According to a Wednesday report in AFP, documents from the 1980s recently released from the British National Archives reveal then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s animosity towards her Israeli counterpart at the time, Menachem Begin.
As leader of the militant Irgun Zvai Leumi during the late 1940s, Begin had played an instrumental role in liberating Palestine from British occupation. The language used by Thatcher in the cables between her and French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing show both her frustration with Israel at the time and the animosity England’s leadership continued to feel towards Begin well over three decades after Britain’s defeat at his hands.
The Rightist Thatcher said of Begin that she “had never had a more difficult man to deal with,” noting that when she told the former guerrilla that his policy of allowing Jews to return to Judea and Samaria – which had been Jew-free while ruled by Britain’s puppet kingdom Jordan between 1949 and 1967 by Jordan – was “unrealistic” and “absurd” he replied to her that “Judea and Samaria had been Jewish in Biblical times and that they should therefore be so today.”
Thatcher’s frustration with Begin had been compounded at the time by British officials expressing concern that Israel would use its nuclear weapons in a potential war against its neighbors.
A secret diplomatic cable from the UK embassy in Tel Aviv, dated May 4 1980 and also recently released from the British National Archives, warned that “the situation in the region is deteriorating and with it Israel’s dangerous mood of isolation and defiance will grow. If they are to be destroyed they will go down fighting this time. They will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early.”
Margaret Thatcher believed that Menachem Begin was the "most difficult" man she had to deal with in the early years of her premiership, and thought his West Bank policy "absurd".
The former Prime Minister's views about her Israeli counterpart are unearthed in documents released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.
The previously secret papers reveal that, during a tête-à-tête with President Giscard of France at Number 10 in November 1979, Mrs Thatcher discussed how she had "never had a more difficult man to deal with" than Mr Begin.
President Giscard said he had "always been surprised at the degree of support which the Labour government had given Israel".
However he did admit that he understood the emotional reasons for the support, and felt the same situation applied to France because of the size of her Jewish community. The archives reveal President Giscard "did not know Mr Begin, whom he had never met, but he thought his approach fanatical and unrealistic".
Mrs Thatcher responded by saying she "agreed entirely with what President Giscard had said about Mr Begin".
She added: "All our efforts to convince Mr Begin that his West Bank policy was absurd, and that there should not be Israeli settlements on the West Bank, had failed to move him."
Mrs Thatcher told President Giscard that, although Britain was ready to talk to representatives of the Palestinian people, recognition of the PLO would have to be accompanied by the PLO's acceptance of Israel's right to exist.
Many of the released documents, covering the period from September 1979 to the end of 1980, consider the reverberations from Israel's historic Camp David Accords peace treaty with Egypt in 1978.
One source of discussion was the possibility of a full-scale conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with John Robinson, the British ambassador to Israel (who stayed in post for a very short time) , offering a chilling warning of what might come. In a secret note to London in May 1980, he wrote: "It is now clear…the Camp David negotiations will not lead to a comprehensive agreement. No agreement on the West Bank and Jerusalem is possible."
He predicted that if it came to war, Israel "will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early".