Several months before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, then-Israeli prime minister Golda Meir used West German diplomatic channels to offer Egypt most of the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace, according to documents released Sunday by the state archives.
During a series of meetings with West German chancellor Willy Brandt, who was making a historic visit to Israel in early June 1973, Meir offered “to meet with them (the Egyptians) for the first personal contact, anywhere, any time and at any level” and asked Brandt to convey to the Egyptians her desire to meet as well as Israel’s willingness to cede most of the Sinai in a peace treaty with Egypt.
Israel captured the peninsula from Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War. According to the records, Meir was not willing to return completely to the 1967 lines in the event of a handover.
“He can tell Sadat that he, Brandt, is convinced that we truly want peace. 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, etc.,” Meir said in a later meeting.
West German diplomatic personnel later met in Cairo with Hafiz Ismail, a close adviser to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, and relayed the Israeli proposal, which Ismail reportedly rejected bluntly.
As long as Israel was not willing to return completely to the 1967 lines, there was no point in negotiations, he reportedly said, adding that there would be no “talks about talks.” Ismail, during the meeting, held forth about world indifference to the situation in the Arab world and said that “from now on, the Arabs’ fate is in their own hands.”
Several months later Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur War, in October 1973, on Judaism’s holiest day, catching Israel by surprise. Egypt made great initial gains in the Sinai, which were subsequently turned around by an Israeli counteroffensive before a truce was declared.
Israel retained possession of the Sinai, but later, in 1978, Egypt entered into a deal resembling Meir’s proposal as a result of the Camp David Accords, and over the next few years the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt.
The release by the state archives revealed many more details of chancellor Brandt’s visit, which took place against the fallout of the 1972 Munich Massacre. The archives note that Brandt was lukewarm about West Germany acting as an intermediary between Israel and Egypt, and sent a relatively low-level diplomatic agent to Egypt to convey Meir’s offer.
The documents also revealed that Israel had tried on at least two previous occasions to use a European country as an intermediary to jump-start negotiations with the Egyptians, but to no avail.