“What some call the ‘West Bank’, Mr. President, is Judea and Samaria, and this simple historic truth will never change. There are cynics who mock history. They may deride history as much as they wish. I stand by the truth – the truth that millennia ago there was a Jewish kingdom of Judea and Samaria, where our kings knelt to God, where our prophets bought forth the vision of external peace , where we developed our rich civilization which we took with us in our hearts and minds on our long global trek for over eighteen centuries and, with it, we came back home.” [Menachem Begin to President Reagan]
As we are approaching Shavuot, we can readily recall the Shavuot of June 7, 1981 when the Israeli aircraft successfully bombed the Iraqi reactor. This is simply because the mood and atmosphere resembled today’s Iranian threat and, in particular Obama’s attitude towards Israel. And yet there is a difference in regards to President Ronald Regan’s friendship and concerns towards Israel and Israel’s prime minister, Menachem Begin.
The Osirak nuclear reactor attack represented the first ever attack of its kind worldwide. To Begin, Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant, “the Butcher of Bagdad”. In the case of Iran, apparently there was a case of miscommunication in informing President Obama of intent. It was claimed that the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had informed Obama of his invitation to PM Netanyahu to address Congress, but this did little to arrest Obama’s ire.
In the case of Menachem Begin, he had advised the outgoing Carter administration how perilous the situation was becoming, but the former failed to inform the incoming Regan administration . President Reagan’s reaction was one of “I can understand his fear but I feel he took the wrong option. He should have told us and the French; we could have done something to remove the threat.”]
When Ronald Reagan did receive the news though the US Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis, he was “thunderstruck”, his thoughts subsequently confirmed in his diary; “June 7 – Got word of Israeli bombing Iraqi nuclear reactor. I swear Armageddon is near. PM Begin informed me after the fact. Begin insists the plant was preparing to produce nuclear weapons for use on Israel. If he waited till the French shipment of ‘hot’ uranium arrived he couldn’t order the bombing because the radiation would be loosed over Baghdad.”
The condemnation levied on Begin was not only vast but outrageous. Included was the UN Security Council, the NY Times, Time magazine, Margaret Thatcher, Casper Weinberger, French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson and the US action in suspending its delivery of military aircraft. In other words, even friends voiced their disapproval. He was particularly incensed by the French attitude which suggested that Israel’s action” does not serve the cause of peace in the area.” He questioned French President Giscard d’Estaing “who equipped the Iraqis with the nuclear reactor in the first place – did that serve the cause of peace in the area?”
Begin received the visiting chairman of the Jewish Agency board of governors, Max Fisher, as a representative of American Jewry. He explained that while he considered Begin’s actions to have been “something mighty” it had stirred up a “hornet’s nest in Washington.” The latter responded fully while emphasizing, “No nation can live on borrowed time, Max”. He also expressed his chagrin over Secretary of State, Caper Weinberger’s reactionary efforts for aircraft suspension with an incendiary retort, “Does his name suggest Jewish blood flows through his veins?”
In confidence Begin stated that whenever he had to chose between saving the lives of Jewish children or obtaining the approval of the Security Council and “all those other fair-weather friends”, he much preferred the former.
President Reagan instructed Bud McFarlane, counselor at the State Department to create a joint US-Israel statement with Began which would put conclusion to the dispute and thus facilitate resumption of the American aircraft deliveries to Israel. The verbiage is as follows:
“The government of the United States and Israel have had intensive discussions concerning the Israeli operation against the nuclear reactor near Bagdad which gave the Iraqi government the option of developing nuclear explosives. These discussions have been conducted with the candor and friendship customary between friends and allies. The governments of the two countries declare that any misunderstandings which might have arisen in the wake of aforementioned operation have been clarified to the satisfaction of both sides.”
On January 17, 1991 the US formed a coalition against Saddam Hussein and during the 6 week ensuing 2nd Gulf War, the US requested Israel to suffer the consequence of 42 scud missiles without retaliating. Hussein was executed by his own people on December 30, 2006.
The term “occupier” applied over the years to Israel, is in fact, a complete misnomer. Following the Independence War of 1948, Egypt became the occupier of Gaza while Jordan became the occupier of the so-called West Bank. Neither were entitled to do so, nor to remain as such until they suffered defeat by Israel as a consequence of the Six Day War. From that time onwards until the present era, the dream of a “two state solution” prevailed. It is important to note that during this entire period, no recognition was give to Palestinians nor were any protestations registered on their behalf. Nor were questions raised about the illegality of Egypt’s or Jordan’s actions. In hindsight, one has to wonder why the imposed ruling governing the non-acquisition of land gained in a defensive war did not apply to Egypt and Jordan.
As world leaders today gather to consider a French initiative and a Saudi Plan for yet another attempt at realizing “peace” through Israel’s relinquishing land for its attainment, we need to revisit Menachem Begin’s plan for autonomy. To persist in a failed resolution attended to time and again, is clearly ludicrous.
Begin’s plan was one of balancing the ideology of Zionism with the political, regional and international reality which he faced. This translated to:
[a] an understanding that a Jewish majority in Israel was vital for preserving the Jewish the Jewish self-determination.
[b] Revisionist belief in the centrality of Eretz Israel, including “two banks of the Jordan”
[c] democracy’s fulfillment through acknowledgement of the fact that political rights of the “Arabs of Eretz Israel ” [the Palestinians] could be revoked, especially if they were the majority in population.
His plan developed by responding to the contradictory demands of the above as a pragmatist and realist. It entailed a compromise between the need to withdraw from some territory which he argued was the patrimony that belonged to the Jewish people as of historical right, and the political need to find a feasible solution for the Palestinians. Stated coherently, it was to control the territory but not the inhabitants.
Specifically, the main principles of the Begin Plan were “administrative autonomy” and the selection of an administrative council for the Palestinians; security and public order to continue to be the responsibility of the Israeli authority. This meant that the Palestinians would control housing, hospitals, education etc. in the West Bank and Gaza. Residents would be free to chose either Israeli or Jordanian citizenship while residents of Israel would be free to acquire land and to settle in the West Bank. This accommodation was to prevail for 5 years after which it would be subject to review. On sovereignty, Begin proclaimed, “Israel stands by its rights and its claim of sovereignty to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza district.”
Ironically, in the Knesset, moderate Yitzhak Rabin, attacked the Begin Plan for conceding too much to the Arabs; “He [Begin] will sooner or later bring us back to the lines we had before the 1967 war.”
It is always instructive when having to deal with flogging a dead horse to engage the Begin – Shamir era on how to use diplomacy in concert with military offensive to make the case for Israel. When Menachem Begin first assumed the role of Prime Minster he was obliged to confront the not-so-friendly Jimmy Carter. His introductory meeting in Washington DC with Jimmy Carter was viewed as an opportunity to make quite clear his position on the major issues of the day. To that end, he carefully chose the Israeli participants. Dr Shmuel Katz, his chief information advisor was introduced as “my friend and old comrade” whose principal task was to “describe for you the way we look upon Judea , Samaria and the Gaza District in their broader historical context.” Katz was a former member of the Irgun High Command who represented its principal ideological voice. Known for his mastery of the English language, his command of history, Begin’s choice was predicated on an ability for him to make his interlocutors know exactly what he stood for.
Katz commenced his presentation holding up a map displaying 22 Arab states while explaining how every child in the given states is taught that his patriotic duty and moral imperative was to engage in blotting out “this tiny state [Israel”]. He then drew attention to various clauses in the Palestinian Covenant in support of this directive. Continuing, Katz explained how the PLO came to be “recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinian people by all Arab states, who armed, financed and trained them.” Indeed the Arab League created the PLO specifically for the mission of terrorizing Israel. Katz recalled the anointing of Arafat by the West and his address to the UN in 1974 in which he untruthfully claimed his people’s existence in Palestine for thousands of years. “Palestine was never, never ever a homeland of any other people, a national center to anybody else except to the Jewish people.”
Begin interjected , referencing the British Mandate adopted at San Remo in 1920, “Recognition having been given to the historical connection between the Jewish People and Palestine. Note Mr. President—–“. Shmuel Katz continued, “The present day Arabs in the country are, for the most part, recent arrivals, beginning in the nineteenth century, and especially since the Zionist revival in the twentieth.” He spoke of the agreement between Emir Faisal and Chaim Weizmann and how the Arabs themselves had once insisted that there was no such country as Palestine, and that it was really southern Syria. He further indicated how, by international law, Israel was entitled to the ownership of Judea and Samaria because their occupation by the Kingdom of Trans-Jordan in 1948 was an act of aggression and an illegal invasion, while Israel enjoyed a “preferred right of ownership” , and he spoke of how the British for imperial reasons, had given the Arabs three quarters of the original Palestine – now the Kingdom of Jordan.
Menachem Begin then concluded the discussion using scientific maps to stress the importance of strategic depth. He demonstrated the positions of major population centers and their sizes. “To Israel, the term national security is not an excuse for self-aggrandizement.”
Time and again, we are witnesses to claims that Israel has failed to make concessions in the pursuit of peace. Even a brief analysis, demonstrates the untruth of the allegation. The questionable separation of Transjordan by the British under Article 25 of the Palestine Mandate was accepted by the Zionists. This represented a loss of 75 – 80% of the Palestine land mass to the Jews. The UN Partition Plan following the end of the subject Mandate was accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs. Begin returned 90% of conquered disputed territory to Egypt for peace after the Six Day War. Sharon withdrew completely from Gaza handing over a complete infrastructure to the Arab residents without any commitments in return. In the case of the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to the division of the West Bank into 3 administrative areas:
Area A – full civil and security control by the PA.
Area B – PA civil control and joint Israeli-PA security control.
Area C – Full Israel civil and security control.
In consideration of ongoing terrorism and complete violation of agreement for education towards eradication of incitement and hateful speech, what can be the expectation of contemplated negotiations?
Certain quotations from:
The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner
The Siege by Conor Cruise O’Brian.