We have won all our wars, but we have paid for them. We don’t want victories any more.
(Richard Stolley )President Kennedy said after the Cuban missile crisis that it was essential in international disputes to give the other side a way to back down gracefully. Are you giving the Arab leaders such a way?
(Golda Meir:) People forget that this was the third war in 20 years. In 1948, the United Nations partition was terrible, but we closed our eyes and said yes. We knew there were hundreds of thousands of Jews who had been saved who needed a hope to come to. And the Arabs attacked us. We accepted armistice lines because we wanted peace. We lived with those boundaries and hardly knew a day of peace. The fedayeen began then, Al Fatah today. It makes no difference. Burning and looting and killing people. In 1956, there was another war, and we backed down to save the face of the Arabs. We were young and naive and believed in the U.N. in those days. What did people honestly sincerely expect us to do after 1967 – go through it again? Should our great-grandchildren be raised in the hope that they, too, will win a war? It is true that we have won all our wars, but we have paid for them. We don’t want victories any more.
Golda Meir was elected Foreign Minister of Israel on June 17, 1956, where she would serve until taking a break to battle lymphoma. On March 17, 1969 she was elected Prime Minister. This interview is from October of 1969.
I tried to write something more involved about this excerpt, but I couldn’t make it work.
When I was a kid, up through High School or maybe even my mid 20’s, there were quite a few Middle Eastern political figures I thought were interesting. Very interesting. On a par with Rocky and Bullwinkle interesting – and, yes, I was a different sort of kid.
In a High School English class in about 1975 we were discussing current events chosen by drawing questions from a suggestion box. I’d dropped in a question Yasser Arafat, wanting to discuss what seemed to be Arafat’s gradual move from terrorist (or military commander, depending on point of view) to legitimate political leader (or patsy, again depending on point of view.) There had just been a big, front-page story about Arafat in the Stars and Stripes, and, as we were in a Department of Defense school on an Army base in Germany, the Stars and Stripes was more or less “the” newspaper we all had laying around. The Palestine Liberation Organization (terrorists or brave guerilla army, according to point of view) had been named the official political authority of Palestine in 1974, a status that would not be recognized by Israel until the early 1990’s when the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace.
I had a sinking feeling about what might happen. Moderates could talk about treaties and peace accords, but as long as there were powerful, active hardliners on either side, I did not think there would be a way for Arafat or any other Palestinian to be an effective legitimate leader. When there was trouble, Israel could blame Arafat’s leadership. If Arafat tried to enforce a moderate stance, hardline dissident Palestinians would see him as Israel’s de facto policeman.
My question was something like, “What do you think about Arafat’s role in the Middle East?” When it was drawn from the suggestion box there was total dead silence. Nobody had a clue about even who Arafat was – including the teacher. How could this be? I knew for a fact that I was not the only one who’d seen the newspaper. Maybe others had skimmed by, on their way to biorhythms and horoscopes? Maybe we did not recognize the name “Arafat” without a picture of him with his shoulder holster, standing proudly in his black-and-white scarf, in an article about the PLO. Maybe we had a tendency to go blank around problems we couldn’t fix. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, and I stayed quiet that day, embarrassed.
Back to Golda Meir
Everything has become more intractable since Golda’s time – part of that may be perception, because I doubt we were getting the whole story about both sides very often back then. There’s more story here, but you’re not going to get it here now, because I haven’t (yet) made sense of my own feelings.
Right or wrong, good or bad, whatever the politics, Golda Meir made an impression on me. As a young child, I saw her on the evening news and was struck by how purposeful and different she looked – part grandmother, part commando? – independent, matter-of-fact and not at all like June Cleaver. I looked at that strong face and thought about women coming in unexpected shapes, able to be Prime Minister of Israel or anywhere else.