A recent avalanche on one of the book mountains that stud the terrain around this place unearthed a copy of Oriana Fallaci’s Interview with History. I hadn’t looked into the thing in years. Reacquainting myself with Fallaci’s 1972 interviews with Golda Meir and Yasir Arafat, I was first surprised and then amused by the frequency and fervor with which these individuals declared that they and their peoples would “never” do this or that. Because so many of those “nevers” have, in the intervening 37 years, actually come to pass.
Dialogue on Israel and Palestine is today as spiked with words like “no” and “never” and “always” and “forever” as it was in 1972. I thought it might be worthwhile to review some of Meir’s and Arafat’s once-upon-a-time “nevers,” as a hopeful illustration that never, even in this fractious sliver of the planet, does not always have to mean forever.
To Fallaci, Meir summarily dismissed the notion of any sort of peace agreement with Egpyt.
For the simple reason that Sadat doesn’t want to negotiate with us. I’m more than ready to negotiate with him. I’ve been saying it for years: “Let’s sit down at a table and see if we can arrange things, Sadat.” He flatly refuses.
Except that Anwar Sadat, less than seven years later, concluded a peace treaty with Israel.
Anyway, Meir told Fallaci, what good could come of concluding a peace deal with Sadat?
In these dictatorial regimes, who is to say that such an agreement would be worth anything? Let’s suppose that Sadat signs and is then assassinated. Or simply eliminated. Who’s to say that his successor will respect the agreement signed by Sadat?
Except that when Sadat was indeed assassinated, two years after making peace with Israel, his successor, Hosni Mubarak, honored that agreement. And has continued to do so. For 28 years.
There could be no question of Israel giving up Gaza, Meir told Fallaci.
I say that Gaza must, should be part of Israel. Yes, that’s my opinion.
As of 2005, complete administrative authority over Gaza passed to the Palestinians. Although Gaza certainly cannot be considered, yet, a free and independent state, not even Israel, any longer, claims Gaza as “part” of Israel.
Meir in 1972 told Fallaci that Israel was willing to return some of the Sinai to Egypt, but certainly not all of it.
We want control of Sharm El Sheikh and part of the desert, let’s say a strip of desert, connecting Israel with Sharm El Sheikh. Is that clear? Must I repeat it? We don’t want all of the Sinai. Maybe we don’t even want most of the Sinai . . . But we won’t give up Sharm El Sheikh and a strip of desert connecting us with Sharm El Sheikh.
Except that Sharm El Sheikh, together with the rest of the Sinai, was returned to Egypt in 1982. It is today a flourishing Egyptian tourist destination, and is sometimes called “The City Of Peace,” in recognition of the international peace confabs frequently sited there. It was in fact in Sharm El Sheikh, which Meir said Israel would never surrender, that Israel concluded a treaty in 1999 to restore Palestinian self-rule in Gaza, which Meir said Israel would never surrender.
Asked whether Israelis would ever meet with Arafat and the PLO, Meir exploded:
Never! Not with them! Never!
Except that Arafat began regularly meeting with Israelis in the early 1990s, and in 1993 signed with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin the Oslo Accords.
Prior to signing those accords, Arafat, as the representative of the Palestinian people, signed off on letters that renounced violence and recognized Israel.
Except that in 1972, Arafat told Fallaci he would never do such a thing.
No! We don’t want any peace. We want war, victory. Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else. What you call peace is peace for Israel and the imperialists. For us it is injustice and shame. We will fight until victory. Decades if necessary, generations.
We’ll never stop until we’ve returned to our home and destroyed Israel.
President Obama has taken to frequently repeating the observation of Martin Luther King that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” One can regard this remark as trite; I believe it to be true. In the end, all the “nevers” will melt away, and there will be justice for both the Palestinians and the Jews of Israel. And because there is no real justice without peace, there will be that, too.
Watch and see.
(An illustrated version of this piece is available in red.)