Thursday, September 24, 2009

Menachem Begin on International Law

Menachem Begin, The Knesset, July 18, 1977, upon returning from his first trip to Washington as Israel's sixth Prime Minister:

...The term "Palestine entity" has also been used. We made it clear that any proposal of this kind will inevitably lead to the establishment of a state known as "Palestinian." And a Palestinian state, as is presumably being proposed by President Sadat of Egypt, in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, linked by an exterritorial strip, that is, under Arab sovereignty... is a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.

We have no need of quotations to know what the organization which was authorized by the Rabat Conference to represent all the Palestinian Arabs wants. Then there will be continuous bloodshed. That is not theory. A similar situation obtained for nineteen years, and we had continuous bloodshed. We were attacked in Jerusalem, near Tel Aviv, in Ashkelon and Ashdod, in the north, the east and the south, every week, if not every day. It is characteristic that in making this demand the Egyptian President does not promise peace or a peace treaty but what is known as non-belligerency, something which has no status in international law, in other words, non-peace. If that situation were to obtain the Middle East would lose every chance of peace, because then, as I demonstrated to the president and his advisors, the Arabs would take another look at the map and ask themselves: why should we make peace with Israel? Their cannon would be nine miles from the sea facing Netanya, ten miles by way of Kalkilya, twenty miles from Tel Aviv, ten miles from Beersheba, etc. Modern Soviet artillery has a range of over thirty miles. There is no doubt that if a Palestinian state were established it would not be long before it received all the most up-to-date and sophisticated weapons from the U.S.S.R...and a Soviet base was established there.

It is no coincidence that at the recent conference in Moscow chaired by Leonid Brezhnev both Castro and Arafat participated....

T. Toubi (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality): And if it is independent, like Israel, will you agree to that state then...?

The Prime Minister, M. Begin: ...As I have already said, no, on no account will we agree to a Palestinian state....I am telling the House and the nation what would happen if it were to come into existence. But it will not come into existence.

M. Wilner (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality): Then there will be peace and security....

The Prime Minister, M. Begin: That would be the reality, an extremely grave threat to Israel's existence and to the lives of every man, woman and child in Israel. As well as a threat to the free world, of course. We know what is happening in the Middle East. From Ethiopia to Libya. Is a Soviet base needed in the heart of the Middle East too, from which it will be possible to spread in every direction? The answer is obvious. We have made our position on this point absolutely clear, so that there should be no room for misunderstanding. We completely and utterly reject the establishment of a state known as "Palestinian," in any shape or form. Any proposal beginning with what is known as a "Palestine entity" will undoubtedly lead to the establishment of such a state. We say an unequivocal "no" to that idea, whatever its shape.

There are those who claim that by saying no to a Palestinian state we are adopting a negative attitude, but that is not so:...As in the case of the ten commandments, for example, negation implies a positive injunction....Thus, by saying no to a Palestinian state we are making a positive statement about the chances of peace and the prevention of bloodshed....We have been asked not to establish new settlements across the Green Line, but we have made our position clear on this subject too.

There are places in the U.S. called Hebron, Shiloh, Bethel, Bethlehem, etc. Those names indicate the deep connection between the American people and the Bible. Let us suppose that the governors of the states where those towns are situated were to declare that any American citizen could go and live there-except Jews. There would be an outcry throughout the U.S. at this discrimination. That is why we ask whether it is acceptable for a Jewish government to prevent Jews from buying land in the Land of Israel and building their homes in Bethlehem or Hebron or Shiloh...? In other words, we insist on the inalienable rights of Jews to live in the Land of Israel. There is no reason why Jews and Arabs can live in Jaffa and Haifa, Ramle and Lod, Acre and Nazereth and elsewhere, and cannot live side by side, in peace and mutual respect, in Judea and Samaria, Gaza and Rafah. There is no justification for that, and that is the government's position.

The U.S. Secretary of State said yesterday that the settlements violated international law....With all due respect, I would like to tell him that that accusation is groundless. Israel upholds international law, but if someone is relying on the Geneva Convention of 1949, which is intended to protect the civilian inhabitants of occupied territories, I would like to say, first, that Jewish settlement activity on no account harms the Arabs of the Land of Israel. We have not dispossessed a single Arab of his land, nor shall we do so. The decision taken by the government yesterday refers to three existing settlements-Eilon Moreh, Ofra and Ma'aleh Adumim. No Arab land was appropriated in order to establish them....It is true that the previous government was in doubt about the permanency of one settlement, Eilon Moreh...but the attitude of the present government is different. We think that Jews have every right to live at Eilon well as in the other settlements...and that no injustice has been caused to a single Arab family. We will act similarly in the future, too. Jewish settlement activity will not be associated with dispossession and injustice of any kind to a single Arab inhabitant anywhere in the Land of Israel.

T. Toubi (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality): That's nonsense. The facts are different. Life has proved that every new settlement involves the dispossession of a people dwelling in its homeland.

The Prime Minister, M. Begin: With regard to international law, Israeli rule in the Land of Israel is not a rule of occupation. The Knesset ruled thus in 1967, when it passed a law saying that the government was entitled to issue an ordinance extending the jurisdiction, law and administration of the state to every part of the Land of Israel. That is the law. That is our law. That is the law that was adopted by the house of representatives of the sovereign State of Israel...and which empowers the government to act accordingly...meaning that no part of the Land of Israel can be regarded as occupied territory....

M. Pa'il (Sheli): Perhaps the Speaker would explain to us why that Knesset left Jordanian law in effect in Judea and Samaria, and Egyptian law in Gaza and Rafah.

The Prime Minister, M. Begin: There is no contradiction. As you know, when the state was established certain laws were left on the books while others were annulled, including the White' Paper banning Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.... Consequently, the Minister of Defense extended our law to parts of the Land of Israel regarding which it was unclear whether it applied, and he did so by an administrative order, by virtue of the power vested in him. There is nothing new in that nor is there any contradiction....

As for the claim that we have violated international law, when is a country which has occupied the territory of another country regarded as an occupying power? When it is clear that the first country had sovereignty over the area taken away from it by war. The question is whether the government of Hashemite Jordan had sovereignty or acknowledged sovereignty over Judea and Samaria....The answer is absolutely not. Jordan invaded the western Land of Israel in violation of all international law. That was aggression. It caused bloodshed, destroyed synagogues and tried, together with Egypt and Syria, to destroy Israel's independence the day after it had been proclaimed....Does an act of injustice, of aggressive invasion, grant any right...?

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