Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin: Kindred Spirits?

Nov. 21 2017

In the words of Jimmy Carter, the personalities of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat “were totally incompatible”; they were two men with nothing in common. The president’s characterization interpretation of the two leaders, widely accepted both now and at the time of the 1978 Camp David negotiations, inflated Carter’s own image as heroic peacemaker. But, argues Martin Kramer, Begin and Sadat actually had very similar backgrounds and career trajectories—and these similarities might have made possible their success at achieving a compromise:

One obvious similarity is [that] both entered politics through the back door, as conspirators who planned political violence and were steeled by long stints in political prison. Sadat, as a young revolutionary, immersed himself in conspiratorial plots, both against the British (who then controlled Egypt) as well as against Egyptian leaders he regarded as collaborators. As a result, he found himself in and out of prison. . . .

Menachem Begin had the more famous “underground” career. He was first sent to prison during World War II by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. . . . By then, he too had been initiated into a life of clandestine conspiracy—methods of operation he would bring with him to Palestine in the last days of the British Mandate. . . .

Both men [later] spent many years on the political margins, overshadowed by domineering leaders who had a stronger grip on the imaginations of their peoples, . . . [and] who issued the declarations of independence of their countries. (David Ben-Gurion actually declared Israel’s independence in 1948, and Gamal Abdel Nasser effectively declared Egypt’s independence by nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956.) But neither of these giants had managed to bring peace to their peoples. . . .

[T]he parallels in the lives of Sadat and Begin may have worked, in ways subtle but strong, in favor of an agreement. Here were two men forged by prison and violence into believers in their own destiny, but who had been written off politically for decades. By the time they came to power, they were in a hurry to achieve something that would transcend the legacies of their celebrated predecessors. Here were two men who believed their peoples were fated to struggle alone, but who were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to cement relations with the U.S., in the interests of their peoples but also in order to shut the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. Here were two men who did not shy away from the bold gamble, and who saw a greater risk in inaction.

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More about: Anwar Sadat, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank