PM Begin at a Briefing at Blair House, Washington

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23 In mar 1978
Individuals - Anwar Sadat. autonomy plan , Peace - Autonomy Plan, Peace, Peace Agreements, Peace Process with Egypt. Egpyt , States - Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, USA. Foreign Policy , Greater Land of Israel , Israeli-Palestinian Conflict - Palestinians, PLO, Refugee Issue. Security - Operation Litani, Self-Defense, Six-Day War, Yom Kippur War. Peace Agreements , peace process with Egypt
Begin discussed the obstacles in the peace process, as well as the autonomy proposal, at a press conference at Blair House, Washington. He then spoke about the security situation in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, citing the Coastal Road massacre two weeks prior to the briefing and the Yom Kippur War as examples. He later addressed the Operation Litani's casualties in Lebanon, the implementation of Resolution 242, and his resignation from the cabinet in 1970.
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[Begin starts at 3:55]

I suggest we start with questions directly. It's the best thing to do at breakfast time.

First Questioner: Is everything as bad as the reports say they are in terms of your talks with the president?

Well, it's almost a question of definitions and they are subjective. I heard several of them. But, admittedly, the talks were difficult. In my opinion, the main reason is that since I came here and later to Ismailia with a detailed peace plan for Israel, that plan ceased, at a certain moment, to be the subject of negotiations and of talks. We cannot agree that a plan to establish peace – which I can prove is very forthcoming, is a great deal of what's called "flexibility," gives the other side, actually, the basic tenets of his demands – not all of them, because that is impossible – a peace plan which was praised here and elsewhere – I can only quote public statements, I remember them very well – "a long step forwards," "a notable contribution," etc. – it is not being negotiated and it is not being talked about. And we are asked to produce different proposals. We cannot agree. We don't say that our peace plan is an ultimate demand, "take it or leave it." We never said so. What we said is the content now. Let us negotiate it. [unclear 6:20] I suppose this is the main reason of that, if I don't use the word misunderstanding, lack of understanding. Then, of course, only regret it. It's not so tragic as sometimes some commented to say. The French have a philosophy, "C'est la vie," "This is life," it may happen in political life, but we have to point out the main reason. Then we also have a draft of what is called a statement of declaration of principles, about which there was a shuttling [unclear 7:06] the Egyptians gave us since the Ismailia conference their proposal, we give a counterproposal. Many drafts were written already. Lately, several parts of that declaration were already agreed. Some were not. But those we did, we should continue. Those proposals, or a proposal, a counterproposal, vice versa. At such delicate negotiations, a man should not say, "I have enough of it," especially when he's already started. Practically, the negotiations between us and Egypt – last week in Jerusalem and then [unclear 7:49] and in Cairo – lasted perhaps two or three days. No man in his senses can assume that such a terrible problem can be solved in a few days. I don't want to make actual comparison, but some treaties were debated and negotiated for many years before they were concluded and reached. I remember the joining of Great Britain to the European Common Market. It's an economic problem. There is no issue of hostility, etc. It took them nine years of negotiations. I don't make any hints that this should be the time for our negotiations, but, as I said, time and again, at least a few months until negotiations are finished.

Second Questioner: Mr. Prime Minister, in your view, what has changed since you were here? We were last gathered around this table in July. What, here in this country or in your country, what has made the difference in atmosphere, do you believe?

I don't see changes. What has changed is the fact that, since July, we debated the Geneva Conference. And if you know the question, how to bring together the Soviet Union and the United States and the Arab neighbors of Israel, Israel, and in those days we faced, may I say, a moral convincing that we should sit with the so-called PLO, representatives of the PLO. And then there was a working paper. Everything was around the Geneva Conference. But with the visit of President Sadat and our invitation to Jerusalem and my visit to Ismailia at the invitation of President Sadat, actually the Geneva Conference was left in abeyance and negotiations started between Egypt and Israel. I want to say we have three documents for the peacemaking talks. A peace arrangement in three parts. A draft between us and Egypt; administrative, complete autonomy for the Palestinian Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip; and a draft of declarations concerning all the Arab countries. I think it's a [unclear 10:26]. I met yesterday several of my friends from my talk in December. I remember, they were full of praise for our peace proposal. I just asked them, if I may say so, "Do peace a favor. Say so now what you said to me in December because it's the same peace proposal. If it was good in December, it cannot suddenly get wrong on its merits in March."

Mr. Prime Minister, in that connection with what's changed, there are some American officials who say that what has changed is that they perceive your position with regards to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be based primarily on your religious convictions and not on security arrangements particularly. Is this a valid analysis?

No. Well, if someone tells me about his convictions, I am not going to be ashamed. But for years I contend, my friends and I contended, and we continue to do so, that the right is inseparably combined with the security issue. I only would like to say that the question of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip is the most vital security issue. So, therefore, I always ask to remember that it is not a question of right, per se, it is a matter connected with our lives. And I have to point out that, to everybody else – including Egypt – this matter is one of policy and I do not contend of unimportant policy. I [unclear 12:27] of important policy and to everybody else. To us, it's a matter of life. I can only explain in simple words. Those are the mountains. The bulk of our civilian population lives in the Mediterranean Valley, beneath the slopes of the mountains. It is a distance of between 10 up to 15 miles from the seashore. In that narrow strip of land live more than two and a half million out of 3,100,000, circa, Jews. And if those mountains overlooking the valley and, may I say, ruling the valley would be in the hands of an enemy, of our enemy, as surely it will if we relinquish these areas – there are those who killed two weeks ago, Saturday, 35 of our men – they will take over. We, in Israel, must say so not only because it is the truth but because it is a danger. There may be various formulae, various theoretical assumptions. Practically, they would take over. And then we are in mortal danger of permanent incursions, of permanent bloodshed, and surrounded, as it would be, with the alignment which includes now Syria, Jordan, and behind them is Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Our friend, Mr. Hussein, let nobody contend that he wouldn't join, because they already joined. Yom Kippur War and now, lately, in southern Lebanon came an Iraqi group of 500 soldiers, etc. There is an alignment of more than 4,000 tanks, more than 4,000 heavy guns and more than 1,100 aircraft, double the numbers that Egypt has. So we can see what a danger that is. This is our problem. We did not press our claim and our right to sovereignty. We have such a claim, for obvious reasons, and we have the right. But we now plan for administrative autonomy, complete autonomy to the local inhabitants, suggest that the question of sovereignty we left open, let us deal more with people. Let the Palestinian Arabs have self-rule, we shall have security. But that is really the basic issue. Sometimes, from afar, I admit it is difficult to grasp the importance, the concentration of perils, in the situation. Ten miles from the seashore. Every house in the range of enemy artillery. The Knesset in the enemy's artillery. [unclear 15:38] Our capital city, Jerusalem, from both directions – in the north [unclear 15:50] and in the south, Bethlehem – in the crossfire. We can have now the experience from Lebanon. My friends, the Katyushas, which the Soviets made and supplied to the PLO, now it was not practical [unclear 16:07] with a range of 21.6 km. That would mean between 14 and 16 miles. And it would carry to almost every city in the valley of the Mediterranean.

The question of security, as you point out with the Katyushas, isn't it a fact that current military warfare, the position of guns can be 20 miles, can be 40 miles, rockets can go hundreds of miles. Isn't it true that you can be rocketed from Damascus and you can be rocketed from the other side of the Jordan, too? So, therefore, it's a question of whether you're going to be struck by machine guns or pistols, as in the bus incident, or whether you're going to be in danger from guns on the other side of the bridge. So miles is not exactly the key security problem here.

May I say that I would like to have the miles rather than give them up, but we don't have them at all. Now, I'm going to be serious, and I wish to answer as you deserve, missiles are a separate problem in our time and I do not speak theoretically. During the Yom Kippur War, Syria and Egypt used several missiles. Soviet missiles. Scud. We destroyed them in the air and they desisted. I suppose, all in all, there was a use of between three and four missiles. They have them. They didn't use them, because the whole story of missiles, even intercontinental or medium-range or short-range, is on the assumption that the other side will respond and, therefore, the first side gives up. This is the experience. Whereas conventional artillery, conventional arms are daily dangers. And the danger I speak of would be doubled. First, the incursions. There was the tragedy of Saturday, two weeks ago, but we must remember that such assassination of civilians, with differences, happened at the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv nearly two years ago. It's very tragic that, two years later, almost the same atrocity was perpetrated, but still [unclear 19:06]. In the situation we now describe, the land incursions would be uncountable, as they were for 19 years. And with the new weapons? All the more so. This is the present. They are not stoppable at those lines. They are absolutely defenseless. There are all the towns, townships, all the roads leading into. We couldn't stop them. We have only one way to try to do so, very tragic: retaliation.

Of the incursions that took place in the 19 years in your country, how many came from Judea and Samaria? How many from Lebanon? And if any in from Sinai.

The bulk from Judea and Samaria. The bulk. Not all of them. In certain periods, from Gaza. There were stoppages from Gaza. Also from Gaza, it was nonstoppable. There was retaliation. This is the reason why President Sadat at Ismailia told me that the late Mr. Ben-Gurion, of blessed memory, wanted to impose peace on the Arabs and I had to take 20 minutes to explain to President Sadat it is not so, not at all. We had to defend the country through retaliation. There was no other way. Because all the lines were absolutely indefensible. Permanent, mutual, bilateral bloodshed.

Mr. Prime Minister, you know that many of Israel's friends in Washington understood that you had to retaliate for the bus massacre, but now feel that Israel overreacted. We're looking at a situation where the official US estimate of civilians killed in Lebanon is 700, some go as high as 1,200, which means there was an overkill here with all the bombing runs. How would you respond to that?

May I show you that our army got the strictest instructions not to aim at civilians, not to attack civilian targets. If civilians were hurt, we regretted it. That is one of the differences between our attitude and that of the other side. They rejoice in killing our men, women and children. We regret it deeply. We never wanted it. We don't want it. And so instructions went out to the army. The famous commander, General Raful, put it a special way. We have a great national poet who, after a grave atrocity at the turn of the century, wrote a poem and inter alia he says, "Retribution for the blood of a child, even Satan didn't create it." Which is absolutely right. How can you take retribution for children's lives? They are little children, two years, three years. So they're growing their retribution operation abroad. And that commander wants to point out, "You have to not go in those ways." May I say, in complete sincerity, as everybody around the table knows, that sometimes, when you hit a military target, civilians are around, they may be hurt. It happens time and again. It is also very regrettable. This perhaps is the result of what was said in [unclear 23:08] so nobody knows exactly how many civilians were hurt. But any figure is indefinite. Any. We had to go in. That wasn't any overreaction. I may ask rhetorically, where is the country in the world which would tolerate the following situation: a neighboring country, a haven given to armored bands, the opportunity is granted to plan, to incur, to kill, to wound, to prepare, to gather arms, and then send their missiles of death into [unclear 23:46]. Under any pattern, it is intolerable. And [unclear 23:56] they say, "Now, we must empty those bases," and we did. They are not anymore in southern Lebanon, close to our border. We hope that, under the United Nations force [unclear 24:08], arrangements will be made as we insisted, that those PLO men shouldn't return to [unclear 24:17] and they won't.

Mr. Prime Minister, you'd like us to think that you've changed your position when you now say that 242 doesn't apply to the Gaza Strip and the West bank.

We accept 242 in all its principles. We said so in the Knesset. We put it in the draft declaration of our principles presented to President Sadat and can even repeat the words we put in on the basis of the principles of the aforementioned Resolution 242. There will be withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in the conflict of 1967 and secure and recognized boundaries within which every state in the area may live in peace, free from threat of use of force. This is the language of 242.

That doesn't mention what you excepted, except the West Bank.

No, it doesn't mention anything. It says exactly what it said in 242. 242, Jordan is not mentioned. Why should the name be added to the resolution which was weighed by every letter? That is the point. But nothing is mentioned. "From territories." [unclear 25:47] there will be peace. We just don't see why we should agree to add words which are not inserted in the original Resolution 242, but we accepted it as it is, as a basis for negotiations of our nations.

You don't see any problem in the fact that the Americans had assumed, or other countries had assumed, that withdrawal included the West Bank and Gaza and now it has surfaced that it doesn't.

There are many interpretations of 242. This is the Arab interpretation. And they presented to us that demand, that Israel must withdraw totally to the lines preceding the Six-Day War. Did anybody tell them that this interpretation doesn't fit in and it is an obstacle to peace because Israel cannot agree to that? Nobody said so. They have their interpretation. Interpretations are many. The question is whether we have accepted and we do accept Resolution 242 as such. We have and we do.

Sir, did you not resign from the cabinet in August 1970 precisely because you could not accept the Labour government's decision of that period to extend 242 specifically to cover Judea and Samaria?

No. The decision by the cabinet in 1970 which I resigned from was about carrying out that resolution or implementing it. Well, I suppose I resigned – in fact, this is one of the reasons I became the prime minister, but that was my perfect right, I suppose my duty. I'm speaking now about the government which I head. We made a statement to the Knesset and said that we accept Resolution 242 as the basis for negotiations for peace. That is a fact. This is a political fact.

Sir, I understand that you have a consistent personal position that your government's position is different from the last government's position. Is that not correct? And whether 242 [unclear 28:06] the West Bank?

Yes, it is different. The interpretation of the last government of 242 concerning Judea and Samaria is that, now I quote, "Israeli forces should stay on, or stand on, the Jordan River and have a area west of the Jordan River under Israeli control, whereas the mountainous part of Judea and Samaria will go to Jordan." That was the interpretation by the previous government. Nobody accepted it. Hussein said, "Totally unacceptable." [unclear 28:46] in Washington was also the same way. As you can see again, another interpretation. How many interpretations? But remember what we suggest now: it's not a judicial issue. It's not a problem of hairsplitting. It's a matter of our most vital interests of national security. So what we do now is we expounded a peace plan in which we leave open the question of sovereignty. Please don't forget that. I repeat here with complete candor, yes, I believe the Jewish people have a right and a claim of sovereignty on that part of the land. Jordan was the aggressor in 1948. Secretary Vance, therefore, several months ago said he is not clear who has sovereignty in Judea, Samaria or in the West Bank. It's not clear. There are several claims. I believe our claim is completely legitimate, better than anybody else's, but for the sake of peace, don't forget, we say that we leave the question of sovereignty open. Let us make an agreement. Let us review it after five years. Let us make an agreement giving the people the possibility to live their lives without interference. Autonomy and security. Please take into consideration. Nothing theoretical is…

Does that mean, Mr. Prime Minister, that you envision a possible withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank or from Judea and Samaria?

I didn't say so, because we suggest autonomy and security and public order as we hold

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