By Melanie Lidman
Since Begin did not write his memoirs, historical account has been heavily influenced by Jimmy Carter’s version, says expert.
A new book exploring the correspondence between prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during the peace negotiations between 1977 and 1980 was launched on Monday at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
The book launch took on special meaning, given the recent events in Egypt and the increased threat to the 32-year-old peace treaty.
The book, Peace in the Making (Gefen Publishing House Ltd), was edited by Harry Hurwitz and Yisrael Medad.
Medad and Hurwitz, a close friend of Begin who passed away in 2008, collected the personal correspondence between the two leaders as well as speeches, interviews and press conference content.
Hillel Hurwitz, Harry Hurwitz’s son, said his father was inspired by a book that Begin showed him that collected the correspondence between US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill during World War II.
In the Begin-Sadat letters, Hurwitz said, one can “sense the delicacy and care with which they entered into contact between them and changed from leaders of two countries at war to two countries at peace, a treaty that would impact on their children and children’s children.”
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, from the political science department at Bar-Ilan University, said that because Begin did not write his memoirs or speak extensively to the media, history has been heavily influenced by US president Jimmy Carter’s several memoirs about the Israeli-Egyptian peace process.
The new book allows readers to get an intimate view of the personal correspondence between the two leaders, who were able to overcome their differences despite the animosity that Carter claimed made it difficult to find common ground. “Documents are what we need to overcome spin,” Steinberg said.
Elyakim Rubinstein, the Supreme Court justice who was a member of the Israel delegation to Camp David I in 1978, on Monday shared personal memories of attending the historic two-week summit in Maryland.
“I saw him [Begin] there and his agony, his agony with what to do with Sinai, what to do with the Palestinians, but he felt that it was right to do what he did there, even though he knew he would face some opposition here from his own [Likud] Party,” Rubinstein said.
He recalled the ceremony before the Alexandria negotiations as one of “the most amazingly unbelievable experiences” of his career.
“I’ve attended many important events, but the most moving moment, because [the agreement] was not in the cards. Whoever tells you that Sadat came because he knew he was getting Sinai, he’s wrong, he didn’t know,” Rubinstein said.
Rubinstein recounted a story about Begin inviting Sadat to come to negotiations in Jerusalem, which represented an ideological challenge for Sadat. The first time he refused to come, the second time he agreed to negotiate in Jerusalem but refused to sleep there, instead traveling to a hotel in Tel Aviv. Begin welcomed the compromise. “A gentleman doesn’t ask another gentleman where he spends his nights,” he reportedly told his staff.
“Some people thought Begin had regrets, but he didn’t,” Rubinstein said. “I mentioned to him once on the phone that it was the fourth anniversary of the agreement, and he said to me, I’ll never forget it, ‘We did a very important thing for our nation and our country.’” Rubinstein also recalled speaking with a Likud cabinet minister who vehemently opposed giving up Sinai, less than five years after the agreement.
“He said to me, ‘If it holds for 15 years, it’ll be worth the price.’ Now we’re here 30 years later,” Rubinstein said. “I only hope the treaty will continue despite the changes.”