"There must be [I am remembering this without notes] no preconditions for talks," he said; the Syrians must understand that if "they change their behavior," we will be prepared to negotiate; but they cannot expect us to negotiate with them and, in effect, agree in advance to show what our final position will be. But would Begin--the interviewer, Yaacov Achimeir, asked--be open to the evacuation of Israeli settlements from the Golan? Stupid question. How could Israel consider "descending from the Golan"?, he answered. How could we agree to such things, and certainly not as a condition for face-to-face talks? "No, our government will insist on talks with no preconditions."
THE SAME CADENCES as his father, the same grand phrases suggesting prideful unbendingness, the same mocking tone, the same faux-diplomatic grandeur--you know, the kind of rhetoric a nervous Jewish kid in pre-war Poland, imagining great-power diplomacy, thinks he has to default to. There is even the same adversion to liturgical nuance, just to show-off to the Orthodox how entrenched in the tradition he is: What then, Achimeir asked, about restoring the "quiet" with Hamas in Gaza? What kind of quiet?, Begin rolled on, his voice rising and falling, as if on stage, and not on the telephone: "Birzono sheket, birzono himum; birzono...," which translates roughly as "By his will, quiet, by his will escalation; by his will, etc...," ostensibly referring to Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, but first meant to rehearse that lovely prayer from the Yom Kippur liturgy, about God's ability to make of us what He wills. Who does Haniya think he is! God? (One can almost hear the heavenly reverberations: "President Carter: don't you know Jews don't kneel!")
As if a peace treaty with Syria would not transform the region, pulling Assad from Iran's orbit, and opening the door for Obama; as if it would not begin to relax Israel's trip-wire confrontation with Hezbollah, and launch negotiations with Syria over ending the funneling of Iranian arms to jihadists; as if it would not mean Israeli diplomats on the road to Damascus, the heart of the Arab nation, the city now harboring Hamas's Khaled Meshal, opening the possibility of bringing water from Turkey, and eventually even bringing Hamas, too, to open recognition of Israel; as if it would not mean giving new momentum and bite to the Arab League's peace initiative.
AND AS IF we don't already know the quid pro this quo, after a dozen years of contact and open secrets about failed negotiations; Christ, as if Cambodian peasants don't know by now that it means Israel will have to give up sovereignty on the Golan, yes, including a few meters of shoreline on the Sea of Galilee; as if the negotiations should not be about how to demilitarize the Golan, and turn it into a nature preserve, a tourist attraction; as if they should not be about providing a way for Israeli residents to vacate with dignity; as if the early warning stations on the Hermon have not been trumped by aerial intelligence, as if Israeli sovereign pride would really be wounded by getting all of these benefits at the cost of accepting the principle that every inch of Arab land won by force must be returned.
Oh, and as if Menachem Begin, for all of his tiresome posturing, did not return every inch of the Sinai to Sadat in return for peace, including dismantling the settlements of Yamit; as if he did not, through Moshe Dayan in Morocco, agree in advance to do so in principle before Sadat came to Jerusalem; and as if he did not, nevertheless, try following to the end the implications of the hard-line with Syria and Palestine, launching a bloody, needless war in Lebanon in 1982, and dying a broken, catatonically depressed man, reviewing his sovereign folly, adding up the many Israeli soldiers and others killed.
Funny, here they were, interviewer and interviewed, two sons of former leaders of the Yishuv's terrorist underground (Achimier's father was Abba Achimier), speaking about diplomatic signs as if they were the sons of Metternich, the latter telling the former how, if only the Syrians withdrew their preconditions, then it would be a sign for possible talks, for it would mean that they would not need Israelis to retreat from their preconditions. In other words, Jewish power has been recognized. Things can stay as they are. And all before coffee, for God's sake.