Benny Begin, the “Old School” Israeli Politician Opens Up
by Josh Hasten
This week I had the privilege of interviewing Israeli Cabinet Minister Mr. Binyamin (Benny) Begin on my weekly Israel National Radio talk show.
I had noticed that Begin has been relatively quiet in the public eye in his current role as Minister without Portfolio in the Netanyahu government. Nevertheless Begin, speaking less than a week after Prime Minister Netanyahu returned from his well received and perhaps historic or Churchillian address in front of a joint House of Congress was extremely candid about some of the beliefs he has held throughout his life in public service.
Most significantly, while many Israeli politicians including the last six Prime Ministers have been seemingly willing or have openly favored turning over parts of the land of Israel to the Palestinian Authority as part of the process of establishing a “Palestinian State,” Begin has not jumped on that bandwagon. While admitting that he is part of the “old school” of thought, Begin was adamant that establishing an Arab State West of the Jordan River was simply unrealistic and even ludicrous. In his words:
“I think any second state of any nature, another sovereignty west of the Jordan River, especially when it comprises the PLO or Hamas, would negate or contradict two basic rights of the Jewish people and the citizens of Israel.”
Those two rights which Begin spoke of include a. the right of the Jewish people to live in all parts of their ancestral Jewish Homeland and b. the right for Israelis who do in fact live in “pre-1967 Israel” or in other words, the greater Tel Aviv area, comprised of over 75% of Israel’s population, to live in peace and security.
Begin clarified his first point, stressing that the Jewish Homeland “does not stop exactly east of the 1949 armistice demarcation lines, also known (erroneously.) as the ‘Green Line.'” Begin ads “Our right to our land – Including of course the cradle of our history in Judea and Samaria – is obvious.”
On the second point Begin is justifiably pessimistic based on recent history, (especially in regard to what has taken place over the past few months), that ceding territory to a foreign entity is a credible or realistic solution towards peace. He stands by that hesitant outlook now more than ever with the recent Fatah/Hamas alliance.
“There is also the question of national security, and we have had some experience in the last twenty years under the banner ‘territory for peace’… the actual events have been territory for terror. Every piece of land, every hectare, every acre that was consigned to the PLO reign became a haven for terrorist impunity. And we should anticipate that once we transfer parts of our homeland to the PLO it will be, actually, an indirect transfer of land through the PLO to Hamas, and to Iran.”
In regard to the most recent realities here in Israel Begin says that two specific incidents: the Fatah/Hamas unity deal and the “Nakba” riots last month which saw the infiltration of Northern Israel by over 100 Syrian radicals, along with riots throughout Judea and Samaria, prove the Arabs have no intention of making peace with the Jewish state.
In reference to the latter incident Begin makes an original point. If the Arabs living in Israel (including those in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza), truly became hostile as a result of the so-called “occupation,” then why is their “Nakba” or “devastation” marked annually on May 15th the date on which the State of Israel was established in 1948? Why don’t they commemorate he asks, their “Nakba” during the second week in June, marking the 1967 return of Jewish control over Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan, and Jerusalem? True a relatively new phenomenon called “Naska” or the “setback” is marked in June, but if the “occupation” is the route of all evils, shouldn’t that be the real “Nakba?” The fact that May 15 is the set date for rioting says Begin, proves that the Arabs view “the very establishment of the State of Israel,” as their true “calamity.”
Finally Begin turns his shift to Israel’s public relations efforts, which are seemingly under constant scrutiny. He concedes that Israel is at a disadvantage when trying to make its case since the Arabs have vastly greater resources (meaning dollars), when it comes to their Israel bashing. But one thing Israel does have he says, is a moral leg to stand on.
“One of the nice things about our ‘propaganda,'” says Begin, “is that we don’t have to sell lies. We can suffice ourselves with telling people things as they are. We have to tell them the truth. And we have to ask them to judge. Because once they know the facts they will be able use moral judgment.”
He then cites the fabrication filled op-ed written by PA head Mahmoud Abbas in the New York Times last month as the ultimate in anti-Israel propaganda. Nevertheless, Begin is optimistic that readers will see through the lies and “see easily for themselves what kind of narrative, or actually what kind of lies, the PLO tries to sell intelligent people in America and elsewhere. He adds that “It (the article) is untenable, it is unacceptable, and it takes things to such an extreme in such a manner that we can easily prove the narrative is totally false.” In addition Begin says that “Such articles will only help us,” I don’t know if this would take effect immediately It takes time, but people of good will, if they will stand up and work for truth – for morality – I think it would be a great help to the cause of real justice in our part of the world.”
In the end it easy to understand that despite carrying out his duties under the radar this time around, why Begin has earned the endearing respect of his colleagues on all sides of the Israeli political debate. His soft spoken tone, extreme humility, and overall commitment to the State of Israel and the People of Israel prove that perhaps being part of the “old school,” is not that bad after all.