Is Bibi the new Golda? Israel may be making the same mistakes it did the summer before the Yom Kippur War.

Author:Gorenberg, Gershom

See if you can put a date on this mood in Israel: Peace would be wonderful, but there's no one on the Arab side to talk to--at least no one rational enough to understand that for security, Israel must keep part of the land it took in 1967. The conflict is under control. Sticking to the status quo makes much more sense than making large concessions to people who have never accepted our existence here.



You're right if you date that mood to the summer of 2013. You're also right if your answer was the summer of 1973. Forty years ago, Egypt was at the top of the diplomatic agenda, and the territory in question was the Sinai. Today, the issue is the Palestinians and the West Bank. History doesn't provide exact parallels; its lessons are Delphic. Even so, we can learn from the summer of '73 about the risks of putting too much trust in land, our own strength and the quiet of the moment, and too little trust in negotiated peace.

By 1973, Israel had held the Sinai for six years. The Sinai, everyone in Israel knew, was the great defensive wall against an Egyptian attack. On the Red Sea coast south of Eilat and on the Mediterranean coast west of the Gaza Strip, Israel was building farming communities. A town called Ofira was going up at Sharm el-Sheikh, the strategic point that controlled the shipping lane to Eilat. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had plans for a city called Yamit on the Sinai's Mediterranean coast.

The settlement map was the policy of Golda Meir's government written in concrete: There were pieces of the Sinai that Israel would be insane to give up. The war of attrition along the Suez Canal had ended with a ceasefire, under U.S. pressure, in 1970. At a 1971 Labor Party congress, Meir had said, "We have a ceasefire. Let's hope it continues. But if not--have no fear." She warned Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat that attacking would not be "really worth it for you." Sadat had declared that his goal was to regain Egyptian soil--meaning the Sinai up to the pre-1967 border--and that he'd do so by peace or war. Nearly no one in Israel took the pale successor of Gamal Abdel Nasser seriously. Public and secret peace initiatives all crashed against Meir's iron wall: She would not enter a process that could end with relinquishing all of the Sinai, even for full peace.

In June 1973, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt came to Israel, a tense and historic event. This June, marking the visit's 40th...

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