Screening and Discussion of "Golda"

Monday, October 16, 2023
Betmann Archive/Getty Images

Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies and Director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars, Council on Foreign Relations; @stevenacook

Director, Israel, The Palestinian Territories, and the Region Program, United States Institute of Peace

Director, Golda; Academy Award Winner (speaking virtually)


National Security Correspondent, NPR; CFR Member

Golda is set during the tense 19 days of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, faced with the potential of Israel’s complete destruction, must navigate overwhelming odds, a skeptical cabinet, and a complex relationship with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, with millions of lives in the balance.

MYRE: So welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations screening and discussion of Golda. I’m Greg Myre, National Security Correspondent for NPR, and I’ll be presiding over today’s discussion. We have a great panel here. 

There’s Guy. We have the director of Golda, Guy Nattiv. 

NATTIV: Hi, everyone. Hi. (Applause.) 

MYRE: Guy was born and raised in Israel. He now lives in the U.S. And I believe you’re in California at the moment, is that correct? 

NATTIV: That’s correct. 

MYRE: And his 2018 film, Skin, won the Academy Award for best live action short film. 

And to my immediate left here is Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen. She is the director of the Israel, Palestinian Territories, and the Region Program at the United States Institute of Peace. She’s the coauthor of a forthcoming volume examining the diplomatic efforts of successive U.S. administrations toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

And to her left is Steven Cook, senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s also written prolifically about the Middle East. And including a very recent piece in Foreign Policy called “The Hamas Attack has Changed Everything.” So we’ll be we’ll be touching on that. 

Guy, I’d like to start with you, and ask what was the cigarette budget for this film? (Laughter.) You know, Golda Meir— 

NATTIV: The same budget—can you hear me? 

MYRE: We’re having—you’re little choppy. If you could go ahead, just start now and see if we can hear you. 

NATTIV: The same budgets Golda had asked from the Israeli government, to buy her sixty packets a day while she traveled (daily ?). 

MYRE: Wow. Is Helen Mirren walking around with a Nicorette patch on? (Laughter.) 

NATTIV: By the way, she did not only smoke sixty packets a day, it was also black coffee and she ate basically nothing. So it was kind of a self-hate, I would say, or the situation of the country was her physical and mental situation. So we actually came in a very physical and visceral way in the film, yes. 

MYRE: Aha. Aha. No, it absolutely came across. 

Golda Meir had a remarkable life. And I’m sure many of the people in this room or watching elsewhere know that. But just to recap briefly, she was born in Kyiv in 1898. Spent a few years there, sort of last years of the Russian Empire. She was raised in Milwaukee. She moved to Israel—or, not Israel. She moved to the holy land just after World War One. She signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. Became a Knesset member the following year. The first and still only woman to be prime minister. So she had this remarkable life. Why did you choose to focus just on this one part, just on the ’73 war? 

NATTIV: Well, first of all, it was not my script. It was Nicholas Martin, the British screenwriter’s script. I came on board. It was a completely different project. It was a massive war movie. A $19 million dollar massive war movie with tanks, battalions and, you know, kind of like Private Ryan, in a way. Golda was maybe 20 percent of the whole movie. But then the pandemic happened, and the budget was cut down to fifteen (million dollars), maybe? And then after I got the project, because it was an open assignment for directors, they asked me, OK, what do you do now? What do you—how do you want to approach this whole story? And I said, you know, I rather go—undergo the skin and see how she saw the war through her own kind of like claustrophobic approach, which is, like, trapped between these walls in this war room, and the kitchen, and hall. She couldn’t go to the front because of her sickness, because she was an older person. So that made it more interesting for me, as someone who grew up on films from the ’70s like, you know, the Coppola movie The Conversation, when you see Gene Hackman being fed with sound, rather than see what he’s looking at. 

So it was a specific time, because in order to tell Golda’s story, you’d need a miniseries. Something like Chernobyl. You know, you need, like, eight episode of her entire life, especially in Israel, but there’s so much to tell. So we wanted to focus on the ten days of the Yom Kippur War. It was significant for me too, because I’m a Yom Kippur baby. I was born into this war. My mother fled to the shelter with me as a kid. And the debacle, that the big fuckup that they had on Yom Kippur, this is something we wanted to concentrate in and to actually clear her name because Golda was a pariah. She considered the face of the failure. And reading all those documents and declassified documents that came out, you know, ten years ago, you understood—you understand while reading it that she’s not the only one to blame. So in a nutshell, that’s my—that’s my answer. 

MYRE: Got it. Did the ’73 war have special resonance for you? As you said, because you were just a few months old. So is this something that growing up you always felt some connection to because of that? 

NATTIV: Yeah, because, you know, growing up in Israel, you they never spoke about the wars as a success, as a win. You know, they always spoke about—and Gold Meir, you know, other than Ben Gurion and, you know, you have so many squares and streets and high schools and schools with other people’s names, but not hers. And I was wondering why I am not getting Golda’s name in my, you know, childhood as something positive. So for me, I grew up on a myth. You know, she was on the 100-shekel bill, and that’s it. You know, her she was a one-dimensional character, and some—you know, no one spoke to her—about her as something that you really thought of. So for me, it was going back in and understand this myth, and why I grew up on this wrong, you know, information. 

MYRE: And it sounded like this project started pre-pandemic. Was it—was it planned—that time, was it planned to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the war, or did that just sort of work out to be coincidental? 

NATTIV: Actually, it wasn’t. It was supposed to be shot in 2019. And then the pandemic happened. And then it completely fell apart. And then Bleecker Street and Embankment came on board to make it happen in London with Helen and with the Israeli actors. And half the crew was Israeli. So, no, we didn’t know it will be—it would become the fiftieth anniversary. And we didn’t actually know that a few months after the movie comes out in the cinema, we’re going to have Yom Kippur two, you know, and what’s going on right now in Israel. 

We see it’s ten times worse than that the debacle and the failure from Yom Kippur. This is unimaginable. This is—this is—no one—when we work on this movie, on Golda, I spoke to so many commanders from Yom Kippur. And after every research, they told me, don’t worry. It’s not going to happen again. Don’t worry. Like, this is, like, the 1973. It’s not going to happen again, but it’s good that you’re telling this story. So no one had imagined that this thing will come back times. 

MYRE: Yeah. I’ll confess, I mean, I had this discussion along years ago and saying, yeah, nothing like the ’73 war could happen. You just go on—just go on social media and you would see the open-source satellite photos. You would see Syrian tanks massed in the Golan. You would see the Egyptian army massed. So, I mean, yes, you could have a cyberattack or something. But you couldn’t have the mass army. So I will confess to complete surprise myself. 

Stick with us, Guy. I’d like to bring Lucy and Steven into the conversation as well. And, Lucy, you know, you could watch—I watched this movie a month or two ago in the cinema. And it’s, you know, it’s a little bit like a time capsule going fifty years into the past. And now today it resonates so strongly with what we’ve seen. Talk to us about that. 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: I mean, yes. And I—you know, in a somewhat surreal moment, I ended up—I wasn’t able to join the screening tonight, so watched it—I watched it just last weekend. Literally, almost as the news started—had been emerging about what was happening right before then. And so, yes, something that I think watching two weeks earlier, a week earlier would have seen maybe like a time capsule and a valuable and interesting part of history and sort of lessons learned maybe, but lessons we thought may not need to be applied again, really came crashing down in real sort of sharp focus. 

But I think one of the things that just struck me, and something that Guy just said, it’s almost—right, there was a—there was, like, a failure of imagination after what happened. The idea that that something like this could possibly happen again. You know, the term that was used, as we all know, around ’73 was this concepcia (ph) that broke down in ’73 that, you know, they would be able to be prepared for an attack that would come at the magnitude that happened. And I think we are here now asking those same questions. I presume there will be the kind of commission of inquiry that we saw framing the movie, Guy’s movie, in due course. But it is hard.  

I mean, I think maybe we’ll get into it in the conversation. There are probably other analogies to draw on, on sort of what this—there are things about what happened last weekend, what’s unfolding now, that are so analogous to that time. And then things where I think the analysis needs to—where it parts ways, and particularly in terms of where we go from here and what might grow out of it. 

MYRE: Steven, you’ve written extensively about Egypt. So talk a little bit about how Egypt pulled this off in 1973. 

COOK: Yeah, thanks so much, Greg. 

First, I just want to say hello to everybody. It’s great—it’s great to be here. It’s great to see everybody. I also want to say, this is a rather extraordinary Council meeting. This is my first Academy Award winner. So congratulations, Guy. Also, I love this movie. And it’s also my first meeting with the F-bomb. So thanks again for that, Guy. (Laughter.) Appreciate that. It’s something I haven’t heard in twenty years at CFR. Now I can say I experienced that. 

You know, I think there is—that is the thing that is hanging over this film, was how did the Egyptians manage to do this? And part of it, and Guy has alluded to and Lucy’s spoken about in the current—in the current conflict, which is that there was a complacency that set in among the Israeli leadership, and the idea that they had a certain paradigm and a certain idea of what the Egyptians could and could not do. And in fact, the Egyptians were actually rather creative in how they engaged in a fair amount of deception in the run up to October 6, and lying to their partners, lying to the Soviets, lying to the to the Syrians. Hafez al-Assad would not have joined Anwar Sadat in this war had he not believed that Anwar Sadat actually wanted to destroy Israel. Anwar Sadat told the Soviets that his goals were actually larger for the war, so that he would get more equipment, that the Soviets actually kind of begrudgingly handed over to the Egyptians.  

And then, actually, the Egyptians had a number of very talented—a number of talented military officers. Lieutenant General Kamal el-Shazly (ph), who planned this whole thing, and understood what the Egyptians could and could not do. And on the afternoon of October 6, breached the Bar-Lev Line, something no one, anybody—you saw she refers to—in the movie—she refers to Haim. Haim is Haim Bar-Lev, which were these fortifications along the east bank of the canal that everybody believed were impregnable. And the Egyptians came up with actually a rather simple—rather simple, but straightforward plan to breach the Bar-Lev line. Now, they did not intend to drive much further into the Sinai than they did in the original push. Sadat told the Syrians and the and the Russians that he would drive all the way to Tel Aviv, but his order actually to the Egyptian armed forces was to gain a toehold in the Sinai Peninsula, so that it would open up avenues of diplomacy. 

And that—and let me bring that into what Guy called Yom Kippur two. Two days of fasting would be way too much. We can call it something else, I hope. In that, there have been many, many analogies linking October 1973 and October 2023. Fifty years in one day to the anniversary of the crossing of the Suez Canal, a war in Egypt which is celebrated. Guy says it’s—you know, you don’t really hear about it in Israel. Well, if you’ve lived in Egypt in an October, on October 6, you were—could not ignore the celebrations of a great victory. In any event, the difference being that Sadat’s goals were actually to negotiate, to open up pathways for diplomacy. That was not what Hamas’ goals were when it breached Israel’s borders on October 7. 

And so that’s where I think all the analogies break down. Yes, there was a big surprise. Yes, there will be some Agranat-like commission that will study the failures of Israel’s leadership. But beyond that, it strikes me that the overall strategic goals of the, at least the primary antagonists, in October 1973 were quite different from what they were—you know, what they are in October 2023. 

MYRE: Right. Right. So let’s pick up on that. This was a seminal moment for the region, the entire region. Obviously, the shock for Israel, but it had implications everywhere. But six years later, there’s a peace treaty. To what extent did that—could you talk a little bit about—and Guy, of course, addressed this in the movie as well. 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: Right. So and, again, picking up, I fully agree. I think that’s where this analogy breaks right down. I think this was very much, I think, Sadat had a vision. And it was a vision of creating a crisis, and certainly a very bloody crisis and a very painful one, certainly, but a crisis with a view to opening up space for a diplomatic pathway and opportunity. And, of course, I think what got lost—I found it fascinating—when all the conversation started in, you know, 2020, with the lead up to the Abraham Accords and normalization, you saw this interesting flip at some point where the Egyptians, and to some extent the Jordanians, are, like, hey, we were the original normalizers, right? There’s the old normalizers and the new normalizers.  

And I think people have almost forgotten by the time of the Abraham Accords, right, that you’d had this seminal—this sort of groundbreaking normalization agreement that happened when it did, that really that space was opened up by what happened and what we saw happen in ’73. And, again, is Steven said, many probably know this—it really is celebrated. Ultimately, Israel won, technically, the war, it is celebrated as a victory in Egypt. It was a psychological victory. It was—but it did lead, again to a peace that never really percolated—permeated down to the—you know, it’s a cold—it was a cold peace, but it but it opened up the space. And I think that the challenges Steven was just alluding to with what we see today, it’s hard right now to see where’s the opportunity that opens up from this crisis?  

Because, again, I don’t think the intent was there in the same way by those who brought this on. And so I think, you know, maybe if we get to that later in the conversation, can we think of where others might be able to find eventually—it’s hard to think in that headspace right now—of those opportunities maybe that takes us back to this regional normalization paradigm we’ve been seeing right up until the day that this attack happened. But we’re a long road to there. 

MYRE: Yeah. So, Steven, we—hard to see Israel and Hamas ever sitting down and talking. But what the other things we have seen with the Abraham Accords and the Saudi—potential Saudi-Israel relationship, do you think this—six months out, a year out, if the dust settles in Gaza it could reinforce the need or the interest in trying to create another accord? Or is this going to just going to wreck things for the next year or two, and likely shove those to the side for the foreseeable future? 

COOK: Yeah, great. And, you know, this is one of the challenges of having a conversation like this and projecting out. The Israeli ground offensive has been imminent since at least Saturday and has yet to materialize. But the I think that the—all indications point to a major ground invasion. And we’ve already seen a tremendous, tremendous suffering in the Gaza Strip. And the—it strikes me as it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move forward under such circumstances. He is a very different Saudi ruler than his father or his uncles, who have ruled—who have been forced to rule actually by consensus, behind closed doors by consensus. And once different constituencies of the House of Saud come to an agreement, then the king makes a decree, and then it is law. 

Mohammed bin Salman wants to rule more like his grandfather did, the founder of Saudi Arabia. A one-man show. And he has accumulated power in order to allow him to do that. But even so—even so, if he wants to normalize relations, this is a one issue—one issue where public opinion will matter. It was not that long ago that Saudis were holding telethons for Hamas suicide bombers. It is deeply raw for many Saudis to countenance the idea of normalization. Even in those countries where the Abraham Accords have moved forward, where there is robust economic relations, security relations, Israel remains profoundly, profoundly unpopular. Even in Egypt, the original normalizer.  

There, Egyptian nationalism is deeply intertwined with Palestinian nationalism. Very, very difficult to kind of pull those apart. And what Sadat envisioned was something different from what he achieved. And what he actually achieved was a separate peace, which was a shameful peace, from the perspective of many Egyptians. Of course, they’ve benefited over the years of not having to invest in the kinds of military structures, although they’re huge in Egypt, that they would need if they continued to be in a state of war. But nevertheless, beyond that kind of pocketbook issue, which must be very, very hard, even in a country that’s as poor as Egypt, it is deeply, deeply the sense of responsibility and sense of nationalism is deeply connected to the Palestinian issue. 

So I don’t even know if in a year or two when the dust settles, given what we think is likely to unfold in Gaza, that new normalizers will come along. Actually, in an odd way, I think some of the recent normalizers—I think some of those relations will remain. But any new normalizers, I think it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for them to make that kind of move. 

MYRE: Mmm hmm. Guy, in your movie, I know that—I think—believe you and some of your actors were able to talk to some of the people from ’73. Can you tell us a little bit about that, who you or the actors met with, what kind of response you got? 

NATTIV: Yeah, first of all, Steven, Lucy, this is fascinating to hear you talking about the situation. Liev Schreiber met with Kissinger two days before coming to set. So met him at his apartment in in New York. He’s a hundred by now, but he’s super sharp. 

MYRE: You’re breaking up just a little bit, Guy. Maybe— 

NATTIV: How old is he? I think—he’s a hundred, right, Kissinger? I think— 

MYRE: Was he happy with who you cast? (Laughter.) 

NATTIV: Sharp and (engaged ?). He actually gave Liev the sentence, well, you know, we read from right to left or, you know, we have this—(inaudible)—second, you know? So the thing was—the whole scene was upgraded because of Kissinger’s stories, you know, that he told Liev. And Liev came to set, and I reshot him. But it was amazing to work with Liev and Helen in that specific scene. We met with Professor Medzini, was the only one from the Cabinet of Golda who’s still alive. He’s ninety-one. And he gave me all the anecdotes, all the small little details about how Golda reacted. And it’s called the Handkerchief Operation, that she got all those treatments where nobody knew about it. At 2:00 a.m. Haddassah Hospital. And the fact that she was really, really sick and she just tried to hide it. And you know, all those—the relationship—the relationship with her with her helper that she was so close to. And this is another movie. 

But the fact—the fact that Golda took responsibility. At the end of this debacle, in the end of this—I call it failure, by the way. I don’t think we won the war. I call it a total failure. It’s the Vietnam of Israel in a way. And—(inaudible)—not sure that Benjamin Netanyahu will do the same. You know, so if you compare the two, Golda was very, very honest about the whole thing. You know, she knew that she failed. She gave answers to the committee. And she took responsibility. She couldn’t live with the truth. She also gave her trust in the judicial system. That’s another point. (Laughter.) But I think Benjamin Netanyahu—yeah. But I don’t think Benjamin Netanyahu—(inaudible). 

You know, think about the differences between ’73 and now. Both governments had hubris. They were very proud. They thought that they are controlling the Middle East: We are the kings of the Middle East. No one can harm us. No one will dare touch Israel. We were wrong. They were wrong. (Inaudible)—now if Israel would not withdraw her forces from (Gaza ?). So we don’t even know what’s going to happen. I think that the thing is that Bibi is trapped with a very extreme government. Golda was in a different situation. 

MYRE: Mmm hmm. What was your first reaction, Guy, Saturday morning, nine, ten days ago when you woke up and heard that? 

NATTIV: Well, I was talking to Helen about coming to the U.S. to do some PR for the movie, because there was the strike and we got the—(inaudible)—thing. And as we speak, we’re getting those text messages from Israel: Oh my God. We have an invasion. This is Yom Kippur two. This is, like—and I said, what are you doing? Why are you just fooling me right now? What are you—and then I’m getting the poster of Golda with Bibi’s face instead of Helen’s to my phone. And—can you hear me? Can you see me? 

MYRE: Yeah. Well, you’re breaking up a little bit, but go ahead. Yes, you’re just—just start up with you were seeing Bibi’s face on the poster. 

NATTIV: And Helen and I are, what is going on? And we just cut the conversation and went to the TV to see just the debacle unfolding. And I was in complete shock. Try to use my—(inaudible)—for people who lost their loved ones or people that are, you know, missing. And starting—people were sending me texts, please post this, I lost my brother, I lost my sister, I lost my—you know, my husband is missing. And I use that in my platform to help raise their voice in the U.S. 

MYRE: Wow. Wow. It’s incredible. Incredible, Guy. 

Let me put this to both Steven and Lucy. Are major terror attacks going to be something that’s with us? They may be rare, but we’re going to see? You know, 9/11, we couldn’t imagine. This one we couldn’t imagine. They’re rare. You know, the West countries are paying more attention, probably harder to pull them off. But is this something we’re going to see periodically? 

COOK: Well, I do remember in July of 2001, the New York Times ran an op-ed by a former U.S. government counterterrorism official who said that terrorism was something of the past, and actually it had been something that had been had been hyped by pro-Israel organizations in Washington. And then, of course, within six weeks of that op-ed appearing, 9/11 happened. I think that—and I think in recent years, especially since President Trump declared the 100 percent defeat of the Islamic State, I think the American people have been lulled into a false sense that there is no threat out there. Those of us who—you know, pre-pandemic, I was in Iraq. There was no 100 percent defeat of the Islamic State. There is a continued threat out there, and threats continue to metastasize. 

That doesn’t mean that we should pursue a post-9/11-like strategy to transform the Middle East. I have a—I have a book that’s coming out in June that talks about this theme, in particular this era of ambition in the region, that we actually do need to recognize that there are threats and remaining threats out there and continuing metastasizing threats but approach them in very different ways than we had in the—over the last—over the last twenty years. But I suspect that surprise and surprise attacks and government failures are going to be part of our lives forever. 

I think one of the things—and I noticed in the—in the audience here there’s a number of current serving, I won’t name them, and former serving intelligence professionals. And I think that the—I think that one of the interesting things is that we refer to these things as intelligence failures. And every time we have one of these intelligence failures we’d go back and we look at all the information. And all the information was there. And what it was—ended up being was a leadership and political failure, more than anything else. And this failure of imagination and complacency. And that’s what my Israeli contacts had been saying over the course of the last nine days now, that just an utter complacency about their security situation. That Bibi was—for all of his problems—was actually—had actually achieved something, and that was security for the state of Israel. But I think this should be certainly—should be a warning to those who believe that these threats no longer exist.  

MYRE: Lucy, you want to add to that? 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: Yeah, I mean, I’d I pick up just an additional angle to this, that I think what is striking and notable, and I think it feeds into this conversation of what happens next and particularly if there is a ground invasion what’s the next—what’s the goal and what happens after. That if you think about wars being fought now, you’re increasingly—Israel since the 1973, its wars are with nonstate actors, right? And what does that do for the implications of how you get to diplomatic end games. It’s a very different equation when you’re fighting with nonstate actors and nonstate terrorist actors. And I think it complicates the picture in a way that was different.  

Not to—not to underestimate how hard it was to get from 1973 war to the diplomatic coup, in some ways, that ultimately was Camp David. But I think that’s where I think we should be putting, you know, our heads around what does it mean—what does it mean to be in a world where wars are being fought between states and nonstate actors? And what does this mean for the calculations of actors when they’re in these types of situations? And I think we’re going to see that unfold as Israel calculates going in. Whether it’s inevitable it’s going in right now or not, I think we’re all waiting to see what is going to happen. But you have to imagine that some of that calculation—we know that some—we already see reports that some of the questions being asked is what to what end, and what goal, and what does—what does victory look like in that kind of situation? 

MYRE: Just couple more questions here then we’ll open it up to the audience. So get your—get your questions ready here in just a couple minutes. 

Steven, what’s Israel’s option in Gaza? They say that, unlike in the past where they basically went after the militants but left Hamas political leaders in place, this time they’re going after all of Hamas. They want to take out the political level as well. So if Hamas is not going to run Gaza, who does that leave? It could leave an Israeli military, but they don’t seem to have the appetite for occupation right now. Egypt doesn’t want it. Other Arab states don’t want it. What options—I realize we may be getting a little ahead of ourselves here. But what options does Israel have if they don’t want Hamas to run Gaza anymore? 

COOK: That is the—that is the question. The Israeli war Cabinet has given the IDF instructions to destroy Hamas. This is actually the first time that the Israeli government has actually given me instructions to destroy Hamas. Out there in the ether, you may have heard people say, oh, well, they’ve tried before and they haven’t done it. Well, actually, no, they have not tried. In 2014, they were counseled by the Egyptians to destroy Hamas, and the Israelis said to the Egyptians, no, we’re not going to do that, because we fear a power vacuum in Gaza. Who would run Gaza? 

So now the situation is flipped. Israelis are wounded, and angry, and vengeful, and say that they can’t live with the current circumstances. And if you put yourself in the shoes of Israelis, it’s hard to imagine how you could live in those—in that situation. And that they’re faced with a range of absolutely impossible, impossible choices, confronted with a public that very much wants to end the threat of Hamas as well. So assuming that they can do it, assuming that it will take a long time to do it, the Israelis are confronted with the prospect of occupying parts or all of the West Bank for some period of time. 

What the diplomacy will bring remains really an open question, right? As you point out, the Egyptians don’t want to touch Gaza and fear that the Israelis want to dump Gaza back onto them. No one would ever believe that, you know, the Saudis and others will actually take up a responsibility that they—that they commit to at some international conference held in some beautiful European capitals someplace. So I’m afraid that the Israelis just will go into Gaza, try to achieve their goals however they do, and then confront the harsh reality of they have nobody to give this thing to. 

There is a real chance—there is a real chance that they could end up, despite themselves, back in the Gaza Strip. I would point out that may in fact be a strategic goal of Hamas and its patrons, is to suck the Israelis—because nothing will weaken Israeli society more than this kind of ongoing, grinding conflict where they, once again, have to reoccupy parts or all of the Gaza Strip for whatever period of time. 

MYRE: And, Guy, what are you hearing from people in Israel—friends, family, whoever—in Israel? What are you hearing? 

NATTIV: It’s really hard. The entire country’s mourning. Every day there’s another child, baby, being buried. You know, and it’s just—it’s just slashing us from within. Everyone is now focusing on bringing back the missing people and the captives. We’re talking about Holocaust survivors, babies, women. Almost 200 people are captive. This is unheard of. So the entire Israel is, like, campaigning right now—bring our people back. Bring back, negotiate, and then do the war or do whatever you need to do to destroy Hamas. But bring our people back, because you can do that while you are going into war. These people will die. And we all know that. 

But it’s—everyone is still in shock. How this, with the high-tech country, this could happen in 2023? With our army, the best air force in the Middle East. I mean, how can this happen? Everyone is still in shell shock, and then grief, and then, you know, what’s next? And as you said, Steven, it’s, who do you give Gaza to? Let’s say that Hamas is gone? What’s next, you know? Is it going to be the PLO controlling it? But we tried that before and they failed, you know? So what’s next? So it’s—there’s a lot of unknowns and a lot of people are just not shocked. And it’s very bad. Yeah. 

MYRE: Thanks, Guy, for that perspective. 

We can open it up to the to the audience. So put up your hand and we’ve got some microphones. We’ll come to you. Right here. 

Q: Hi there. Steve Alperin (ph), U.S. State Department.  

There is a— 

COOK: We got a ringer here. 

Q: Yeah. (Laughter.) Guy, congratulations on a great movie. In addition to the claustrophobia that you said you were trying to create, you did create a great sense of intimacy and what it was like to be Golda Meir at that time. I mean, you really feel it in your bones. 

NATTIV: Thank you. 

Q: There’s a great line that you channeled through her where she says, “It’s easy to know when you’ve lost, but it’s much harder to know when you’ve won.” And I would say that in the case of a conflict with a nonstate actor, that’s particularly the case. So if you want to react to that, please do. And did you—was that—I know, even pre-October 7, was that something that you wanted to include in the movie as a message to current leaders? Thank you. 

NATTIV: Yeah, there’s another line. First of all, again, it’s not my script. It’s Nicholas Martin. But there’s another line that she says to Sharon. You know, every political career ended in failure. I mean, so true. Look at what Ariel Sharon did. He was the hero of the state and he went down after he pulled out of Gaza. You know, but, you know, what we got what we saw and all those terror attacks. But, yes, everything that is in the script, and I’m talking for Nicolas right now, has a meaning to where we are today and for the current government and the political aspect, yes. 

MYRE: Yes. 

Q: I’m Tomicha Tillemann with Haun Ventures. Thank you for a remarkable movie and a remarkable event.  

Two related questions. You framed the narrative through the investigative commission, the Agranat Commission, that took a look at the conflict after the fact. And I’d be curious to know if there are lessons from that experience that apply to the current state of affairs in Israel. You touched on this a little bit. I’d love to hear a little bit more. Similarly, we saw in the movie the devastating effect of responding to a preplanned surprise attack in a manner that, de facto, played into the hands of Israel’s opponents in the region. Are there risks from that that should also be thought about and considered in responding to the current crisis? 

NATTIV: Are you asking me? I’m not sure I’m the right person to answer that. (Laughter.) 

COOK: Guy, please you are the director here. Answer whatever you want to answer, and then I’ll play cleanup. (Laughter.) 

NATTIV: I think that you will see in the next year a government falling down completely. You will see an investigative committee slashing this and operating exactly what happened from the—from the soldiers in the viewfinder, in the—in the—like, looking at those monitors on the border, until the prime minister. They’re all going to go down. Yes, there will be a committee. But Bibi is done. And that’s a good thing, because I think now, after this horrible war that we’re experiencing from both sides—because I am pro-Palestinian, two-state solution—we hopefully will have a meeting. Which means we will have a—with big enough and with, you know, human enough, and with—you know, like Begin and Sadat made peace for the next generation. I really hope we will have that guy, because Bibi is done. And if that horrible war—(inaudible)—so be it. But I think he’s done. And I think this committee will be—will be investigating everyone. 

COOK: I mean, let me just follow up and do a little cleanup for Guy. Certainly, when it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu, his political future, there early polls, and the polling in the Israeli public, has something like 79 percent of people would like him to go. But after this conflict. Of course, you know, since, you know, 2009, people have been saying, you know, Bibi is not going to win. He’s going he’s going to go. So call me when he really does go. (Laughter.) And let’s not also—I mean, certainly there is this extraordinary moment where there is massive failure in everything that he stood for in terms of, as I said before, being Mr. Security and the king of Israel, and so on and so forth, has been undermined. 

But I wonder—and I’m just wondering, I don’t know—I wonder whether this kind of attack and the number of casualties in Israel actually pushes Israel to the right, pushes Israel to the right. Now that may not return Netanyahu to our office, but maybe someone else. So certainly, Guy’s vision is something that I think all fair-minded people, you know, hope for that there, we bring in into this conflict in some way in which, you know, Palestinians get some measure of justice. But again, this shock of these events may shock the Israeli political system. Like there was no peace camp to begin with. I mean, well, Guy’s out in California. There’s a peace camp there. But there’s no peace camp in Israel. And I think at least for the short period of time, it has been buried further—six feet down further. 

Now, in terms of your question about military strategy, I’m not a guns and trucks guy. But what it strikes me that, you know, people have been asking why now and what’s Hama’s goals? Don’t they know they’re going to bring the full fury the IDF on Hamas? Yes. But, as I said before in response to another question, sucking the Israelis into a grinding conflict is actually, from where Hamas military commanders stand, no matter how many of them are killed, is actually a very, very good strategy. I suspect that we’re seeing this, you know, like I said, last Friday—starting last Friday, everybody told me, you know, oh, it’s going to be tomorrow. I suspect, one, Israelis aren’t ready. And, two, they must be thinking: How do we do this without getting sucked into this in a way that will advance Hama’s strategic goals? 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: If I can just add a couple of things on that, because I think that’s right. I think Hamas obviously calculated that Israel would have some kind of heavy response. And I think Hamas knows that this puts Israel—it doesn’t—it has no good options here. And I—you know, I think you’ve used Mr. Security that was often associated there. I was always struck by a piece that I’m sure mutual friend or colleague of ours, Natan Sachs, once wrote where he talked—he talked about Netanyahu’s anti-solutionism, was the term he used, which was this notion that the approach for so many years to the—to the conflict, and Guy says—you know, reminds us of this notion that sadly may seem quaint at this moment of a two-state solution, but the Netanyahu approach, the sort of theory went, was anti-solutionism, right?  

And I think that the kind of—the modus vivendi and operandi between Israel and Hamas for a long while fit into that equation. Wow, when this has come to the fore, what does anti-solutionism look like, right? What does—where do you go from here, is the question that I think this has, you know, blown wide open. In terms of building back from here—and, yes, I too, Guy, share this notion of, you know, if there’s—is there, and I think it will take a long time, but will this lead to some reopening up?  

Again, not in the ways we saw—I was very struck in your movie, by the way, in the film, the scene at the end where she’s in bed, presumably the notion almost on her deathbed, and she’s watching—and she’s watching the—I mean, Golda is watching the peace agreement being signed. And you also have that footage where she’s joking around with Sadat, which is very poignant in the film. That’s not what we’re going to see playing out here, right? There is going to be—it’s going to take a new generation, a different Israeli leader. It’s going to take some bold Israeli and Palestinian leadership. And it’s hard to identify what that looks like right now. 

What worries me the most about what we’re seeing right now, of course, in terms of the devastation we’ve already seen, unimaginable, in Israel, and the devastation we’re already seeing in Gaza, and we’ll yet see more of if this goes through a ground war. Yes, attitudes had already been so hardline on both sides. We at my organization had done a poll with all map of youth attitudes in 2020. We did a second round just recently. The zero-sum nature of each side’s attitudes towards each other was already pretty stark. When you hear the way—I think the psychology on both sides right now, what is striking to me is each side has been plunged back into their 1948 trauma. You’re hearing that language. You’re hearing that what happened, especially for those on the kibbutzim last weekend, you’re hearing directly. 

We haven’t seen that since 1948. You’re hearing Palestinians saying, are we facing another Nakba? Everybody has entrenched back into this 1948 psychology that will take a long time, a very, very long time and a lot of hard work, too. So that’s where—but, within that, I will—will there also be a we can’t go on like this, because what is the solution? Where do we go from here. And with some bold leadership, and I think it will have to be Israeli, Palestinian, and regional, hopefully, and international. That’s what it’s going to take. But that is a long time from here. 


MYRE: We have time for—Guy, go ahead. Go. 

NATTIV: (Inaudible)—what you said, Lucy. It took a while to do the peace treaty with Egypt. It didn’t happen in a day. It was—it took, like, three years until they signed the peace treaty. You know, so Camp David was only in 1978, I think. I think we need to let—to give it—to give it time. To have a new leader, to have a new prime minister, to have a new leadership, a younger one with, as you said, ballsy from both sides, let it—to let it go. OK, that’s—(laughter)—that’s me. But it will take time, you’re right. But I think there’s a hope after the destruction—after the destruction, there’s hope for a better future for younger, you know, leaders. 

MYRE: We’re really breaking some language barriers here tonight, aren’t we, Steven? (Laughter.) 

COOK: It’s the new Council. 

MYRE: Yeah. I think we can squeeze one more quick question in here. Yes. You got a microphone coming. 

Q: Thank you. I’m Paula Stern.  

I dare think that in this group I’m the only person who met Golda Meir. And was very, very exciting. On the maternal side, and actually related. My question is about those cousins or others who might—we don’t know the names of, or I don’t know, and I’m hoping you, our scholars, might, who could come forward, who are not of Hamas, who have been working behind the scenes for if not a to a two-state solution, at least working from humanitarian points of view, who could serve as leaders in Gaza. Can you give us any names or individuals who have stood out or stood up for peace and a two-state solution? 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: Look, there are—there are plenty of Palestinians who are not represented by either Hamas in Gaza or necessarily Fatah in the West Bank, who have—who are working—I mean, working for peace. And one of the challenges of new leadership is the systems have been very atrophied, right? There’s been no room for sort of—there’s been—there have not been elections the Palestinians have been able to participate in since 2005, right? So there is—there has not really been opportunity for new leadership to emerge.  

The disillusionment of Palestinians with their own leaders, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, has been very clear and very stark for a while. I mean, it’s interesting to note as well that in all this we’re talking about the biggest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration we have seen. And if we’ve noticed, you barely hear Mahmoud Abbas’ name in the mix here. He’s been sort irrelevant, in terms of lacked credibility within his own—among his own populace for a long time. And so I think there has been—there’s a there’s a real pipeline, vacuum, certainly. And so that remains a challenge. 

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t Palestinians who would want to see leadership that takes them in a more positive direction. In terms of names, I mean, I don’t know if, Steven, anything comes to mind for you here, but. 

COOK: I have to be honest with you, I’m sort of the hanging judge in Washington when it comes to the two-state solution. I just don’t see how it comes out, even if you do have changes of leadership and foreign visionary leadership. Because the minimum requirements that the Israelis have for peace, the Palestinians can’t deliver. And the minimum requirements that the Palestinians have for peace, the Israelis cannot satisfy. And that leads to you have a structure of a conflict in which you just have stalemate. Even if we could identify those Israeli and Palestinian leaders who seek a two-state solution, that would be a very significant challenge for them to overcome.  

I would say that right now looking across the board at both leaderships, or would-be be leaderships in both societies, there isn’t an identifiable leader who supports the two-state solution. People can mouth these words, but the place where the two-state solution remains the place that is most live is here in Washington, because we haven’t come to grips with what has actually happened here. And that is, is that the Israelis have essentially, in the West Bank, had a permanent—have a permanent occupation that is a creeping annexation of the land. This has driven many Palestinian intellectuals and others to believe that there is no two-state solution, any two-state solution at this point would not provide justice for the Palestinians because they would be negotiating for even less than the 20 percent of Palestine. If you include all the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, that’s only 20 percent of Palestine. 

So I’m not sure who there is. But, I will say, my research associate and I today we’re talking about wouldn’t be nice if we came up with a list of five or so people who have some credibility? And she, who has some expertise in this area, kind of looked at me quizzically and said: I’ll get on that. (Laughter.) But I think—I don’t think we’re going to come up with people, particularly under circumstances for the period of time that we can foresee into. And that’s only until, I don’t know, an hour or so from now? (Laughter.) I think a lot of prognostication on these kinds of things are quite difficult, but if we see the kind of trends in the way in which leaders in these communities look at this conflict, I only see stalemate. 

MYRE: Lucy? 

KURTZER-ELLENBOGEN: Yeah, I would say one last on that, because your question, as I heard it, was not necessarily two-state solution, but peace. I think for many years, the consensus was that the two-state solution would be the only way to get to a sustainable peace. I agree absolutely with Steven’s analysis of it is very hard to—it’s been increasingly hard, for all the reasons Steven points out. You know, the occupation, the creeping annexation, and all the way the dynamics have gone, to imagine practically how that’s done. I’m wondering if the irony of this moment might be, and again, Guy, absolutely take your point, right? This was not ’73 war and peace deal with Egypt the day after. It takes time. But it is also these moments when you think of what the alternative to two states is, right?  

There’s the, you know, one binational state. Confederation is an idea that many people have been talking about. Because of the dynamics I talked about in the last answer with how much this has thrown the attitudes back, is it almost even harder today to think of a scenario where peace is brought about by these two groups living in whether it’s a binational state or some confederal arrangement? I mean, I wonder if this almost in a bizarre way throws back the conversation open to, and they say this as just, you know, without a value judgment either way, too, well, is some kind of separation going to be the way that this gets resolved? I don’t know, but I think that those questions—again, we’re a long way from where those conversations are going to start grappling with these issues. But I think these are the things we need to start thinking about. 

MYRE: So, Guy, I hope we’ve given you some ideas for your next movie, the two-state solution. (Laughter.) 

COOK: I have some suggestions of who might play me. (Laughter.) 

MYRE: So I’d like to thank everybody for coming and taking part in the discussion this evening. Please note the video and the transcript will be posted on CFR’s website. Please, great round of applause for all our panelists this evening. (Applause.) 


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