Bennie Begin happens to be outside the Prime Minister’s Office, talking with
some colleagues, when I arrive for our interview on Monday. He greets me
warmly, and escorts me indoors, to the elevator and up to his sixth-floor
office, his mandatory bodyguard in tow.
Outside his office, along the
corridor from that of his Likud colleague and friend, the not always like-minded
Dan Meridor, he bends down to pick up some errant, littering scraps of paper.
There is no team of waiting aides here; no secretary. He doesn’t employ any.
When he wants to write a letter, he tells me later, he takes out a piece of
paper and writes a letter.
He unlocks his door to reveal a room
remarkable for its bareness, and for furniture that plainly predates this
government by several terms. The routine portraits of prime minister and
president are there on the wall, along with some artwork, but many of his
bookshelves are bare, and his desk is quite unsullied by paperwork.
is no one to offer either of us a drink. Later in our interview, when his cold
gets the better of him and he decides we both could use one, it is the minister
himself who disappears to fetch two plastic cups of cold water.
cannot be too many members of a nation’s most intimate ministerial
decisionmaking forums who operate in this way, without a support staff. But
then, of course, there are no politicians like Bennie Begin.
When I ask
him, at the start of our conversation, what he feels he is doing in this
government, he initially mistakes it for a critical, cynical inquiry, and
immediately acknowledges that there are some who snipe at him for enjoying the
ministerial good life at the public’s expense.
I have to quickly clarify,
to explain that there was no such criticism intended. I simply want to know how
he sees his role and how much influence and impact he feels he has.
my opening question or two, he asks that we switch to English, to ensure that
nuances don’t get lost in translation. Not, he adds politely, that he
thinks The Jerusalem Post
would err in such a way. It’s just that things do
sometimes come out a little different when they cross the language
His English, in the family tradition, is rich, sometimes
witheringly sarcastic, full of elaborate constructions and precise. He
notably eschews the use of the term Palestinian Authority, referring to the
Palestinian leadership instead as the PLO. Also notably, he peppers his
remarks with references to this interview and that speech by Israeli,
Palestinian and American leaders, generally recalling the specific date and
wording. He even remembers on what page The Jerusalem Post
carried a photograph of Mahmoud Abbas visiting a Bethlehem stone factory –
something the editor would not have managed.
Begin says several times
that he tries to take a logical approach to Israel’s challenges. He
knows, he says, that some see him as “an impossible ideologue, detached.” But he
feels that he was vindicated in his opposition to the Oslo process, and
vindicated again over disengagement from Gaza. His logic tells him there is no
way for Israel to reach a deal with the PLO leadership, because it is unwilling
to accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
never change,” he declares at one point, then tracks back just a fraction: “I
don’t know that they actually can change,” he says. “I don’t know.”
what is Israel to do? Hold on and hang tough, he says. “There is no
solution. Sometimes in life we have to accept that there is no solution – no
plausible solution. A solution would be something that both sides consider they
can live with. It’s not on the cards. The aim is to eliminate us.”
his prime minister share that bleak assessment? Says Begin of Netanyahu: “He
might be more optimistic than myself.”
Excerpts: How do you see your role
in this government? You don’t have an area of ministerial responsibility; you do
sit in the septet...
I’m one of 30 ministers in the government. I’m one
of 15 in the security cabinet. I’m one of seven in the septet. When issues
arise, I contribute my opinion. I raise issues. I can’t complain that I lack
opportunities to be heard. That doesn’t mean my view always prevails, nor did I
expect that it would. I have good relations with my colleagues; very good,
friendly relations with the prime minister. How much influence do I have?
That’s for others to judge.And what is your assessment of the situation
now on the Palestinian front – the negotiations with the Americans on the
freeze, on direct talks...?
This is not the main problem on our plate. And I’m
not sure what really happens on a day-to-day basis. Whether the impasse can be
solved, I’m not sure, but it all arises from the outrageous demand by the PLO
leadership to try again to impose preconditions – first on the very onset and
then on the continuation of negotiations. And the fact that our American
friends, instead of impressing upon the PLO leadership that they must not leave
the negotiating table under any circumstances, the fact that they chose to
transfer PLO pressure to our shoulders, is in some ways at least in contrast to
the previous understanding that we and everyone had with them.
public. When we started negotiating directly in August, it was announced by
Secretary Clinton that the negotiations would take place without
It was more than an understanding. It was an
agreement. That was the basis for the PLO to have come. That they
threatened what they threatened is their own business. We expected and we do
expect, I expect, our American friends to live up to that commitment.
have to go back and understand where it all started. A year ago, we took
upon ourselves an unprecedented step, to quote Secretary Clinton, a unilateral
[step], without expecting anything in exchange: We announced a moratorium on new
construction in Jewish towns and villages in Judea and Samaria.
was to create an atmosphere that was conducive for the start of direct
negotiations. It was wellreceived by the American government, and on that basis
alone the American government called upon the PLO to participate in
negotiations. It took them several months. Then it was indirect
[talks]. Only in August did it become direct [talks]. They dragged their
feet for nine months and then they complained.
We played fair and
square. No one should have been surprised that a certain date arrived
exactly 10 months after the start of that moratorium. The moratorium by
definition had a starting date and a date on which it ends. That’s the
dictionary meaning of a moratorium, to my understanding, or at least in my
But the moratorium did end, and the Americans did not say to
the Palestinians, it’s outrageous that you wasted nine months and we insist that
you stay at the talks. Instead, they said to Israel we’d like you to
revive or extend the moratorium...
OK. So we have a position. We
have some differences of course, as is well known.
Well, what is it
exactly that Israel is being offered by the US in this package?
there’s some misunderstanding on the understandings that were reached on
Thursday three weeks ago. That gap must be closed and the only effective way to
close it is in writing. Obviously our friends in the States, when they tried to
put [the understandings] in writing, found it a little bit
There is something that I think I understand which I have to
say I don’t like, as follows: The main former commitment by the United States,
that the negotiations would start and continue without preconditions, is to be
left out, unfulfilled. In exchange, we are told that we may get another
commitment, to the effect that after three months the United States government
would not request any further continuation of the freeze. So we are being asked
to trade one promise for another, with the precedent that our colleagues reneged
on the first one. Does that make sense? Not fully, I should say.
does Jerusalem fit into these understandings? Is there an American commitment
that Israel not be bound to a freeze in Jerusalem?
No, no. No one who knows
anything about the situation could have thought, could have presented such an
idea that the United States, in opposition to its 42-year policy, would [now]
commit itself to a change – to announcing that it doesn’t mind Israeli
construction in Jerusalem. They don’t make a distinction between Jerusalem and
Judea and Samaria from their point of view.
It was never suggested by the
prime minister, reporting back to his ministerial colleagues, that as part of
this package taking shape, Israel would have American tacit agreement or no US
objection to building in Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line in Jerusalem?
The prime minister never expected, and never expressed an expectation, that the
United States of America would, in this context, change its long-term policy on
construction beyond, in this case eastwards of, the 1949 armistice demarcation
line. My prime minister is an adult. In no way did he present or, as some people
hint, mis-present the American position. Not at all.
But some key
ministers have indicated that they were initially given to understand that it
would be clearly fine for Israel to build in east Jerusalem, and then they heard
that maybe it wouldn’t, and then they heard that the Americans were drafting
something and were going to put it in writing. What you’re describing is at odds
with the way this was apparently understood by other ministers, from Shas,
But you’re interviewing me, okay. So I can respond according to the
way that I have understood it. I don’t know what other ministers
understood. I cannot speak on their behalf. But let me put it this way.
We don’t have too many, but we have enough misunderstandings with our American
friends. We don’t have to load the situation with a nonexistent
Is there now a constellation in the security cabinet,
or in the full cabinet, where there will be support for the arrangements that
you understand are being offered here?
I don’t know.
Does the prime
minister have a majority?
As long as there’s nothing in writing, then it’s very
difficult, at least for a person like myself, to judge. I don’t know
being offered. If a prime minister brings a proposal on such a matter
[to his ministers], he would hope to enjoy a majority. But it’s moot at
The other thing which is not very clear in this offer is
that issue with the airplanes. I think that to tie such an offer – 20 modern,
sophisticated, stealth airplanes – with a political move is not the best way to
address Israeli security needs. The broader context in which it should be judged
is that of new sales of American weaponry to the Middle East, and especially the
$60 billion deal over 10 years offered or signed with the Saudis. An offer of 20
stealth airplanes, to be delivered in five, six, seven years’ time, may be
considered in a way, at least partly, as offsetting this very threatening
You’re saying that of course America should want Israel to have
these planes, given what it’s about to sell to the Saudis, not in the context of
a settlement freeze?
I would discuss it with our American friends on that basis.
Israel’s QME – qualitative military edge – is not to be maintained because of
our blue eyes. It’s a stabilizer in a very formidable neighborhood, in which we
are witnessing a very threatening rise in the political and military ability of
militant Islam. The only real stabilizing factor in this part of the world is a
strong State of Israel, enjoying a qualitative military edge.
more clause in the American package, which is the promise of a one-year US veto
at the UN on Palestinian unilateralist efforts...
I wouldn’t ask for
anything of that sort which has a time limitation, because if you set a time
limit then maybe it implies that someone, once the period of time expires, would
have the license to do something which is illogical anyhow. Unilateral
steps will bring an end to any hope of any [positive] outcome of negotiations,
which is detrimental for those who would like to see something coming out of the
negotiations. I don’t belong to the hopefuls in this respect, but I’m
trying to see the logic of those who would try to push for that. It doesn’t seem
logical to me.
To be clear, you are opposed to any new moratorium, any
We did our share. It was not an easy step. People felt it,
personally, community-wise. And I don’t see that it is logical to replace one
unfulfilled commitment with a different one.
That’s the source of your
opposition, or you’re opposed to the very idea of freezing the expansion of
settlements and Jerusalem neighborhoods over the Green Line?
Yes, I think Jews
should be allowed to exercise their right to live in towns and villages in their
ancestral homeland, which, history dictates to us, stretches beyond the totally
artificial line of aggression which is expressed in the 1949 armistice
demarcation line. It’s nothing more than that. It signified at the time the line
of battle fatigue. That’s all.
It’s not as though we ended up worse off
with the modern state than the UN was planning to give us.
So it’s not
10,000 square kilometers. It ended up as 20,000 square kilometers. But that’s
not the issue. The issue is not the size. The issue is the principle: A
homeland for the Jews, for which the Jews yearned for so many years, is not
limited to that armistice demarcation line, which not only has no natural
geographical context. It has no moral context.
I’ll give you an example.
It’s well known. It’s near the airport. It’s called Givat Koach. The hill of the
28. Twenty-eight people lost their lives in the battle on that hill and the
surrounding hills in 1949. It went from one side to the other three times. Now
suppose that after the second time it had been retained by the Arab forces. It
would now be beyond the Green Line, a candidate for a PLO-run entity. But
the third time, our forces succeeded, at great sacrifice. So now it’s
traditionally viewed as [part of the] State of Israel, forever. It doesn’t make
sense and there’s no moral case here.
The moral case has to do with
Jewish rights in the homeland. If a Jewish community can take dwelling in
Bethel, Connecticut – I did some homework and I saw that there are 12 towns or
cities called Bethel in America. Well, there’s an original Bethel. “The house of
the Lord.” It’s in Samaria. Jews can dwell in an American Bethel. It is
inconceivable to me that Jews will be barred from doing so in the original
Bethel, in the homeland of the Jews, where our forefathers walked.
propose that a certain part of the world, especially in the Jewish homeland,
would be clean of Jews under some political solution, that’s anathema to me and
must not be accepted by decent people. There are a million Arabs, citizens of
Israel in good standing. There’s a lot left to be desired in our internal
relationship with the Arab community here. But to say that any other
political entity would not be able to accept 100,000, or 200,000, or a quarter
of a million Jews, living under this or that political arrangement from the
outset? Again, I don’t think it's a moral stance.
Let me be sure that I
understand. You’re not saying that Israel ought to be annexing the West Bank.
You are saying nobody should be asking us to not have Jews living in territory
that might become part of the Palestinian sovereign entity?
My own view is that
it should not become [a Palestinian sovereign entity]. I think that would
present a grave danger to the State of Israel. But that’s a different
issue. But yes, for those who would like to see such a solution emerging, it is
stupid to try to tie that with a forcible eviction of 100,000 or 200,000 Jews
from their towns and villages. It’s beyond my understanding as a citizen of the
And I still would say that we have not yet arrived at the
real issue [in this interview].
What’s the real issue?
It has a lot do
with the headline that you ran a few days ago. The so-called study [endorsed by
the Palestinian Authority denying a Jewish connection] concerning the Western
Wall. That’s the crux of the issue. Anyone with some degree of realism
should not develop overly high hopes for an agreement between any Israeli
government and the current leadership of the PLO in the foreseeable future. It’s
just not on the cards.
Many people who deal with the issue – diplomats,
political leaders abroad, even in this country – have failed to accept the
advice given to all of us, if I may say so, by my friend Ehud Olmert only a year
ago. He published, in July of last year, an interesting article in The
Washington Post in which he said it would be worthwhile exploring the reason for
the PLO to have declined the “far-reaching and unprecedented” – his words –
proposals, concessions that he put on the table. Why they dragged their feet and
ran away or tried to escape from difficult decisions. That’s Mr
[“To this day,” wrote Olmert in that piece, “I cannot understand
why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented
proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding
issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees.
It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer
and preferred, instead, to drag their feet, avoiding real decisions. My proposal
would have helped realize the ‘twostate solution’ in accordance with the
principles of the US administration, the Israeli government I led and the
criteria the Palestinian leadership has followed throughout the years.”]
would urge everyone who deals with the issues to try and explore the reasons why
Mr. Barak failed in his endeavor in the year 2000. And that has a lot to do with
the reason the Oslo agreement failed, with the enormous sound of explosions, of
people maimed and killed.
Suppose one says, well Mr. Barak, he wasn't
lucky enough. He had awful Mr. Arafat as a partner. But now it’s the new PLO
leadership, and they failed again. There must be a logical explanation for that.
And the only logical explanation has to do with that article you ran. The basis
for that failure is the adamant refusal of the current PLO leadership to accept
the historical fact that the State of Israel is the nationstate of the Jewish
people, which means that they do not accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty
in any part of Palestine.
I take very seriously the failure by the
Palestinian leadership to internalize and then disseminate the fact of our
But I don’t know that time is on our side. I worry about our
legitimacy internationally, and I worry about the demographics. And therefore,
even if one shares your conclusions, what are we going to do about it? Simply
say, you know, we don’t have a partner at the moment, we need to tough it out,
we need to explain as best we can, and hope that things get better? Can we
afford to do that?
Can we afford the alternative? Can we afford an agreement
that would entail far-reaching Israeli concessions, territorial ones that would
endanger the State of Israel and would not bring an end to the conflict?
who fail to see the real significance, as you do, of that refusal to accept the
legitimacy of a Jewish sovereignty in Falastin in Arab Muslim eyes, those who
fail to do so, at least should acknowledge one very grave obstacle. When
I talk about it with foreign diplomats, not too often I should say, the usual
reaction is, “Oh yes it’s a real problem,” but then they move on with the
conversation. What I raise with them is the fact that the current PLO leadership
simply cannot deliver. Even if they change their heart, they cannot deliver,
because they cannot deliver Gaza. They are not going to be back in Gaza in the
foreseeable future. Hamas is in Gaza.
When people talk with us about the
solution, what they tell themselves and us and everyone is that the solution is
to be found in an independent, sovereign Palestinian Arab state with territorial
contiguity, comprising Samaria, Judea, Jerusalem, Gaza and a so-called safe
passage between them. It would immediately become a safe passage for Iranian
experts and Iranian explosives – all the way from Iran, to Yemen, to Sudan, to
Egypt, to the Sinai, to Gaza and then through the safe passage to Judea, to
Jerusalem, to Samaria. It’s crazy.
What can we do about it? We [put
aside] Gaza, and the PLO negotiates with Israel about a Palestinian state in
Judea and Samaria? Now I think that the idea of a viable, independent, PLO-run
state in Samaria, Judea and Gaza is an oxymoron. But Gaza is an important part
of that oxymoron – it’s a ballast, economically and politically, at any rate.
You want to see two-thirds of the solution being created? For what? Israeli
concessions, and no end to the conflict, and no end to the war, and no end to
the launching of rockets? I think it’s foolhardy even to think about such a
So you ask me, what then? And I ask, what do you offer? The
other side doesn’t favor the two-state solution – two states for two
peoples. I have never heard the PLO leadership using the phrase “two
states for two peoples.” It appeared once, I think, in a Quartet
resolution in June last year. It disappeared in their Moscow resolution in March
of this year.
The Palestinians don’t use [that phrase] because there
aren’t two peoples in the equation from their point of view. You’ll find this in
the resolution of the PLO Revolutionary Committee that you reported this week –
after their deliberations last weekend, they stated that they oppose a religion
having a state. They still view the Jewish people as merely a religion. A
religion is not entitled to sovereignty. Only a nation is. But there
aren’t two nations [in their view]. And they go on and on to deny our historical
rights, to say that even the Temple Mount [has no Jewish connection] as is
evident in this new socalled study.
What they are thinking about is not a
twostate solution but a two-stage solution. Stage A, pushing Israel to the 1949
armistice demarcation line. And then using the Arab refugees as a pretext, or
some other pretext, to eliminate the State of Israel. That they cannot do it is
something else. But if you look at their reaffirmation of their platform, taken
a year ago, in August, 10 kilometers from this office in Bethlehem, you’ll find
it there: The aim is still to liberate Palestine through the elimination of the
Zionist entity. The Zionist entity! Not the State of Israel.
new poll taken by Stanley Greenberg. You ran it?
Well, he was
clever enough to ask [the Palestinians] something that no one asked
before. First, are you for the two-state solution? Sure. But then
he says, would it be regarded for you as a sufficient solution? No, we want to
see one state. That’s the situation.
I know that I am being portrayed as
an impossible ideologue, detached. I am trying to be as practical as possible.
Those who tell us that time runs against us and that we must bilaterally or
unilaterally see to it that we withdraw from Judea and Samaria and enable the
establishment of such a state, either they’ll be in such a hurry to have any
agreement that we’ll endanger our future here. If we evacuate Judea and Samaria,
almost immediately you’ll see Iran, through Hamas, rising there. So either
they’ll have that kind of agreement with no end to the conflict. Or we’ll have
Now we have been to that movie. It was only five
years ago. And many people supported it. I was in the minority at the
time. Not a very small minority, but still a minority. We could
see the dangers. People failed to see them and entertained themselves with false
hopes, delusions. And the result is as it is. I don’t have to describe
If we cannot cope [with the fact that there is no solution], we
should close the shop. But of course we can cope! It’s not going to be easy. I
think we have a case. A moral case. A practical case. We are a bastion vis-a-vis
that rising militant Islamic bloc. And I don’t see the
People close their eyes to the difficulties. There is
no solution. Sometimes in life we have to accept that there is no solution – no
plausible solution. A solution would be something that both sides consider they
can live with. It’s not on the cards. The aim is to eliminate us.
use the observation of a keen observer of the situation who is very well versed
in PLO politics and policy. MK Ahmed Tibi. He gave an interview to Haaretz
September 7. He said: The maximum that Ehud Olmert could offer in his
time falls short of the minimum that Abu Mazen and the PLO can accept. I think
he is absolutely correct.
No one thinks that the government of Israel in
its right mind would agree to come up with something which goes further than
Mr. Olmert put on the table. The leader of our opposition, Tzipi Livni,
several times from the Knesset podium stated that from her point of view Mr.
Olmert’s propositions were his private ones. They do not bind Kadima. And she
maintains that negotiations should start not from the point where Mr. Olmert and
Mr. Abbas [left off] but from the point at which she departed from the
negotiations with Abu Ala [Ahmed Qurei], which is less than was proposed [by
Then take Mr. Abbas’s response to Jackson Diehl’s question, in
his momentous interview on May 29 last year in the Washington Post: Why did you
decline [Olmert’s offer]? Because, said Mr. Abbas, the gaps were wide.
expects us to still close the gaps! [Palestinian negotiator] Saeb Erekat has
said the same thing. So Mr. Abbas complains that Mr. Olmert offered him
too little. Mrs. Livni says that Mr. Olmert offered him too much. Where is the
deal to be closed? How can anyone close it?
The thing to do is stand on our
rights. And stand on practicality. And try to manage the situation as best we
can. The government that I am a member of did more than previous governments in
an attempt to improve the lives on a day to day basis of our Arab neighbors in
Judea and Samaria. But not too much more can be done at this historic
You think the prime minister is doing the best job that can be
He went a step further, which I didn’t agree to, and expressed his
view that under some very specific terms a PLO-run independent state is a
I have some differences of opinion on a friendly basis with my
prime minister. He might be more optimistic than myself. In general, I think he
is doing a good job in trying to express our basic concerns. I think it is very
important that he insists that the crux of the issue is the failure of the PLO –
not just Hamas – to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty.
gone wrong then in Israel’s relationship with the United States. Plainly Israel
is grappling with an administration that has a different overview.
not exaggerate. The basic friendship of Israel by the United States, and this
administration, has been maintained. We see their commitment to the well-being
of the State of Israel. They support us in international arenas quite
consistently. From time to time there is a problem. There was a severe problem
in my eyes in May, with the vote at the NPT Review convention in Washington, but
I think it was corrected thereafter. The ties, the basic alliance, they are
still there. Any poll taken within the United States shows it. Grassroots
support for the State of Israel, not for the PLO, if you look at the numbers.
And of course not for that rising militant Islam. People see the
There are some misunderstandings, yes, because this
administration took a different position. I think the original focal point took
place in Cairo, at the beginning of June last year, with the presidential
address, which addressed two main, related issues in a manner that is not
palatable to most of us: One, that the State of Israel is the result of the
Holocaust, without mentioning our historical ties to this corner of the
He didn’t say exactly that. He didn’t say the state was the result
of the Holocaust. He didn’t speak of the historical tie to the Land of
So the impression would be that the beginning was 1939 or 1933.
And that goes hand in hand with the statement that the United States does not
accept the legitimacy of continued Jewish settlements. The insistence on that
element brought a new difficulty into the situation.
Just to show you the
irony of the situation, I’ll refer you to an address by Abbas about three weeks
ago in the United Arab Emirates. It was an address encompassing the history of
the negotiations with Olmert. (Begin calls up the story on his computer and
reads:) “There arrived the period of Mr. Netanyahu. At first, President Obama
stated in Cairo that Israel must stop all construction activities in the
settlements. Could we demand less than that? We responded: If this is the
case, then Israel must stop all construction in the settlements.” Isn’t
it ironic that in a way I rely on Mr. Abbas, who says: Could we demand less than
that? As Mr. Abbas has complained several times, he was shot up a tree and
someone took away the ladder.
But I don’t think this impinges on the
basics [of the US-Israel relationship]. I refer you to an important address by
former national security adviser James Jones at the Washington Institute last
summer, in which he elaborated on the ties between our two intelligence
communities. He spoke about how America gains from the insights of the
vigilant Israeli intelligence community.
Sometimes the misunderstandings
surface more dramatically than the understandings. We have to see the
You indicated that you have some fear about how three
months of talks might pan out.
I have concerns. It may be that the
unwritten American offer [to Israel, designed to revive the direct talks] cannot
be put into effect. But according to what we know of it, after three months
Israel would be free to resume construction in Jewish settlements in Judea and
Samaria, accompanied by the promise that the United States would not push for an
extension of the freeze. Okay?
If that American commitment is to be exercised,
then the immediate outcome is that on day 91, Israel resumes construction and
the PLO deserts the negotiating table. What then? There’s another rupture in the
negotiations and we end up back at square one. To my mind this would be
perceived as a grave predicament in America and other parts of the
In order to prevent that outcome, and the Americans talk about
this almost openly, the negotiations within these three months would focus on
the issue of borders and, in my interpretation, practically nothing else. Why
borders? Because if there’s an agreement on borders, then this burden is
removed: west of that agreed demarcation line, Israel would be, so to speak,
free to build; and east of it, Israel would not.
Okay, that’s the theory.
But in order to achieve that or something close to it in three months, an
enormous thrust would have to be exercised. This would be pushed by the PLO, and
supported by the honest broker. So where would our delegation find itself?
absurd as it might sound to some people, I am trying to assert that the issue of
borders is irrelevant to the prospects for signing an agreement between an
Israeli government and the PLO. Why am I saying that again? Because on two
different occasions, with two different PLO leaders, including two years ago
with Abbas, borders was not actually the issue.
(Begin walks back to his
computer.) Let me go back to what Abbas said [in the UAE], as reported by Wafa,
the PLO press agency, on November 8: (Reads:) “We reached an agreement that the
Palestinian state would be on the ’67 borders, that the basis for the peace
process is a return to the ’67 borders, with the possibility for some changes in
the border as long as the total area of the West Bank would revert to its
previous area. It was agreed upon. Maybe we report it for the first
Of course it’s “for the first time” because it’s not true. But
Abbas claims that he and Olmert reached an agreement on borders, and yet there
was no full agreement [reached] because of the deeper rejectionist elements in
the PLO position.
[So during these three months of talks, if they begin]
there would be pressure [on Israel]. There wouldn’t be a real opportunity for
our delegation to raise the issue of recognition of the State of Israel as the
nation-state of the Jewish people. Or the issue of refugees.
the PLO will have to give up any hope for the return of any refugee into the
State of Israel. By the way, Mrs. Livni holds very staunchly to that
I think that would put us in a precarious diplomatic situation.
And to my political logic, there is no need to enter into that
And so the Israeli position vis-a-vis the Americans should be:
We want to talk, we’re ready to talk, without preconditions?
Once you yield to
that absurd pressure by the PLO and some others, and accept the imposition of
preconditions, there is no end to it. You have to stand up and to say, we are
sorry, no preconditions. That’s the only way to conduct negotiations.
PLO is not the only party in the game that can impose a precondition. My prime
minister could very easily say the following: After our experience in the first
two rounds of negotiations, here is my own precondition. Unless we are
told at the onset, or before we even start, that they are ready to accept Israel
as the nation-state of the Jewish people, we are not entering
To imagine that only one party is able to come up with
preconditions is irresponsible and foolhardy. You want to have preconditions?
Play with your own kids, not with us. This is not a game we can
If we want the Palestinians to change, if we want them to
internalize our legitimacy, if we want them to start telling their own people
that the Jews did have a temple here and the Kotel is part of it, how do we do
that if we don’t interact? If we don’t maximize the engagement?
We tried to. We
tried to without preconditions. And they set preconditions and ran away,
because they are not interested in the negotiations. Proof: Mr. Abbas said to
his own people that they are actually interested in unilateral steps to be taken
by the UN. They would like to see a deadlock.
I’ll refer you to a
marvelous quotation by Saeb Erekat. June 30, 2009, in Al-Dustur. Of course in
Arabic. I’ll quote almost verbatim: “First they told us that they would run
schools and hospitals. Then they offered us 60 percent. Then they offered
us 90%. Now’ – June 2009 – ‘they offered us 100%. Why should we hurry, after all
the injustice they have incurred to us?”
That is their approach. They lost
nothing by dragging their feet. On the contrary, many European countries are
automatically on their side. Never mind the Non-Aligned Movement, the Muslim
They will never change. I don’t know that they actually can change.
I don’t know. Their own friends in Europe [need to] impress upon them: You have
to change. It is unacceptable in our European democracies to have a platform
such as the one you adopted in August 2009, that your goal is still to liberate
Palestine through the elimination of the Zionist entity.
You ran a black
and white picture in your newspaper three weeks ago, on page 10 if I am not
mistaken. (He isn’t.) Mr. Abbas in Bethlehem touring a stone factory. He was
presented with a stone statue of Palestine! Of Palestine! (Including all of
Israel.) It was a lousy picture, excuse me. I have a better picture for you. Let
me show it to you, and you’ll see how content Abbas is. (Begin calls up on his
computer a picture from the official PA daily Al- Hayat al-Jadida of the smiling
Abbas holding the sculpture.) If people don’t impress upon them that it is they
who must change, and not the Israelis...
You think Europe sooner or later
will impress that on them?
But eventually, if Israel hangs
They should, because otherwise there is no chance.
And our maps
don’t show all of Palestine routinely all the time? Our prime minister wouldn’t
accept a sculpture of the historic land of Israel?
It cannot be detached from
that denial of our historical ties, from the refusal to accept Israel and from
the platform [to eliminate the Zionist entity] as adopted a year ago. No
reservation [was expressed about this goal] by any person whatsoever. No
reservation. The Europeans and others [need to] understand that under these
conditions no government of Israel will be able to come to terms and to reach an
agreement. If the [the Palestinians] understand that, which they don’t, then
they’ll maybe change their tune. But there’s no pressure. They don’t feel
anything but total support. You see it even with this erasing of the
one-time appearance [in the Quartet statement] of the reference to “two states
for two peoples.” [It was erased] because [the Palestinians] protested, of
It’s difficult, but we have to hold on. Otherwise, we just yield
and pray – pray for the mercy of these guys while we grow weaker and weaker. I
can’t understand [that approach]. But I’m barely a geologist, practicing
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