Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dan Meridor on Menachem Begin

From an interview in Haaretz:

We won't be another Rhodesia

In a desk drawer of his room on the seventh floor of the Prime Minister's Office, Meridor keeps an old bundle of papers that are like his personal "Guide to the Perplexed." They are the records of the December 1977 Knesset session in which Prime Minister Menachem Begin first proposed an autonomy plan for the occupied territories in the framework of the peace agreement with Egypt. Begin also addressed the question of granting Israeli citizenship to Palestinians in the territories. "We will not become another Rhodesia," he grandly declared, referring to the African state, today's Zimbabwe, that at the time was ruled by a white minority. "Whoever desires Israeli citizenship shall receive it."

What he really meant is that Israel would not become another South Africa, an apartheid state.

"Begin didn't want to say South Africa openly, in the Knesset, but in closed deliberations of the Ministerial Committee on Security Affairs he said South Africa. In the Knesset he said Rhodesia, presumably because he didn't want to offend the South African regime. But what he clearly said was: This is not who we are. This is not the Likud. In the entire world there is no other country like this, where some of the territory belongs to it, and some is held, occupied, liberated, but not part of it."

Why do you hold onto those pages? Why do you find them so significant?

"We must disabuse ourselves of the illusion that the present situation between us and the Palestinians can be permanent, that it can continue into infinity. This is a grave mistake. We're essentially trying to normalize an anomaly. The proposals in Begin's autonomy plan of December 1977 were the first and most detailed Likud idea for a resolution of the conflict, which offered major concessions: We will not annex one millimeter, open sovereignty will prevail, security will remain in our hands and the independent administration will belong to the Palestinians. But Begin then asked a question: What about citizenship? And he answered: 'Every Arab who wishes to have Israeli citizenship shall receive it.' He said: 'We will not be Rhodesia.' This is a profound, moral matter. Not a technical matter.

"Likud is supposed to be a liberal national movement that is also concerned with equality among individuals, with human rights. I'll tell you something: In late 2002, then prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed me to prepare a peace plan along with senior aides Dov Weissglas, Amos Gilad and Ephraim Halevy. I sat down with him to understand what he had in mind, and we came to the issue of the Arabs voting. And then he said: 'Maybe they'll vote in Amman?' And I told him: 'Sure, and you'll vote in Jamaica.' He asked: 'Why Jamaica?' And I said: 'Why Amman? They live here. Voting is not a ceremonial thing. A person is entitled to shape the laws that govern his life in the place where he lives.'

"Begin understood this and said so, and moreover, he stated: Every Israeli can live in Judea and Samaria and every Arab is entitled to live anywhere in the Land of Israel. For many years, I could live with this. I didn't see a conflict between Greater Israel and liberal values, until it became apparent that the numbers just didn't work."

Are we on the fast track to a binational state?

"I don't want to reach the day when the two-state paradigm is replaced by a one-state paradigm. When the Arab demand is not for two states, but when someone comes and says: Does it make sense that for 40 years [West Bank settler leaders] Moshe Levinger and Elyakim Haetzni should vote on the question of what army should be here, who should have freedom of movement, who can judge, etc., and all the questions that a person votes upon, all the laws that apply there, and all the Arabs around don't vote?"

So what do you propose should be done now?

"I've come to a very painful conclusion, that a decision must be made. If we hold onto the entire land, we will not be able to remain a democracy, we will not be able to preserve human rights, equality, because the result will be a binational state. Even if we're not a minority, even if we comprise up 55 percent. That's no longer a Jewish state with an Arab minority, that's a state of two peoples who share the government. If we then want to maintain a situation in which only we have rights and they don't, that's what Begin meant by 'Rhodesia.'
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