Issues and Answers

TV Interviews
posted on:
19 In mar 1979
Individuals - Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter. autonomy plan , Ideologies - Communists. States - Egypt, Jordan, Soviet Union (Russia), Syria, USA. Liberty of Men - Individual Liberty. Interim Agreements , Peace , Peace Agreements , peace process with Egypt , Greater Land of Israel - Sinai Peninsula
An extensive interview with Prime Minister Begin on "ABC" about the progress of peace talks with Egypt. Taking place months after the deadline for a full treaty, much of the interview deals with the deal's effects on Egypt's obligations to other Arab nations, Begin's feelings of optimism about the talks and Israel's key role as part of the free world in the Middle East.
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Umatic 17 Transcript

Frank Reynolds: Mr. Prime Minister, we are delighted to have you with us once again on Issues and Answers and we appreciate your taking time from what I know has been a very, very busy schedule in your stay here in Washington to come and talk with us.

Indeed it is.

I would like to go back to your opening statement when you got off the plane at Andrews Air Force Base the other day. And you said, if I quote you correctly, "It is my duty to state that negotiations between Egypt and Israel have reached a stage of deep crisis." Is that still true, sir, after your conversations here?

Yes, as long as we didn't solve the main issues, of course there is a deep crisis. For instance, in the draft peace treaty, which we were prepared to sign, which was reached between the two delegations on the 11th of November, there are two stipulations which I call the heart and the soul of the treaty, namely one, that it doesn't depend on the action or inaction of any other party, and the other, that there is a conflict between the agreements which Egypt signed for 30 years with all the Arabic countries, amongst them the most implacable enemies of Israel, like Iraq, Libya and others, if there's a conflict between those agreements and the peace treaty, the commitments under the peace treaty with Israel will be binding and also carried out. As I said, if these two stipulations should be either deleted or interpreted away, then there is no peace treaty.

Mr. Prime Minister…

And, therefore, we debated very seriously.

Mr. Prime Minister, I'd like to put this to you, though, sir. In the event you got the change, if the language was worked out to your satisfaction, so that that the priority of obligations rested with the Israeli treaty with Egypt, what really would there be to prevent Egypt from going to war with Israel six months or a year from now, if that should be the decision of the Egyptian leader at that time? Would not the prospects for staying out of a war be better with the treaty?

My dear friend, first of all, the agreement has been reached, suddenly from the other side, and we can reach the agreement today, because it is written in the draft peace treaty, as I already told you. Then, this thesis, that any peace treaty can be breached and war can be made I heard from time to time, and, believe me, I don't need that lesson. I read some pages of history and I know what happened to several peace treaties and I remember the famous saying by Bethmann-Hollweg about the neutrality of Belgium. I do not belong to those who cynically say a peace treaty's a piece of paper. I believe that a peace treaty is a very serious document. The question is whether we should agree to write a document which may mean that we knowingly signed a peace treaty with the stipulation that it can be breached by the other side. That would be absurd. And, therefore, we stand by that agreement we already reached. Let it be clear, I didn't speak about priorities. I spoke about the possibility that if there is a conflict between an agreement in which it is said that the parties, Egypt included, will fight for the liberation of Palestine, that means the destruction of Israel, and the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the peace treaty, of course, the commitments under it will be binding and will be implemented. It is so natural. Otherwise, we, a priori, say you can breach the peace treaty, then it becomes a piece of paper. So it's a very serious matter. Of course, we are not going to dissolve our army if we sign a peace treaty. If it should be broken, then, I suppose, [unclear 4:40] will not win the day, [unclear 4:43] will win the day. But it is absurd to demand to demand of a country knowingly to sign a peace treaty and say the other side can go and make of it a mockery.

Have you succeeded in the last three or four days, since your time here, in narrowing the differences with President Carter?

Well, I have some agreement reached already. It is article 4 of the peace treaty. On article 6 there should be now a discussion with the president and his advisors happening, between the American delegation and the Egyptians. We have clarified our point of view.

The president said, as you know…

We are making it clear now, to everybody. I think our position is very reasonable. Every man of good will, if he weighs the issue on the scales of justice, will agree to that. And now, I suppose, the American delegation should talk to the Egyptians.

Well , I would assume, Mr. Prime Minister, that you would include President Carter in your collection of every man of good will.

No doubt whatsoever.

And he says that the issues that remain between you and to divide you, Israel and Egypt, are absolutely insignificant and it is disgusting to think that you're so close and can't reach it. And yet you say that the differences are very grave.

Well, just as I suppose…

[Reynolds and Begin talk over each other 6:03]

A genuine disagreement between free men. The president's a free man and so am I. He represents a mighty power and I represent a smaller country. But I represent a people who are experienced at suffering great losses and must care for our population and must be sure that this peace treaty is not for a period of a few months or a few years but for generations to come. We want to give safety to our children and their children and I don't think the differences are insignificant. I explained them. They are very serious indeed. We speak about the heart of the peace treaty.

Mr. Prime Minister, you speak frequently about your concern for future generations and that is a question that is uppermost, I believe, in the minds of a great many Americans, too. Are you and your associates, not, shall I say, haunted by the possibility that, one day, one day, there will be Arab unity and the Iraqis and the Saudis and the Syrians and, perhaps, even the Egyptians, in a coordinated and well-organized military effort, will decide to make war against Israel?

Well, sir, I hear for the last 30 years that time works against Israel. I didn't see any sign of it. We are not frightened. I think we can sustain our independence. We shall never call foreign armies to defend our country. For instance, I may say in this country, we shall never ask one American soldier to die for our independence. We shall sustain our independence in future generations, as well. And we have a wonderful young generation and we can defend ourselves. Believe me, it will be so in the future generations and in future generations. But we hate war. We want, with all our hearts, peace. We hate bloodshed. Therefore, we sat together with President Sadat and we started negotiating these negotiations. And, therefore, on the 11th of November, we had already a peace agreement. Suddenly, there came a change of mind in Cairo. That particular stipulation which I already explained to everybody should be interpreted the way, how could we ever have agreed to it? We couldn't. This is now the issue we have to negotiate again, and I don't see any tragedy in it. I think with our, ultimately we'll find understanding.

But you haven't found a common agreement on this issue yet. The Egyptians say no concessions on that and you are here now, after lengthy conversations with President Carter. The differences have not been narrowed. So what's the next step?

Not all of them. Well, I suppose the next step should be very serious reflection and really some time for all the partners involved. What's wrong with that? Why do we keep a wristwatch about a peace treaty? We take some time. It's an old conflict of 60 years and more, and you quoted the possibility of war to be made by Egypt as well. So we have to have guarantees that there will be real security. Peace without security is meaningless. And it may take some more time. What's the tragedy? I don't see a tragedy. Nothing happened. We will have to continue our talks, not interrupt them.

Well, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm obliged to remind you of the, I guess the term you would use is euphoria, last September, after the signing of the Camp David agreements at that marvelous ceremony at the White House. And the night when, I believe, you, sir, volunteered to reach an agreement even earlier than that stipulated in the agreements.

[Begin smiles, nods] That's a fact.

And now you are sitting here saying, well, you're not saying everything is just grand but you don't seem to be concerned about the fact that Egypt and Israel still do not have a peace treaty and that you have fundamental differences, in your view, still dividing you, and no progress has been made towards resolving these differences. I'm not sure I understand your optimism.

I'm a born optimist. I only said that nations shouldn't get nervous and lose the capacity to think calmly when there is a certain crisis in negotiations. Ups and downs are always part and an integral part of negotiations. I could have quoted to you treaties already reached after years. Some of them you know yourself. And here, we negotiate, let me say for the last 14 months, was no splendid period. I believe we should overcome the difficulties, but anyhow it should be made clear, I don't adopt this theory of now or never. I will never adopt it. If there is a crisis, let us try, let us make an intellectual effort to overcome it. If we didn't this week, then maybe next week, next month. And, therefore, I couldn't say I'm not concerned. I would have liked to have signed this treaty in November, as we suggested. I am. I love peace, I hate war. And my people want peace. Do you imagine, Mr. Reynolds, what are the sacrifices we already made for the sake of peace with Egypt? We are prepared to give up the whole Sinai Peninsula. Two great air bases which we built with our own toil of great strategic importance, mainly after the events in Iran and the six countries which the Soviet Union took over by proxy in the last three years or so – Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Southern Yemen and, actually, also Cambodia. Where is the free world going? We built those great bases, it was going to be used also in the service of the free world. Now, last, but not least, with the greatest pain in my heart, we also decided to move our brave pioneers, who built their homes in a piece of desert, perhaps 2% of the whole area of the Sinai Peninsula, for the last 12 years, all for the sake of peace. No nation ever made such sacrifices, and, may I also say, no previous government ever did so. And, therefore, we proved that we give sacrifices for peace, not with words from mouths but with deeds. But it must be a real peace treaty. It cannot be a sham. We are not going to sign a sham document.

And, as it stands now, you believe it is a sham document that the president of the United States…

No, as it stands now, as we are asked to do. We are asked to sign documents which will make those two main stipulations. Namely, I will give you the simple example. Syria doesn't want to join the negotiations. Nobody can do anything about it. Neither we nor Egypt nor the United States of America. I heard an American who went to talk to Assad who said that Sadat should pack his suitcases and leave Egypt because he's lost. These are the relations between Syria and Egypt now. Can he bring Syria to the table? He cannot. Now the question is if we should sign that so-called interpretive note. The whole peace treaty between us and Egypt depends on the will of Mr. Assad. He doesn't join, there is no comprehensive peace settlement, someday, maybe Sadat or, perhaps, his successor can say the peace treaty with Israel is null and void because we signed, as it said in the interpretive note, the peace treaty in the context of a so-called comprehensive settlement. The same applies to the question of war and peace. If there is a conflict between those agreements I already mentioned to you and the peace treaty and we know that they exist then we are actually agreeing that it can be broken any day, anytime, by any Egyptian ruler. It's absurd to demand that, to do so.

Mr. Prime Minister, I don't want to interrupt, but we'll continue this discussion, it's very interesting indeed. We'll be back in just a moment.

[Commercials at 14:25; Reynolds starts at 15:23]

Mr. Prime Minister, you have spoken eloquently of the consequences, or the possible consequences, of signing the peace treaty as presently constituted, with the appendices to it.

[Begin nods]

Now, suppose, I'd like to ask you this. If you fail to achieve an agreement, what do you believe will be the impact on the Arab world? Will the extremists or the moderates be encouraged? What do you think will happen if Sadat comes out of this whole process with nothing?

First of all, why should it do so? I appeal to him to sign the peace treaty as we already agreed on it on the 11th of November. Then I cannot speak on behalf of the Arab nations. What I can tell you, Mr. Reynolds, is the world's in turmoil. The free world's in dire danger. When I came for the first time to visit the president of the United States, may I quote myself, that's exceptional. I said the free world can be likened to an island battered by high waves and stormy seas. It shrank, it has been shrinking, and this is what happened in the last few years. As you know, Israel is the most stable ally of the free world in the Middle East because it has got the inherent stability of a democracy. In all the countries around us, things are being decided by bullies. In our country, things are being decided by ballot, and that is the decisive difference. Now, there was the upheaval in Iran. It's not yet the end of it. Even that Islamic fanaticism, which reminds us of the Middle Ages, depends on the life of a 76-year-old ayatollah. There are Leftists, Communists, armed. Nobody can say what will happen. Russia and Iran have got the longest border, the size of the Chinese-Russian border. I think the free world should be very, very careful and we, Israel, are an integral part of the free world. I think our young generation can, together with the young generation of other free nations, defend it, as they should do. And then, when you ask me the question what the Arab extremists will do, I say everybody should think about it. Not only us.

Do you consider, let me ask you this in light of all that, do you consider President Carter at this point to be an honest broker between Israel and Egypt or do you believe that he's taking the Egyptian side?

President Carter is an honest man and he is my friend and I will always say so. As far as the concept of a broker is concerned, if you ask me this question, I will say with complete candor, the Egyptians contend the American delegation supports their view. And then, of course, it is an attitude which is one-sided.

But do the Israelis believe that?

I hear all the time the Egyptian press and they say the American delegation supports our view. Of course, then there is the question of whether it is one-sided or whether it is, as it should be, if there is a mediation, that it should be objective.

Do you believe, Mr. Prime Minister, that President Carter is being objective or, never mind what the Egyptian press says, do you believe that President Carter is objective?

At the last meeting at Camp David with our foreign minister, there was a time when the American delegation took the Egyptian side. [Begin nods]

What about yesterday?

Well, yesterday we talked with the president in a very frank atmosphere. As I said, on some things, we reached an agreement, on others we didn't, but our friendship continues and we shall have another meeting today as well, and I explained to him our point of view. I think he listened very attentively. I hope he understood it.

Do you have any plans or any thoughts of seeing Sadat soon?

I don't know. I can't answer. What I did not agree is to meet with Prime Minister Khalil, not because I don't like him, he's a likeable person, I met him in Jerusalem. And not also because of the difference of status. He's a prime minister, of course, but he's under orders of his master. I am the chief executive in my country, he is not. The chief executive in Egypt is Sadat. But I would forgo the question of prestige. I wouldn't mind the question of prestige. I have felt those declarations of President Sadat, no concessions, you have to fulfill everything I told you, etc. Such a so-called summit meeting would be more detrimental than useful. Therefore, our cabinet, almost unanimously, 14 against, 2 undecided, that I should not participate. But when President Carter phoned and invited me to come to see him, I gladly answered, gratefully accepted the invitation, and I think we had very friendly talks in Washington.

Mr. Prime Minister, you obviously have, your primary obligation is to the security and wellbeing of Israel, but do you try, as I'm sure you do, as a skilled negotiator, to put yourself in the position of your adversary, to try to understand his position? I'm sure you're aware that many Egyptians, and I can't speak for President Sadat, many Egyptians, many Arabs believe Israel has no intention of implementing the wider aspects of the Camp David Agreements, that all you're interested in is the separate peace treaty with Israel, with Egypt.

My friend, I said time and again to President Sadat and the American delegation, I have never made a suggestion to conclude a separate peace treaty with Egypt. Why should we? Let us assume we have a separate peace treaty. Then we have another [unclear 21:40] with a combination of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. 5,000 tanks and more. 6,000 heavy guns and more. Why should we wish for such a situation? Therefore, we want a comprehensive peace treaty. It is in our interest. As far as the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are concerned, we want to live with them together, with peace and human dignity. We want to give them autonomy, provided we have complete security, and never that out of that autonomy a so-called Palestinian state will arise, because that will be a mortal danger to us. Almost all of our civilian population will be in the range of their machine guns, not only of their heavy artillery, and there also it will be a solid base in the center of the Middle East a danger to the whole free world. Why should we agree to that?


So we must be very careful about it, but we are absolutely searching. What do we have to prove? We already proved our love of peace, our wish for peace. If there are suspicious minds, let them get rid of their suspicions. We don't deserve to be suspected by anybody. We've proved that we're sincere in our wish for peace and to have a comprehensive peace settlement, but what can we do to force President Assad to join the peacemaking process?

And without President Assad?

And I'll ask my American friends, what can you do to bring Jordan to the peace table? You actually give Jordan all the weapons, all the ammunition, and give Jordan the [unclear 23:20] and then Jordan declines and you can't do anything about it. Why should we be accused of it?

So you're complaining now about American policy with respect to Jordan.

No, I don't complain about American policy. I only state the simple facts. I say to my American friends, you can bring either Syria or Jordan, and, therefore, don't make the peace treaty with Egypt dependant on a so-called comprehensive peace agreement, because then it is hanging on a thread. It's not a peace treaty at all.

And your relations with President Carter now are just grand, as we take it? That's your feeling?

When we met at Camp David, there as friendship between us. We had very good talks.

And today?

I don't know. You'll have to ask President Sadat. He will be arriving in the country quite soon, I understand.

President Sadat will be arriving?

Yes, I heard that he's going here in April to get a title, a doctorate…

Oh, yes, yes.

And I think he will not refuse to be interviewed by ABC…

Well, we'll see about that.

If you want to ask him the question.

Let me ask you this, Mr. Prime Minister, and we have very little time. We appreciate you coming on here, but, really, why are you here? Why are you here, talking to the American public, really over the head and around the negotiators, the American negotiators…

That is the most curious question I have ever heard…

I'm sure it is.

You invited me to come to Issues and Answers and you sent to me cables to Jerusalem that I should accept the invitation and that you are looking for Barbara Walters all over Europe, that she should come. No, I approved your invitation, now you ask me why are you here. I just approved your invitation. Yours is a free country, as mine is. You invited me, I came here. I did not talk over the heads of your government. I will talk again to your government. But you invited me…

We have to go right now …

I did my best to give answers.

And we're very grateful.

It's a very curious question, I must admit, but I think, for good humor, it was very advisable to put it.

Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, and I want to assure you you'll be welcome next time you come back. Thank you so much for being with us today.