Doc's Talk: Golda Meir: Israel would not withdraw to 1967 lines
Former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Anyone who creates illusions among the Arabs that it is possible to impose an Arab- Israeli solution from the outside is pushing off peace, then-prime minister Golda Meir told German chancellor Willy Brandt 40 years ago, in words that Israeli leaders continue to say to European counterparts today.
The comment was contained in one of the 28 documents that the Israel State Archives released on Sunday to mark 40 years since Brandt’s historic visit to Israel, the first ever by a German chancellor. The visit took place from June 7-11, 1973, some five months before the Yom Kippur War.
According to the documents, Meir told Brandt to relay to then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that Israel truly wanted peace.
Meir said he could tell him – according to a document summing up the main points of the Brandt-Meir meeting that focused on the Middle East – that “we don’t want all of Sinai, or half of Sinai, or the major part of Sinai.
Brandt can make it clear to Sadat that we do not request that he begin negotiations in public, and that we are prepared to begin secret negotiations.”
She also made clear that Israel would not withdraw to the June 4, 1967 lines.
German emissary Lothar Lahn relayed the message to Sadat’s senior advisor, Hafiz Ismail, who summarily rejected it. He also rejected Meir’s proposal for personal contact between Israel and Egypt. He said that as long as Israel was not willing to declare its willingness to withdraw, there was no sense in a meeting since it would only serve to concretize the status quo.
German documents, according to a summary narrative provided by the national archive, showed that Brandt was not at all enthusiastic about serving as Middle East mediator, concerned that this would negatively impact on Germany’s relations with the Arab states.
This was the third time Meir sent emissaries to Sadat with a proposal to negotiate.
The first time was in 1971 through US secretary of state William Rogers, and again in 1972 through Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. All the offers were turned down.
The documents released showed the sensitivity of the Brandt visit, not only because of anti-German feelings in Israel because of the Holocaust, but also because the visit came less than a year after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, and the German government’s release in September and October 1972 of the remaining terrorists responsible.
During the visit, Meir told the cabinet that there was a “very good atmosphere,” and then added bluntly that there was “much more understanding about the past than about the future – regretfully, I must put it that way.”
According to the summary Archives, Meir spoke of differences of opinion with Brandt, “especially on the issue of European intervention in the Middle East; and expressions by him and other members of the delegation about the need for ‘a balanced policy’ by Germany, which grated on Israeli ears.”
At the time of the meeting, voices were being raised in Germany to “normalize” relations with Israel, instead of the previous concept of “special relations.”
Israel was opposed to this, favoring the “special relationship” because – according to the summary – it enabled Israel to raise issues “such as relations with the Common Market; economic aid and German investment in Israel; and reparations to Holocaust survivors; and to benefit from a favorable attitude.”
Brandt sent a letter to Meir upon returning to Germany, summing up his impressions. In it he addressed a request that he take up the plight of Jews in Arab lands.
“I have also been able to take up, from humanitarian points of view, the problem of Jewish inhabitants of neighboring Arab states with which I was approached during my visit, but surely I need not tell you how hard it often is for humanity to prevail.”
Brandt said that as a result of his visit and talks in Israel, “we have been able, mindful of the burden of the past, to open up a new chapter in the relations between our two peoples.”