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Begin Denies That Israel and the U.S. Are on a Collision Course

Israeli Premier Menachem Begin vigorously denied that Israel and the United States “are on a collision course” and said, in an American television interview broadcast nationwide tonight that he believes President Carter’s professions of friendship for Israel even though Carter “sometimes…makes statements which we cannot agree with.”

The interview with Mike Wallace, taped in Jerusalem for the CBS Television Network “60 Minutes” program, was Begin’s first appearance on national American television since his visit to the U.S. last July. He reiterated Israel’s unqualified opposition to PLO representation at a reconvened Geneva peace conference and insisted that “The Soviet Union is not a peaceful factor in this part of the world” (the Middle East), adding, “Everybody should know that.”

He would not say whether Israel will participate in the UN-ordered arms embargo against South Africa and dismissed as “fantastic stories” recent reports that Israel had surreptitiously obtained enriched uranium from the U.S. and several European countries.

Begin insisted that Jewish settlements on the West Bank were not illegal. But he refused to endorse or reject Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon’s recently stated plans for two million Jewish settlers in that territory. He also denied that he ever said the Palestinians have no rights to a homeland or independent state. He claimed that the Palestinians “have their homeland” now “and they live as free men wherever they live in this country.”

SAYS CARTER SHOWS GOOD WILL

The interview opened with questions on the troubled relations between Israel and the Carter Administration. Wallace noted that President Carter “is the first American President” to speak about a Palestinian homeland and the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.

Begin replied: Sometimes President Carter makes statements which we cannot agree with, And then we say openly and sincerely. Then we have out debates with him. On the other hand, I cannot forget that President Carter makes, also, very friendly statements about Israel. For instance, such a statement, he would prefer to commit political suicide rather than to hurt Israel or Israel’s security. I never remember another President having made such a statement.”

Asked by Wallace, “Do you believe him,” Begin said, “I surely believe him. I think I will go on believing the President. I believe he’s a man of good will.” Asked if he thought the U.S. and Israel “are on a collision course,” Begin replied: “No, no, no. I don’t believe they are on a collision course… Please understand, America’s got interests in the Middle East and sometimes there is an expression of those interests. Yes, I will say frankly there’s a problem, Saudi Arabia with its influence, its oil. We cannot give up our freedom, our independence, our life for the sake of oil. We can’t and we shall not.”

WEST BANK MAYORS ACCEPTABLE AT GENEVA

With respect to the PLO, Begin said “Everybody knows in the United States and elsewhere that we shall not accept any representation by the so-called PLO, either members of the PLO or nominees of the PLO or representatives of the PLO at Geneva.

He said, however, that the elected mayors of West Bank towns such as Hebron, Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah would be acceptable, “if they come as elected mayors representing local people. But if they say, as they do, that PLO is the only representative of the Palestinians and they will go to Geneva only by the agreement of the PLO, then they won’t be acceptable … We oppose the so-called PLO and will not accept the concept of a so-called Palestinian state.”

Wallace asked, “Then you’re saying that the Palestinians have no rights to ‘a homeland’, an independent state?” Begin replied, “I never said so, Mr. Wallace… They have their homeland. They live now in their homeland … And they live as free men wherever they live in this country.”

On the continuation of Jewish settlement on the West Bank, Begin said the “West Bank means the country west from the Jordan River up to the sea … We said, time and again, there are no illegal Jewish settlements in any part of this land. It is Palestine in the foreign languages. It is the land of Israel in the historic name.” Questioned about Sharon’s massive settlement plans, Begin replied, “He made a speech, it was published and why shouldn’t you ask Gen. Sharon about this?”

Begin rejected that U.S. view that the Soviet Union can help bring a peace settlement in the Middle East. He observed that “The Soviet Union has sent arms to Egypt, to Syria, selling to Libya under a very curious ruler by a fanatical Moslem, and to Iraq. Now they take over Ethiopia. The Soviet Union is not a peaceful factor in this part of the world. Everybody should know that.”

ISSUE OF SOUTH AFRICA

Asked “Why is Israel so close to South Africa?” Begin replied: “As for as we are concerned South Africa wants to be friends with Israel. We are anti-racist. And we told this time and again to South Africa and the whole world. But if they come and say they want to stretch out their hand, we are surrounded by enemies on all sides, we have very few friends, we’re not going to reject any hand stretched out to us.”

Asked if Israel will abide by the arms embargo against South Africa voted by the UN, Begin replied, “I don’t say we are shipping arms now. Whenever a decision is taken we shall consider it … If I say Israel will consider the decision you have to draw your own conclusions.” Asked how much enriched uranium for nuclear weapons comes from South. Africa, Begin said “I don’t know anything about nuclear weapons … My profession, I am a lawyer. I have no idea about nuclear weapons.”

Begin denied a recent Washington Post story claiming that senior Israeli defense officials are preparing for “a war of annihilation” against the Syrian and Egyptian armies. Begin replied that “The best proof that this is an invented story is the use of the word annihilation. We have never used such a word and will never use it.”

The Premier would not say whether Israel would be self-sufficient in weaponry and ammunition should a new Middle East war break out. “I pray that we should be self-sufficient,” he said. “If we are, it’s good. If we are not, well, we shall find ways.”

BASIS FOR ISOLATION

Asked to comment on Israel’s apparent isolation in the world today, Begin attributed it to “the big lie of the propaganda, successful propaganda” by the Arabs which depicts “the defeated aggressor” as “the wronged victim.”

Asked if he thought there was any point in going to Geneva believing that the PLO is determined to destroy Israel and therefore cannot be a partner to negotiations, Begin replied: “That depends on the conditions. The PLO has got a document, a written document … in which they say that the State of Israel must disappear … There is no such Egyptian charter. So we observe the fact that, from time to time, Arab rulers say that they recognize the fact of the existence of the State of Israel. But Arafat and the so-called PLO doesn’t have any position except one, to destroy the State of Israel.”

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