Editor's Notes: The bleak logic of Bennie Begin

ByDAVID HOROVITZ
December 3, 2010 14:47

To Begin the failure of peace is simple and obvious: The PLO leadership is bent on a two-stage plan to eliminate Israel, not a two-state plan for two peoples.




Bennie Begin

Bennie Begin 311. (photo credit:Ariel Jerozolimski)

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.

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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.

There 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.

There 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.

After 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 barrier.

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 recently 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.

“They will 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.”

So 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.”

Does 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.

It was public. When we started negotiating directly in August, it was announced by Secretary Clinton that the negotiations would take place without preconditions.

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.

We 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.

The aim 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 dictionary.

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?

Obviously 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 difficult.

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.

Where 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, etc.

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 misunderstanding.

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 what is 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 this moment.

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 deal.

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.

There’s one 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 new freeze?

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.

To 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 Middle East.

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 Olmert.

[“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.”]

And I 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 legitimacy.

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?

Those 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 “solution.”

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.

There’s this new poll taken by Stanley Greenberg. You ran it?

Yes.

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 unilateral withdrawal.

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 it.

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 alternative.

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.

I’ll 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 on 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 Olmert].

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.

He 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 juncture.

You think the prime minister is doing the best job that can be done, then?

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 solution.

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.

What has gone wrong then in Israel’s relationship with the United States. Plainly Israel is grappling with an administration that has a different overview.

Let us 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 danger.

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 world.

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 Israel.

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 whole spectrum.

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 world.

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?

As 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 time.”

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.

Of course 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 position.

I think that would put us in a precarious diplomatic situation. And to my political logic, there is no need to enter into that situation.

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.

The 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 negotiations.

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 participate in.

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 bloc.

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?

Not sooner.

But eventually, if Israel hangs tough?

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 course.

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 politics.

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