Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nicolae Ceaușescu's Execution and Israeli-Egyptian Peace

23 years ago, Nicolae Ceaușescu, the tyrant of Romania, was executed by a firing squad. This was the conclusion of the bloodiest chapter in the fall of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The story unfolded as follows: after riots began in Timişoara on December 17, a mass meeting was organized in Bucharest. While Ceaușescu was delivering his speech there, many in the crowd started booing and jeering, startling the dictator. What followed was an attempted crack-down on the demonstrators by the Romanian army and security forces, but soon many of the soldiers sided with the demonstrators. Ceaușescu and his notorious wife Elena attempted to flee, but were caught and executed by soldiers after a short show trial by a military tribunal (I think we can spare the readers of this blog the pictures of the execution).

Ceaușescu had the distinction of being the only leader of a communist state who did not break off diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War. This fact, and his allegedly independent stance in foreign relations, gave Ceaușescu an important position and role in the early stages of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.

Last month, we published on our official site a publication on Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem. During their initial contacts, Israel and Egypt used the good services of Ceaușescu to pass messages to each other and to arrange for a meeting between Moshe Dayan, Israel's foreign minister, and Hasan Tohami, the Egyptian Deputy President. This meeting was planned for November 16th, but was canceled – instead, Sadat, by his on initiative, came to Jerusalem on November 19th.

Here's a Hebrew protocol of a meeting between Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Nicolae Ceaușescu in August 1977. The meeting was in Snagov, Ceaușescu's vacation retreat. Ceaușescu was trying to flee to Snagov in 1989 when he was caught. One of the Romanian officials in the meeting was Manea Mănescu, then Prime Minister of Romania, who joined Ceaușescu in his flight from Bucharest in December 1989 (Mănescu was not tried or hurt during the revolution). In the meeting, Begin and Ceaușescu argued mainly about their views on the Palestinian question, which differed sharply in part due to Ceaușescu's good and close relations with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the PLO.

According to the former Romanian defector, General Ion Mihai Pacepa, Ceaușescu was obsessed with his desire to win a Noble Peace Prize for his efforts to mediate between Israel and the Arabs, especially the Palestinians.

Begin and Ceaușescu meeting, August 1977 (courtesy of the National Photo Collection)

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