Howard Sachar, Professor emeritus of Modern European History, spoke Wednesday night at the Jewish Community Center, the last night of the Center’s Literary Festival. Having read over the years several of Sachar’s many books on Jewish and Middle Eastern history, I was looking forward to hearing him speak on the current state of Israel.
Sachar, in his early 80s, is tall and dapper and gentlemanly. His speech pattern is precise, his delivery very friendly, and he gives the impression of great oral elegance. This made him a joy to sit and listen to, with only one problem. The problem was the content of his speech.
Israel and the Palestinians, he said, will never agree to terms with each other. And an international mediator won’t help. What is required, Sachar maintains, is that the world powers (this seems to mean the US, Britain and certain unnamed countries, perhaps operating through the United Nations) must impose a settlement on the two middle eastern neighbors. Not with a “what do you think?”, but with a “here’s what you are going to do”.
This is the only way disputes have ever been settled, he said, hearkening back as far as the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia, and moving on through the decisions made after the Napoleonic Wars, and World Wars I and II. The creation of states, the dismantling of states, all without a vote of the states being affected. It is time, he says, for the today’s powers to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.
What? How does he think this would work? Who are these powerful nations, and why does he think that they could come to an agreement, even if they exist? Are the powerful nations all Christian, telling Jews and Moslems what to do? Does he expect that any Moslem nations will be involved and that we can sit down with, say, Saudi Arabia and come up with a proposal equally acceptable to all? Isn’t he concerned that Saudi Arabia itself is a bit vulnerable to anti-monarchic fundamentalists, for example?
And did the world powers that set European boundaries after the world war have to impose their decisions on a country with atomic weaponry? Or a country run by terrorists? And, what is even more, all the examples he gave were examples of countries who had participating in and who won a war dictating to the losers as a part of the treaty terms, and where they (so they thought) had a mechanism to monitor implementation of, and enforce against violations of, their decisions.
The US is not in a war with Israel or Palestine. And the only settlements reached by powerful nations affecting smaller nations outside a war situation are those settling colonial boundaries in the 19th century, or the Munich agreement between Britain and Nazi Germany which resulted in the transfer of the Sudentenland to Germany. And we know how successful that was.
Sachar impressed everyone with his intellect and his ability to deliver a very good speech. But I think his conclusions had everyone shaking their heads in bewilderment.