Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From Our Files: Letter to Washington Post

December 12, 2000
The Editor
The Washington Post
Washington, D.C.

In a recent article, former President Jimmy Carter claims, in regard to UN Security Council Resolution 242, that “Prime Minister Begin ultimately acknowledged its applicability in all its parts”, ("For Israel, Land or Peace", Washington Post, Nov. 26,2000). He furthermore writes that violence in the Middle East continues, this due to “an underlying reason…that some Israeli leaders continue…building settlements in occupied territory”. The dispute between Mr. Carter and Mr. Menachem Begin over these issues is well-known. We wish to present a different picture of those diplomatic concerns.

As William B. Quandt makes clear in his volume, “Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics”, American officials were in dispute with Mr. Begin over the interpretation of 242 and its relevance to portions of the Jewish people’s historic homeland in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Quandt, present at Camp David in 1978, notes quite plainly on page 246 that Mr. Begin, at Camp David, rejected the applicability of 242 and only accepted the position that while it could serve as an instrument for negotiations, it could not apply in an obligatory fashion to the results of any final agreement.

According to archival material reposited at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, Mr. Begin appeared before an audience of over 2,500 persons on September 20, 1978 three days after the end of the Camp David conference. Discussing the 242 resolution, he said, inter alia:

“‘We were asked to sign a document, in which at least four times the words appeared: “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war…we explained to them [the Americans] that these words are taken from the preamble to Resolution 242 of the United Nations Security Council of November 1967…And now you ask us to sign a document with those false and falsifying words: “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory,” as a result of such a war, of legitimate self-defense, of saving a nation surrounded and attacked and threatened with annihilation?…for eight days, we heard from our American friends, that if that phrase is not included in the document, no agreement is possible…We refused. On behalf of the People of Israel, on behalf of the Jewish People, in the name of simple of human justice and dignity, above all, on behalf of truth, we refused to give this signature for those words.

“Ultimately, a talk took place between the President and myself on Wednesday night, the eighth day of our deliberations. I asked the President to lend me an attentive ear. I told him: “It is going to be, Mr. President, one of the most serious talks I have ever held with you since we met in July last year in the White House…[and]I concluded this passage of my words to the President of the United States with a simple statement, taken, yes indeed, from the Bible. And I told him: ‘Mr. President: Let my right hand forget its cunning before I sign such a document’.

Mr. Begin’s view is upheld also by a recent scholarly publication, “Heroic Diplomacy” by Kenneth W. Stein. Professor Stein records on page 253 that “the preamble mentioned Resolution 242 by name…but did not say that it applied to all fronts. If it had, Begin would never have signed”. On page 231, Stein writes that Begin opposed any allocation of Judea and Samaria to foreign sovereignty, as Carter understood Resolution 242 to dictate, and that the issue was “not on the negotiating table”.

As for the issue of settlements, Quandt on page 253, makes it clear that Mr. Carter made a mistake and, in fact, misinterpreted Mr. Begin’s position regarding any freeze. He quotes from Mr. Carters’ own book, “The Blood of Abraham”, page 169, that Carter had made a serious omission in not clarifying Mr. Begin’s position. Stein, too, on page 255, attests to the fact that Carter failed to adequately understand Begin’s lack of commitment on the settlement issue and left the matter in ambiguity. It should be emphasized that all Israel’s governments since have adopted Mr. Begin’s principled approach that Resolution 242 does not apply to the totality of all the territories Israel administers as a result of its defensive actions in 1967 against Arab aggression.

We trust these references will contribute to a more balanced view of diplomatic history and what transpired at the first Camp David conference.


Harry Hurwitz,
The Menachem Begin Heritage Center,

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