The State of Israel celebrated Independence Day yesterday. Politically speaking, Israel’s 63 years of independence are divided between the first 29 years under the Labor Party and the subsequent years, starting in 1977 when the right-wing Likud and its spin-off parties came to power. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is coming to the U.S. to address a joint session of Congress, was a prot*g* of the second Likud Prime Minister, Yizhak Shamir.
I’ve transcribed the above interview because it sheds light on this crucial change in Israeli policy with regard the West Bank. The West Bank settlement project was to pave the way toward annexation. Following Begin’s election, his associate, Ariel Sharon, launched Israel’s major national project that, three decades later, defines the State of Israel internally and is the dominant international issue surrounding Israel. In this interview with Begin, you see the manipulative use of the term “pro-Israel”, his belief in the efficacy of “hasbara”, and his contempt for principled positions of elected U.S. officials, as well as the rejection of a more reasonable Israeli approach. All these still have currency today.
The interview exposes the deceit that Begin carried with him into the peace treaty talks with Egypt. He never intended to grant the Palestinians autonomy toward statehood.
Finally, it bears repeating that Begin & Sharon could not have accomplished the West Bank settlement project without the explicit support of the leaders of the U.S. Jewish community. Since Begin was not yet ready to annex the West Bank (with the exception of East Jerusalem), the only legal instrument he had for colonizing an occupied territory was through the World Zionist Organization. The world’s Jews were complicit in this. Today, as non-Israeli Jews, we have a right and a duty to publicly oppose Netanyahu and what he stands for.
Israeli TV interview with incoming Prime Minister Menahem Begin. This was the first domestic TV interview that Begin gave after his election in 1977. Translated transcription:
Begin: I don’t argue that the Arabs will accept our proposal. They don’t accept any Israeli plan! The difference [between us and Labor] is that those who say we will give the West Bank back have not achieved an accord with the Arabs, and they cannot achieve that. What they have accomplished is to invite pressure, from America too: “You are not willing to give enough up, give us a little more.” Look at President Carter’s announcement, before the [Israeli] elections, several weeks before May 17, about Israel withdrawing to the June 4, 1967 armistice lines, with minor border adjustments, namely, the well-known Rogers plan. And so, this idea is completely misleading. Sure, it has a certain ‘ring’ to it….how did the late Prime Minister Levi Eshkol put it? “Everybody is in love with their own compromises.” But this isn’t love, this is policy. Therefore, I ask that we do not use this misguided and misleading term. We will work on explaining [hasbara] the common interest we share with the United States. And there is no need for confrontation or U.S. pressure.
Israel TV interviewer [Ya’acov Ahimeir, formerly Washington correspondent]: but you policy is rejected by Washington. From experience I can tell you that there is not one U.S. Senator, or Administration official who will accept the imposition of Israeli law [i.e. annexation] in the West Bank.
MB: The problem of applying Israeli law to the West Bank is one for a special debate and decision for the Knesset [Israeli parliament]. …
I want to ask you, Ya’acov: has any Israeli representative ever said, to any senator, that the West Bank, by law, in justice, by right, is an integral part of Israeli sovereign lands? How can you, or any other Israeli, complain that those senators are not willing to accept [our] policy that the West Bank be an integral part of our sovereign land?
YA: That’s their opinion!
MB: Excuse me. Why should they be more pro-Israel than the Israelis themselves? They were taught under Mr. Allon, Mr. Peres and Mr. Rabin and Mrs. Golda Meir [leaders of the defeated Labor party] that we are willing to give the West Bank back. So, we put it into their heads that that is a just policy, because the Israelis themselves preach it!