and will probably not join in the future. He is a patriotic Palestinian looking out for the well-being of his people. His ideas on how to find a solution to the conflict are hard to digest and some of his statements are outrageous.
His actions are disturbing, however he is not so extreme that we can truly say that there is no one to talk to on the other side.
Abbas, who was born in Safed, has publicly stated that he is reconciled to the fact that he will never live again in the Galilee city. If this is not a retraction of the demand for the right of return, I don’t know what would be. Abbas has proclaimed that he rejects terrorism and advocates diplomacy. Doesn’t this prove that we have someone with whom to talk? Lessons of the past show us that there is always going to be a partner for negotiations.
A partner who is an opponent, and whose opening statements we cannot accept, but with whom we can negotiate and – with joint efforts – even reach a stable agreement.The writer is a senior adviser to President Shimon Peres. Translated by Hannah Hochner.