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What would Menachem Begin do?

How would former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin have responded to the Trump administration's “deal of the century?”

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivers an address at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland upon his arrival in the United States for a state visit, Jan. 1, 1978. Credit: USAF.
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin delivers an address at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland upon his arrival in the United States for a state visit, Jan. 1, 1978. Credit: USAF.
Gary Schiff
Gary Schiff is a licensed tour guide and resource consultant connecting Israel and the U.S.

In the United States, we sometimes longingly remember past presidents and envision how they would have responded to today’s challenges. The same is true in Israel, where these days Israelis across the spectrum are recalling Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and imagining his responses to current events.

So in light of the upcoming unveiling of the Trump administration’s upcoming “deal of the century,” this seems like an opportune time to reflect on what Begin actually proposed as a peace plan to residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

At the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, visitors can hear Begin’s approach straight from the source. In a video presentation at the museum, in response to a reporter’s question about his intentions with regard to making peace with Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he says unequivocally that Israel has no desire to rule over those communities, and that they should have the right of self-determination.

Here are some specifics from his Dec. 28, 1977 plan:

  • An 11-member Administrative Council would be created, based in Bethlehem, presumably representing various communities, with set terms and term limits.
  • Residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza would have the opportunity to choose Israeli or Jordanian citizenship, assuming they met certain requirements and commitments.
  • These areas would also be open to Jewish settlement, but only those who chose to be citizens of Israel could acquire land.
  • Israel would proclaim sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza, with details to be worked out in the future.
  • There would be guaranteed access to all religious sites.
  • Israel would retain all security responsibilities.

Unfortunately, most of the elements of Begin’s proposal have either been ignored or abused.

  • Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has significantly exceeded the term for which he was elected. He has demanded a Palestinian capital in what subsequent Israeli prime ministers have referred to as the “eternal Jewish capital of Jerusalem.”
  • Abbas has demanded “Palestinian” citizenship, not Israeli or Jordanian.
  • He has claimed sovereignty over all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza and speaks to his own audience about the ultimate desire to reacquire all of Israel.
  • Only with army protection can Jews visit our holy religious sites; Joseph’s tomb, Joshua’s tomb and many others.

The components of Begin’s plan were considered for inclusion in the Israeli-Egypt peace plan, but Egypt—apparently reflecting certain elements in the Palestinian street—ultimately did not agree. After the peace agreement was concluded, the Israeli military proposed granting individual communities self-government and working directly with locally elected leaders, but that was never implemented. Then came the Oslo Accords, creating the Palestinian Authority, which resulted in decades of anti-Jewish terrorism—terrorism that is encouraged and incentivized by the P.A. to this day.

We will soon see the Trump administration’s peace plan, and Israel needs to have a response ready. Should we look back at any of Begin’s ideas in creating our response? Shouldn’t Israel insist on safe and uncontested access to our holy sites? Should Palestinian citizenship be an option, or only Israeli or Jordanian citizenship? What about Begin’s principle of self-determination? We know that polling data indicates two-thirds of eastern Jerusalem residents would prefer to be part of Israel in any future scenario, not part of a Palestinian state. Can self-determination be part of the discussion?

For Begin, Israel’s security was obviously paramount. He was, however, also clear in his desire not to rule over the day-to-day lives of our Arab neighbors, and clear about the importance of protecting our Jewish communities and Jewish religious sites in Judea and Samaria. We might do well to consider some of his principles in developing our response.

Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based natural resource consultant connecting Israel and the United States.

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