My Plan for Peace
WHAT was the peace plan which Menachem Begin offered President Sadat after the latter's Jerusalem visit—and which President Carter first of all praised, and then, after President Sadat had had second thoughts about it, dismissed?
This is how Mr. Begin himself outlined it before the National Press Club in Washington after his most recent—and most difficult—talks at the White House:
OUR PLAN for peace, as a fair basis for negotiation, was conceived in two parts. First, we worked out a detailed proposal for the complete administrative autonomy of the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, and Samaria and the Gaza district.
The administration of the Military Government will be abolished. The residents will, themselves, elect their own Administrative Council in a democratic, secret ballot. The departments of the Administrative Council will deal with all the problems of the daily lives of the inhabitants—education, religion, agriculture, industry, commerce, communications, housing, police, the administration of justice, social needs, etc. There will be no interference, whatsoever, in the conduct of daily affairs. Never before have the residents of these areas been given such freedom to run their own lives.
It has been said that what we are suggesting is a limited autonomy. Not so. In terms of responsibility of administering the daily affairs of the people, Israel is proposing an unlimited and uninhibited self-rule. The new concept we propose gives clear expression to the principle of equality of rights—a principle in which we believe with all our hearts. We suggest free option of citizenship, either Jordanian or Israel. Those who opt for the former will vote for the Jordanian parliament, those who choose the latter will vote for the Knesset. Free choice of citizenship is the hallmark and criterion of civil rights, of equality, of democracy, of human decency.
Yes, there is one thing along that we reserve—responsibility for security and public order. How could it be otherwise? Perhaps for citizens of a very large country it is difficult to grasp the decisive impact that security has on our lives. In our small country, most of our civilian population lives in the narrow coastal strip, nine to fifteen miles from the sea shore. Dominating that coastal plain are the mountains of Judea and Samaria.
Can we, therefore, allow or afford an enemy, with his bands or forces, to sit upon those mountain tops and threaten the lives of every woman and child in Israel?
This is the issue. It is not a theoretical one. It derives from a long and bloody experience. And the reminder of what it would mean to all of us in our daily lives was given Saturday, nearly two weeks ago. (a reference to the Haifa highway massacre by PLO terrorists).
There is one cardinal fact that Israel cannot ignore and which decent people must not forget.
The Jewish state is the only state on earth about which a modern document has been drawn up declaring that it should be destroyed, wiped off the map. It is the people who wrote that genocidal document and perpetrated that unspeakable atrocity who would be on those mountains overlooking our civilian population in the coastal plain below—in the towns, the cities and in the villages. Who controls that range of hills may be a matter of political importance to everybody else. Respectfully, I can say that, for us, it is a matter of life itself.
Hence, we conceived our plan for peace, which may be summed up in one sentence: complete administrative autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs, security for the Palestinian Jews.
AGREEMENT WITH EGYPT
The principles governing the other part of our peace plan—relating to the Sinai—are likewise new. Let me share with you one decisive example.
Since 1968, all Governments of Israel have affirmed and reaffirmed the decision that the territory between Eilat and Sharm-el-Sheikh will remain, in place, under sole Israeli control.
Given the experience of the past, it was a justified decision. Remember, twice major wars broke out—in '56 and '67—because the Straits of Tiran bordering Sharm-el-Sheikh were blockaded, in violation of their status as an international waterway. As a consequence, Israel was cut off from the southern and eastern seas.
In the peace proposal we have presented we gave up this past claim to territorial control. For the sake of an agreement and the peace, we now suggest that the narrow strip between our southern port, Eilat, and Sharm-el-Sheikh, become a United Nations zone. This is a far-reaching compromise proposal. And I emphasise, again, that we made it because of our will and our wish to reach an agreement that will make a peace treaty between ourselves and Egypt possible.
Then there is the concept of the demilitarization. In a private talk I held in Jerusalem with President Sadat last November, I pointed out to him that the desert must not again be filled with soldiers and weapons. Four times we had to fight wars of defence because the Sinai was turned into a base for marching armies attempting to invade our country and destroy our independence and, indeed, our people.
Those wars must never recur.
The desert must not again serve as a base for aggression and invasion. It is a universally recognised demand for demilitarization. I wish I could speak of absolute, total demilitarization. But, at best, under all circumstance, units of the Egyptian army will remain deployed around the Giddi and Mitla Passes in the western part of the peninsula.
And, indeed, during our Jerusalem talk—after some preliminary clarifications—President Sadat told me clearly, and without qualifications, that the Egyptian forces will not cross the line of the passes. It was on this crucial basis that Israel drew up its peace proposal with Egypt.
Imagine, then, our astonishment when, shortly afterwards, the Egyptian War Minister presented to our Defence Minister a map which drew a line of demilitarization only 40 kilometres from the international boundary. It is to that border, my friends, that we are prepared, ultimately, to withdraw our forces, after a transition period of several years, according to our peace proposal.
Forty kilometres, compared to a distance of between 180 and 200 kilometres, which was the area of demilitarization agree upon in my Jerusalem talk with President Sadat—in that difference between what was promised and what was proposed lies one of the most vital issues of our national security.
In our peace proposal we suggested that a second, narrow United Nations zone be created in the northern Sinai around the district of Yamit—a new town founded several years ago in the desert by the sea-shore. May I point out that the two proposed UN zones—conceived as vital to our national security—make up hardly move [more-JC] than three per cent of the whole Sinai Desert.
In the peace plan, presented here during my visit last December to the President of the United States, and to President Sadat at Ismailia a few days later, we included the proposal that the Israeli settlements in these narrow areas continue to exist, as they should exist.
Were it not for our settlements in the desert zone between the Gaza district and the Egyptian controlled territories in the west, no agreement whatsoever will ever prevent what one calls gunrunning, arms traffic or smuggling of weapons, explosives and ammunition into the Gaza Strip. Again, life would become unbearable. We would again have permanent bloodshed, as we had for the 19 long, protracted years before the Six-Day War.
May I say that, in making this proposal we, again, offered a most far-reaching compromise.
Why? Because we are perfectly entitled, under international law, to demand an appropriate rectification of the international border.
The Six-Day War of 1967 was, in the highest sense of the term, one of legitimate national self-defence against the proclaimed attempt to destroy us.
American Presidents have reaffirmed, again and again, that it was a war "thrust upon" Israel.
In the wake of such a war, it is not only the law, but also the practice, that territorial changes do take place, as agreed upon by the parties.
Should such alternations be disqualified, then the world map, both in East and West, would have to be subjected to immediate radical change. All the boundary changes after both World Wars were brought about as a result of self-defence.
This is the rule. Such is practice and precedent. It applies to Israel in the wake of the defensive war of 1967.
We have refrained again—for the sake of an agreement—from exercising this inherent right. Instead of asking for border rectifications, we have suggested the creation of limited UN zones in which our settlements will continue to exist. Because, exist they should, for the sake of our people's security. They should, because no wrong has been done in turning a small part of the desert into a blossoming garden. Should that garden again be turned into a desert?
To us, it is not only a matter of great human toil. It is also—and decisively—a vital concern of our national security. Without their presence there will be no peace in Gaza, no peace in southern Israel, and hence, no lasting peace in the region.
Such was our peace proposal. When it was first presented last December it was greeted in this great country and elsewhere with words of praise and with a most positive general reaction. Indeed, as the President said publicly, the Israeli peace plan represented "a long step forward." The Secretary of State declared it to be "a notable contribution" to peace.
It is with deep sorrow that I have to tell you that, at a certain moment in recent weeks, those good words of the past suddenly disappeared from the lexicon. Nobody mentioned them any more because, seemingly, there was objection from the other side. Can such an objection to a plan that had been publicly and positively appreciated be enough to turn right into wrong? Flexibility into inflexibility? Fair into unfair? Indeed, fairness and justice demand a different posture and, from this rostrum, today, I appeal to American fairness—now.
When I remember the Jerusalem and Ismailia meetings, I recall good days for President Sadat and for myself, for the Egyptian people and the Israeli people, and for peace. We greeted each other. During our productive talks we became friends. We said so to each other, privately and publicly. We did not hide our differences of opinion. On the contrary, we acknowledged them, we announced them. But—and this is the all-important point—the overriding spirit of those meetings was one of goodwill, of openness, of understanding. How did President Sadat sum up our two frank and friendly meetings? He said: "We shall discuss our problems. We shall negotiate the Israeli proposal and an Egyptian counter-proposal."
Then, suddenly, something happened. Names—bad names—were thrown into the arena. I am not impressed by name-calling, perhaps because I'm used to it. But when it besmirches the dignity of our people—well, we shall always defend that dignity. For too long has the Jewish people been vilified and humiliated. No more.
I sometimes hear the term—"Arab pride." I respect it. When it comes to ourselves, I prefer to speak of Jewish human dignity. We shall guard that dignity always and everywhere.
Allow me to conclude with this thought, or call, if you wish. Let us renew the spirit of the Jerusalem and the Ismailia meetings.
I believe that, if there is a revival of the spirit of Jerusalem and Ismailia on the one hand, and the renewal of American understanding for the Israeli peace plan on the other, our common goal will be achieved. Peace will finally come to that famous area, which is historically called the cradle of civilisation.