I read the report that quoted an American official who described President Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It was evident from the report that despite the president’s amazing powers of persuasion, this time they failed to do the trick.
The Saudi king refused to show any flexibility and to give the president even a smidgen that he could cite as Arab flexibility.
He furthermore refused to make any gesture that might promote the president’s efforts to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
The US administration was left with just a single type of ammunition: pressure on Israel to stop all construction in the settlements, and now, in Jerusalem as well.
This is at a time that the Arabs, headed by Saudi Arabia, haven’t budged from their positions and are not prepared to make any confidence-building measures.
I recalled a similar scene from the past and turned to the history books. In February 1945, following an international conference that was attended by Stalin, who stood at the head of the Soviet communist empire, and British Prime Minister Churchill, US President Roosevelt, who had just been elected to his fourth term in office, flew to hold talks with Ibn Saud.
Ibn Saud was the father of the current king, and he was perceived at the time by the Americans as being a leading Arab figure in the region. President Roosevelt was at the peak of his popularity after having saved the American economy from the crisis that erupted at the end of the 1920s and after having led his people and the world to war against the members of the axis of evil.
He also knew that the United States would soon have a nuclear bomb that would tip the scales.
(He did not know at the time that Joseph Stalin was also privy to the nuclear secret thanks to information that was provided by a spy who operated in the United States).
The meeting was held in a Hollywood-like manner-on board an American destroyer that was anchored in the Suez Canal, Egyptian territory that was under British control for all intents and purposes.
The president was deliberating at the time as to what would be the correct solution for the issue of “Palestine.” To wit, how to bridge the gap between the promise that had been given to the Jews that they would receive a state of their own in the Land of Israel, on the one hand, and the United States’ vital interests in the Arab world both insofar as pertained to prosecuting the war (which hadn’t ended yet) and meeting the United States’ energy needs (the oil deposits are principally located in Saudi Arabia).
Roosevelt, who was known for his ability to win over the hearts of his audience, based most of his policy on that gift of his, and he was confident that his charisma would work on the Saudi king as well. But he met with utter failure.
The king was not prepared to concede a single speck of anything on any issue and refused the president completely. Roosevelt said subsequently that he had learned more in a five minute conversation with the king about the problems of the region than he had from all of the letters he’d received on the matter in Washington, alluding to the letters that had been written by Zionist leaders and the Jewish sympathizers in the United States, and perhaps also to the letters that were written by dozens of US Senate members who supported the idea of the Jewish state.
That comment was unbecoming of the president, and cast him in a bad light not only for the Jews, but also for other senior officials in the US administration. It is interesting that even though he came to the region and met also with the king of Egypt, he never found the time to meet either here or in Washington with the most senior Jewish representative, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, David Ben Gurion. Even though more than 64 years have passed, it is now apparent that thing have barely changed in Washington either.
Back then too US Jewry was divided, the president’s supporters refused to see the naked truth, the State Department was in favor of the Arabs and against the Jews, oil was the most important thing to everyone, and Congress was more attentive to the needs of the Jews in Israel than the president’s administration.
We will never know how things might have developed because the president, to the world’s regret, died in April, and the decisions were made after his demise when his vice president, Harry Truman, became president with the executive powers.
But if you thought that there was something new under the sun, you were mistaken. I hope and pray that the young American president has a healthy and full life, but he would do well were he to read the history of that great and popular Democratic president to realize that what used to be is now what is.
And I would suggest to we Israelis that we not become too excited every time there is an “unprecedented event” or an “unprecedented call.” Those are headlines that stem from the lack of historical knowledge.
Guest Editorial on July 23, 2009 in Ysirael Hayom, a daily Israeli newspaper