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Begin: No U.S. Pressure on Israel

August 11, 1977
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Premier Menachem Begin ridiculed reports of an Israeli-American confrontation over the issue of having the Palestine Liberation Organization represented at the proposed Geneva talks and affirmed that there was no pressure whatsoever on Israel to accept the PLO at the talks.

Begin, who offered this assessment to reporters today at the end of the first round of talks with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, described his meetings with Vance as “excellent, conducted in a most friendly atmosphere” and devoid of any “confrontation with the American Secretary of State.” He added: “Sometimes I suspect people are standing with a stopwatch waiting for a confrontation.”

But when pressed to react to President Carter’s recent statements regarding PLO participation in Geneva talks if it accepted UN Security Council Resolution 242, Begin hinted his dissatisfaction by merely saying that he would refrain from criticizing the President. “Our stand toward the PLO has not changed. Under no circumstances will we negotiate with the PLO.” Begin said the political momentum was continuing and that the next step in the process will be when the Middle East foreign ministers meet in the United States next month.

The Premier expressed confidence that the U.S. would neither propose nor agree to inserting changes in Security Council Resolution 242 along the lines demanded by the PLO that the resolution’s call for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem” be modified to uphold the “Palestinian national entity.”


Begin’s optimism was also evident last night during a lengthy after-dinner speech at a state banquet in the Knesset when he claimed that things were “not as dark” as the press had painted them recently and praised Vance for having scored “a great achievement in the cause of peace” during his current Mideast mission. The Premier, however, did not reveal what that “achievement” was.

Nevertheless, Begin delivered to Vance a grim lecture on the aims and methods of the PLO and why Israel could never accept the terrorist organization as a negotiating partner. The Premier said the PLO’s philosophy “is based on an Arabic Mein Kampf” and the PLO could therefore never be a negotiating partner “because such is its philosophy.”

He cited sections of the “Palestinian National Covenant” to prove the point, adding: “It is a very serious matter to us, our dear friend, Mr. Secretary.” He referred to the Holocaust in which the Jewish people had been “tertiated-” and de- clared that it was the duty of “the man who bears responsibility for the future of his country to learn from the experiences of the past.”

Vance’s reply was less specific, less dramatic and more generally couched, but it was clear that he did not necessarily accept Begin’s argument. He urged Israel “to strike out down paths that are unfamiliar” in order to reach peace.

The peace process would involve “uncertainty and change” for the parties, Vance continued, and the U.S., acting in its role as catalyst, might proceed “with more activism than Israel would prefer.” But he invoked the “mutual understanding” between the U.S. and Israel as the cause for hope of eventual success. The choice was between ever more destructive wars and “bold moves” towards peace, Vance said. “It won’t be easy or brief.”


The new U.S. statements by Carter in Plains, Ga, and by State Department officials with Vance, that if the PLO accepted Resolution 242 it could be admitted to Geneva, clouded the atmosphere during the first afternoon of talks between Vance and the Israeli negotiators. But Israeli sources maintained afterwards that the Secretary had not pressed Israel on this matter–perhaps because there had not been a positive response from authoritative PLO leaders.

Some observers opined that the American aim in making its new suggestion regarding the PLO was in effect to put up a “two-way trial balloon.” If the PLO still responds favorably, then the U.S. will indeed back its presence at Geneva, in defiance of the Israeli stand. If, however, the PLO declines to moderate its position by accepting 242, then the U.S. and the moderate Arab states would be freer to move towards Geneva without the PLO.

All the Arab states which Vance visited have agreed, at any rate, to have their foreign ministers attend further talks with Vance in New York next month during the UN General Assembly. This itself, in the view of some Israeli sources, might have been the “achievement” to which Begin had referred.

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