09 March '11
To help evaluate Evelyn Gordon’s impassioned post regarding Israel’s possible $20 billion defense request, let me recount two incidents from the negotiations Menachem Begin conducted with the Carter administration in 1977-78 that are worth remembering today.
The first incident occurred in July 1977, when Zbigniew Brzezinski presented Begin with a draft statement regarding the just-concluded U.S.-Israel meeting. Begin told Brzezinski that the draft was acceptable — “except for two sentences.” Brzezinski asked what they were:
“Please delete ‘The United States affirms Israel’s inherent right to exist.’”
“Because the United States’ affirmation of Israel’s right to exist is not a favor, nor is it a negotiable concession. I shall not negotiate my existence with anybody, and I need nobody’s affirmation of it.”
Brzezinski’s expression was one of surprise. “But to the best of my knowledge every Israeli prime minister has asked for such a pledge.”
“I sincerely appreciate the president’s sentiment,” said Begin, “but our Hebrew Bible made that pledge and established our right over our land millennia ago. Never, throughout the centuries, did we ever abandon or forfeit that right. Therefore, it would be incompatible with my responsibilities as prime minister of Israel were I not to ask you to erase this sentence.” And then, without pause, “Please delete, too, the language regarding the commitment to Israel’s survival.”
“And in what sense do you find that objectionable?”
“In the sense that we, the Jewish people alone, are responsible for our country’s survival, no one else.”
The second incident came a year later, in perhaps the tensest moment of the Camp David negotiations. In his diary entry for September 12, 1978, published last year in White House Diary, Carter wrote that Begin called him during dinner and said he “wanted to see me as soon as possible for the most serious talk we had ever had.” Carter tried to postpone the meeting until the next morning, but Begin insisted.
(Read full "What Would Begin Do?")
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