Peace without me?


Rachel and I sat in the comfortable living room of prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. We had been invited for tea by Aliza Begin, wife of the prime minister. It was the spring of 1980.

When Menachem Begin entered the room there were greetings and hugs all around. Rachel and I had been close friends of the Begin family since our meeting on an airplane in 1968. The prime minister had just returned from a meeting at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

As I remember, we sat, had tea and some cookies. I asked Prime Minister Begin what could he tell us of the meeting with the American ambassador that was not classified.

The thin, bespectacled 70-year-old intellectual, freedom fighter and former lawyer smiled. “We had,” he began in his slightly accented English, “a discussion of the peace process.”

Now, let us remember that this is a conversation that took place some 33 years ago. Therefore, the exact wording of the discussion might not be totally accurate, but believe me, my friends, the essence and the message are still very clear in my mind and memory.

“The ambassador felt that we could have a peace agreement with the ‘so called PLO’ in a short period of time, based on concessions we, Israel would make.”

Yes, I know, the names have changed but the thrust of the conversation between an Israeli prime minister and an American official sounds stunningly familiar, does it not?

“What concessions?” we asked

The prime minister took a sip of his tea. “He wanted us to cede some more land to the so called PLO. He wanted us to negotiate over Jerusalem and the return of the Palestinians who left in 1948. He did not want to discuss the 800,000 Jews pushed out of Arab lands in the 1950s.

“I asked him if he really thought that giving back land that would put us back to our pre-1967 borders would actually bring peace. He said, yes. Eventually. So then I told him that peace was an honorable goal. But what good is peace, Mr. Ambassador, to me—without me. For surely under those circumstances I and my people would no longer be here.”

“And his answer to that?” we asked.

Another sip. “He of course had none. Just a smile and an assurance that America stands behind the State of Israel.”

And so here we are, more than 30 years later. The only changes that have taken place are the emergence of Iran as a State backing two terror organizations on Israel’s borders and threatening to wipe it off the face of the earth. And while Arafat was a gangster and a terrorist, at least we knew where he stood. And now, it would seem only Israel seems to really know where Iran stands.

There are myriad plans, which could radically change the conditions of the Palestinian people. They or their leadership, such as it is, have no interest in bettering their living conditions and creating a solid economy. All we have to do is look at Gaza and see the chances wasted there. Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Iran, are so fixated on killing Jews that their own future, their own success, is not even a factor.

Tell me that, well, that is only the radical elements. That as a people they have the same aspirations as any other people. True. But so what? If their schools teach the children that Israel is evil and Jews are to be feared and killed, if those radical elements are ready to rain rockets down on innocent civilians on a daily basis, what hope is there for the future?

Peace is an abstract subject. In the time of the Soviet Union, they expressed peace as a world wherein the Communist system was the only one. And that then and only then would there be true peace. The Muslim jihadists want a new caliphate to rule the world.

President Obama is right about settlements. They cannot pop up like pimples on the landscape justified by a fringe of Israeli society. But it has little to do with the actual peace that would satisfy those whose sole goal is the destruction of the Jewish State.

And so it is with Iran. Unless and until the United States takes the lead in shutting down Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the danger grows.

Does Iran want true peace? I don’t know. What I do know is this: more than 30 years later, the words of the last great prime minister of Israel echo: Peace? Peace is wonderful. But peace without me? Of what good is that to me?

If much of this column seems familiar to some readers it is because I first wrote most of it in July 2009. I changed some dates and emphasis for obvious reasons. But it is amazing. The more things change the more they are the same.


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