When Menachem Begin Made Peace with David Ben-Gurion

Nov. 24 2021

The rivalry between Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and the Irgun leader Menachem Begin culminated in 1948, when Ben-Gurion ordered the Haganah to open fire on an Irgun ship. Thereafter, the animosity between the two men was limited to fiery speeches and tense exchanges on the floor of the Knesset. The tension finally cooled only in 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War. Shlomo Nakdimon tells the story:

Begin, who was then the opposition leader, came to then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and suggested that he invite Begin’s bitter rival, Ben-Gurion, to join his government to serve as his deputy or defense minister. That’s when their relationship took a turn for the better. I witnessed how Ben-Gurion came to the Knesset, entered the buffet, and started looking for Begin. How the Knesset ushers tracked down Begin to tell him Ben-Gurion invited him for a conversation, of which they had many but which unfortunately were never recorded and got lost in history.

One day, in February 1969, at the Knesset buffet, I saw Begin alongside his chief of staff Yeḥiel Kadishai holding a brown envelope with the words “state of Israel” inscribed on it. My curiosity led me to find out the letter’s contents a few days later. It was a copy of a letter addressed to Begin, in which Ben-Gurion slammed Eshkol.

“I opposed your way before the establishment of the country and sometime after that, the same way I opposed Ze’ev Jabotinsky [who was a Russian Jewish Revisionist Zionist leader and Begin’s mentor],” Ben-Gurion wrote to Begin. “But I’ve never had a personal grudge against you and as I got to know you more over the last few years—I’ve learned to cherish you.”

Begin’s reply to Ben-Gurion was quite similar [in tone].

Ben-Gurion, who was undoubtedly always destined for great things, made two mistakes in his life: distancing himself from Jabotinsky and distancing himself from Begin before Israel’s establishment and in its early years. They could have been, perhaps were even meant to be, the best of partners, and it goes without saying who lost out the most.

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Read more at Ynet

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israeli history, Levi Eshkol, Menachem Begin

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship