With Israeli’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin
On January 18, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat recalled his foreign minister from the Middle East peace negotiations in Jerusalem, seemingly writing “finis” to the peace saga he himself initiated with his pre-Christmas visit to Israel. Sadat’s complaint: “Israel insists on presenting partial solutions that cannot lead to a just and lasting peace.” What were those “partial solutions”? While Sadat was demanding complete Israeli withdrawal from territory won in battle and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was not prepared to agree. Some of the reasons for that refusal, from which the IsraeliEgyptian peace initiatives seemed unlikely to recover, are apparent in the following conversation with Begin. The Israeli leader was interviewed for Maclean’s by Meyer Nurenberger, editor of the Toronto-based Jewish Times anda longtime friend of Begin’s—Nurenberger supported the U.S. delegation of Irgun Zvai Leumi, the Jewish freedom fighters led by Begin in the Forties.
Maclean’s: Even some friends of Israel are saying that Palestine Arabs are oppressed by Israel. Are they being honest?
Begin: Here is a case of misuse of a great human concept given to the world by one
The problem of our time is not who is right or left but who is right or wrong
of the greatest men of the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson: namely the right of national self-determination. It helped many nations to achieve independence but a great human concept mustn’t be misused. The Arab people have this right expressed in an unprecedented way in 21 sovereign states, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, an area of 12 million square kilometres. Ninety-nine percent of the Arab people have that right of national self-determination. The Palestinian Arabs are only a fraction of 1% of that great people in 21 states. Right of selfdetermination does not apply to fractions of nations. Should it be so, may I ask what about the six million Mexicans living in New Mexico and Texas, within the borders of the United States? Does it occur to anybody on either side of the border to suggest that that fraction of the Mexican people
get rights of self-determination and form a state on the United States side? I haven’t seen any sign that Paris thinks of giving the Corsican people the right to national selfdetermination. Now let us turn to the Middle East, to the hypocrisy in our region. For instance, the Iraqis shout loudly about so-called self-determination for the Palestinian Arabs. They don’t even agree to autonomy for the Kurdish people, one of the most ancient nations in this region. The Christian Lebanese would welcome autonomy, at least. Syria is occupying Lebanon. It doesn’t even occur to them to make such a suggestion. The Jordanians ruled the Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria for 19 years. It was quite an oppressive regime. With a gun and mainly with a whip. It never occurred to them to suggest that the Palestinian Arabs be given self rule, autonomy. The Egyptians ruled Palestinian Arabs in the Gaza strip, and yet they never suggested that 300,000 or 350,000 Palestinian Arabs there have selfrule. For the first time in history, as the result of an Israeli plan, Palestinian Arabs will enjoy autonomy, or self-rule. We suggested that they themselves select, through a secret ballot in the most democratic way, an 11 -member council which will deal with every aspect of everyday life. We shall not intervene in their daily routine. We shall not intervene in their problems; only security concerns us. Of course, they must leave this concern to Israel. Otherwise, in no time we shall be attacked by the men who are bent on the destruction of Israel, with their Kalashnikov artillery, with their missiles, and we are not going to leave our civilian population in such mortal danger again. Therefore our proposal is fair, as was said by everybody who saw it, from the President of the United States ... Maclean’s: The President said that it was a fair proposal.
Begin: Yes, of course, and so said the VicePresident of the United States, the Secretary of State and ranking senators, such as Senators Jackson, Case, Stone, the former President of the United States, Gerald Ford, the former secretary of state, Dr. Kissinger. Why is it fair? Because, for the. first time in history, we give the Palestinian Arabs self-rule, autonomy. We give the Palestinian Jews security. This is an absolute necessity for both parties. But to try to mislead us, to misuse the term “national selfdetermination,” will not succeed because self-determination in the case of the Palestinian Arabs means a Palestinian state. This would spell mortal danger to us, a danger to the whole free world, because in no time their state would become a Soviet base.
Maclean’s: From your experience with President Sadat, do you believe that the possibility of war between Israel and Egypt has now virtually been eliminated?
Begin: I believe so. President Sadat agreed with me in Jerusalem to that effect, and both of us repeated those statements: no more war, no more bloodshed, no more
threats. I accepted this declaration of President Sadat seriously, so let us hope there really won’t be any more war between Egypt and Israel.
Maclean’s: Do you think Egypt is intent on seeking more concessions on the West Bank?
Begin: I cannot speak for the Egyptians, but our stand is clear. We suggest they endorse the principle of self-rule for the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the
I prefer not to call those who condemn us
racists; instead I call us anti-racists
Gaza district and this is exactly what I said to President Sadat.
Maclean’s: How did Sadat react to your statement that everything is negotiable except the destruction of Israel?
Begin: He accepted this statement as well. Completely. Therefore he understands that we cannot negotiate with the so-called PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) which is bent on the destruction of Israel. Maclean’s: What does “autonomy ” mean for the Palestinian Arabs?
Begin: Please inform Canadians about the contents of our proposal. The following is the plan for self-rule for Judea, Samaria and Gaza: the administration of the military government will be abolished; administrative autonomy of the residents, by and for them, will be established; the administrative council will be elected by general, personal, equal and secret ballot; the administrative council will sit in Bethlehem; all the administrative affairs relating to the Arab residents of the areas of Judea, Sa-
maria and the Gaza district will be under the direction and within the competence of the administrative council. The council will operate the following departments: education, religious affairs, finance, transportation, construction and housing, industry, commerce and tourism, agriculture, health, labor and social welfare, rehabilitation of refugees, justice and the supervision of the local police forces. Residents of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district who, in accordance with the right of free option, choose Israeli citizenship, will be entitled to vote for and be elected to the Knesset. Residents of Israel will be entitled to acquire land and settle in the areas of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district; Arabs, residents of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district who, in accordance with the free option granted them, become Israeli citizens, will be entitled to acquire land and settle in Israel.
Maclean’s: For almost 40 years, since your underground days, you were the bête noire of the Jewish establishment. How do you feel now being hailed as a popular Jewish leader? Begin: I never thought, as you put it, that I was a bête noire of anybody. There were difficult times in days past. People didn’t want to believe that a day would come and the electorate in Israel would enable us to form a government. You know, I met General de Gaulle when he served in the (French) opposition and he told me: “Well, I can’t do anything about it because, as he put it, I don’t have les moyens d’agir.” So for many years I also didn’t have les moyens d’agir and some people reached the conclusion that perhaps I am not capable of agir. But some of them changed their minds and we got used to each other. I will not have any bad memories. I beliêve in the suggestion made by Lincoln during his second inauguration speech, “with malice toward none; charity for all.” This is my concept. We have serious problems ahead of us. Let us stand together.
Maclean’s: Who was Vladimir Jabotinsky, to whom you refer as master and teacher? Was he a man of the right? Many claim that you are a rightist.
Begin: Zeev Jabotinsky is the greatest Jew after Theodor Herzl, and of course he is my master and teacher, as he is the master and teacher of a whole generation of fighters for Israel’s freedom and Jewish liberation. He was a liberal of the 19th century—and as far as the terms right and left are concerned I suppose that they are absolutely outdated. They stem from the time of the French Revolution. It was an accident that the Girondins sat on the right side and the Jacobins on the left side of the Speaker of the National Assembly and since then the Marxists took over the term “left” as a symbol for progress. Now, I read in papers about left-wing nationalists. I suppose that Marx and Engels would turn in their graves if they heard that there are left-wing nationalists, which is a complete contradiction in terms, so I think these are
foolish labels. They don’t have any application whatsoever in our case. The problem in our time is not who is right or left, but who is right or wrong.
Maclean’s: Is it correct that Jews never voluntarily left Palestine, that they always had to be expelled by force?
Begin: Yes. Actually, the Jewish people never left Palestine. There were always some remnants of our people here, even under the worst conditions, and of course in Jerusalem for many, many years there has been a Jewish majority.
Maclean’s: When you were a boy in Poland, did you ever hear the expression in a pejorative sense, “Jew, why don’t you go to Palestine?”
Begin: Very often.
Maclean’s: When you deal with presentday problems, are you affected by the way the big powers dealt with Jews within Hitler’s fortress Europe?
Begin: Our brethren were left alone to die and to my generation this is a period we shall never forget and we have it always before our eyes when we deal with the problems of Israel’s security. As I said to the President of the United States during my first visit, in July, to the White House: “To us national security means the lives of our civilian population. We are not going to give up that national security.” Maclean’s: Do you believe there are still some subconscious prejudices among nonJews against the collective right of the Jews to establish a state?
Begin: Oh, I wouldn’t suspect anyone of what is usually termed anti-Semitism. This is a German word invented in the 19th century, instead of saying anti-Jewishness they started saying anti-Semitism—that should include the Arabs who are Semites as we are, but this was not the intention. I wouldn’t suspect anybody of such feelings. When I speak to a Christian or to a Muslim, we speak with frankness, with candor. We can speak as friends and with understanding.
Maclean’s: When you were in the underground, you launched the first anti-colonial liberation movement in this area. Is it true that you are now proclaiming through this autonomy, for the first time in this area, an anti-racist policy by inviting Jews and Arabs to coexist, to live together?
Begin: My answer is an unqualified yes. This is exactly in the line of our fight for our national liberation. We believe in the equality of man. Therefore we want to live together, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, in understanding, in human dignity, in social and economic progress. We can live together and this togetherness shouldn’t be interfered with by outside forces. I think our proposal on self-rule is a declaration to ensure humanity wins in this part of the world.
Maclean’s: Is the Middle East conflict really the most important issue of our time? Is it more important than the Communist attempts to gain influence in Africa and other areas?
Begin: Well, the question of the Middle East of course is important, but if we look at a map we can see how the Soviet Union tries, quite successfully, to take over country after country. Mozambique and Angola and South Yemen and Ethiopia, Libya, Syria, Iraq—all of them are either ruled by pro-Soviet governments or are Soviet bases, and that happened in a very short period of time. I don't know what will be the result of the new conflict between
Pan-Arabism is a curse just as pan-Germanism was. Such movements always bring disaster
Cambodia and Vietnam. But the fact is that in three countries of Indochina, a Communist regime was established. And now there are the peripatetic revolutionaries, the Cubans, going from country to country and caring for the establishment of Communist regimes. The Russians have never fought directly since the Second World War, always by proxy—this should be understood throughout the world. Now they have found a proxy in the Cubans. It is a fact that tens of thousands of Cubans are all over Africa, carrying the banner of Communism, of course with Soviet weapons. This is the great issue of our time. Will liberty succeed or will liberty fall? I therefore say to our friends in the United States: We should stand, all of us free women and men together, for liberty.
Maclean’s: Should the PLO succeed in establishing a people’s republic in the West Bank, would it mean the expulsion of the United States from the Middle East? Begin: Well, as it will never happen, I
don’t have to answer hypothetical questions about the results. But of course such a state, a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, no doubt would in no time turn into a Soviet base. Flight time from Odessa, my friend, to Bethlehem, by a jet plane, supersonic cargo planes like Ilushin or Antonov, is less than two hours. Let us remember how many sophisticated weapons were brought in in several weeks from the southern part of the Soviet Union to Angola and Mozambique and Ethiopia. Of course it would be against the United States, but we have to think first and foremost about the danger to our people. It would be a mortal danger. It is true that here we have a common interest with the whole free world which cannot be for the establishment of a Soviet base in the heart of the Middle East from which they could penetrate to the south and to the north. Therefore I suppose also President Carter is against a Palestinian state.
Maclean’s: What is the role, in your opinion, of Saudi Arabia in the present Middle East negotiations?
Begin: Saudi Arabia is the richest oil country, probably with a capital now of between $60 and $70 billion, in cash. So therefore they probably represent certain economic or financial strength and of course the oil is a serious issue. They are very afraid of Communism, we know. Therefore it would be absolutely natural if they discard any idea of a so-called Palestinian state, which would be ruled by the PLO Soviet agents. However, they don’t say so in public. Perhaps because they want to prove that they are still, if I may say so, for pan-Arabism. Pan-Arabism is a curse, as pan-Germanism was, as pan-Slavism was. These are all imperialist movements that brought disaster upon the world, and therefore if a citizen of Israel may appeal to Saudi Arabia I would say to them: Beware, because we all have to be very careful about Soviet expansionism. Maclean’s: Do you consider those who oppose your policy to be racists who are set upon establishing ghettos?
Begin: Well, I prefer to call us anti-racists instead of calling others racists because the word is very derogatory and, as you know, the majority of the United Nations General Assembly equated Zionism with racism, an abominable resolution proving... Maclean’s: The resolution came from the racists. . .
Begin: Yes, of course, if you think of all those resolutions that we do not recognize, this one doesn’t make any impression on us. It only proves the absurd character of such resolutions. I would like rather to state it in positive terms: We are anti-racists, we believe in the equality of man. We believe in the concept of Jefferson. Maclean’s: The words from Leviticus “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. .. ”
Begin: A very good verse which is on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, fifi