- In Search of a Peace Settlement: Egypt and Israel Between the Wars, 1967-1973 by Moshe Gat
The ongoing question of whether Israel and Egypt could have settled their territorial dispute and reached a peaceful settlement in the pre-1973 October War period has been on the historiographic agenda for some decades. The recent declassification of a large bulk of Israeli, British, and US firsthand documents related to the Israeli-Egyptian dispute in the interwar period have paved the way for scholars to reassess that issue. Moshe Gat's meticulously researched book has picked up the gauntlet.
The study begins on June 11, 1967. Israel and its Western allies expected that a badly defeated and weakened Nasser's Egypt would come to terms with the fact that the Jewish state could no longer be annihilated militarily and that the only possible option to regain the lost territories was through diplomatic channels, which would lead to a comprehensive peace agreement. Gat argues that at that stage, they were utterly wrong: humiliated Egypt was not yet ready for such a drastic change.
The only Israeli peace initiative throughout the period under discussion took place on June 19, 1967. The Israeli government decided that in return for peace and full diplomatic relations, it would, under certain conditions, pull back to its prewar borders. In exchange, Israel asked for the demilitarization of "the whole of the Sinai Peninsula and guarantee [of] the right of free passage for all ships, including Israel's through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal." Syria was required to demilitarize the Golan Heights and to never again block the water sources from Lebanon and Syria to Israel. The exceptions were the West Bank and Gaza Strip — Israel decided to leave their future to separate negotiations (p. 9). Nasser's reaction to Israel's preliminary peaceful overtures was: "What was taken by force will be restored by force" (p. 11).
Yet the intoxicating effects of victory and euphoria transformed Israeli policymakers into hard-liners, and a chain of peace initiatives, notably the Jarring Mission and the first Roger's Plan, were coolly received by Israel. The Khartoum Summit of Arab leaders of August 1967, which preceded the Jarring Mission, sanctioned Nasser's decision to pursue the diplomatic option. Gat's conclusion is that neither Israel nor Egypt did anything to facilitate a political solution. He shows that efforts to settle the conflict were made by both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations. The Soviets played second fiddle, yet they too favored a political solution based on an Israeli withdrawal and an end to the state of war. Gat argues that Egypt's rejection and Israel's opposition to US-Soviet initiatives revealed just how limited the superpowers' influence was over their respective clients.
The transition from the Johnson to Nixon Administration did not lead to a reform of US policy toward the Middle East. The State Department led by William Rogers took pains to advance diplomacy offering bridging proposals, which subsequently led to a long-term cease-fire in August 1970. His Middle Eastern policies were not always met with the approval of Henry Kissinger, who headed the National Security Council. Whereas Rogers believed that US efforts should be endorsed by the Soviets, Kissinger believed that the US should "focus its efforts on persuading the Arabs that their best hope lay in dealing with Washington alone" (p. 52). Kissinger's stand prevailed.
In the first phase of the War of Attrition, the US tacitly supported the Israeli raids deep in Egypt. Nixon is quoted as saying to Kissinger that he expected the Israelis to kick Nasser "where it hurts and hard" (p. 89).
The death of Nasser and the ascendance of Sadat in September 1970 were to have, in the long-term, a substantial effect on Israeli-Egyptian relations. On February 8, 1971, Sadat declared that he was prepared to reach a peace agreement with Israel. However, his [End Page 310] preconditions for peace were not acceptable...