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

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.

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
decision making 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

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

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.”


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

The aim was to create an atmosphere that was conducive for the start of
direct negotiations. It was well received 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

Well, what is it exactly that Israel is being offered by the US in this

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

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 so called 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?


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

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

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

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

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.