Who is the keynote speaker for ‘Jerusalem Day’ celebrations in London 11 May 2010?

Background paper: Ze’ev Benjamin (Benny) Begin

Monday, 10 May, 2010 - 14:54
London, UK

Ze’ev Benjamin Begin, 67, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud leader Menachem Begin, is well-known in Israel as one of its most uncompromising right-wing politicians.

A geologist by profession, Begin first joined the Israeli Knesset in 1988, as an MK of Likud, the main right-wing party formerly led by his father. Throughout his years as an MK he was a member of the Political and Security Cabinet. In 1993 he competed with Benyamin Netanyahu for the leadership of the party and lost.

In the mid-90s Begin was one of the main opponents of the Oslo Accords (1995) with the Palestinians and has claimed consistently that it was a fraudulent trick played on Israel by PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

When Prime Minister Netanyahu signed the Hebron agreement (1997), Begin resigned his government role as Science Minister in protest. After the Wye memorandum was signed (1998) he also left the Likud party and in 1999 founded a new party further to the right.

He named the new party Herut – the National Party, invoking the ‘historical’ Herut movement, led by Menachem Begin and founded by former members of the paramilitary organisation Irgun after the establishment of the State of Israel. ‘Historical’ Herut declared as its aim the conquest of ‘all the Land of Israel,’ and claimed not only the West Bank but also Jordan as a part of this territory. Its slogan was: ‘Two banks has the Jordan River – this one is ours, and that is as well.’

The new Herut party ran for elections jointly with extreme hard-line parties Tkuma and Moledet (the latter headed by ultra-nationalist Rechav’am Ze’evi, who was later assassinated by the PFLP), together forming the National Union. Begin also ran for Prime Minister in the same elections. When the party got only 4 seats out of a total of 120, Begin left political life, saying he was a ‘public person with no public.’

In 2008, after nine years’ working for the Israeli Geological Institute, Begin returned to political life. He was appointed a minister in Netanyahu’s Likud government in February 2009 and is now also a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet and of his ‘council of seven’.

Perceptions of Begin in the Israeli public:
Begin is best known as an uncompromising hardliner regarding Palestinians and the occupation, located on the extreme right of the Likud. Begin is also considered a ‘straight’ politician, who is neither corrupt nor opportunistic but ideological and idealistic. He used to be called the ‘prince’ of the Likud because of his father’s role as the founder of the right-wing party.

Begin’s position on the status of Jerusalem:
Begin is an uncompromising supporter of an undivided Jerusalem under exclusive Jewish-Israeli sovereignty and supports the continuation of Jewish settlement in the city, even after the criticism voiced against it by the US administration.

Speaking at the annual international Jerusalem Conference on 15 February 2010, Begin related to previous offers that had been made to the Palestinians, according to which Jerusalem would be divided as part of a peace agreement and Israel would relinquish its sovereignty over East Jerusalem. He clarified that ‘offers like these will on no account be repeated.’

In the same speech, Begin drew a straight line between sovereignty over the holy parts of the Old City and control over other parts of East Jerusalem. ‘Far-reaching offers were made over the negotiating table regarding conceding the eastern part of Jerusalem and relinquishing Jewish-Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. It was proposed that they should be jointly administered by an international union,’ he said. Temple Mount is in the Old City and is the site holiest to the Jewish religion as well as the site of al-Haram al Sharif, sacred for Muslims. The Mount of Olives, on the other hand, is located well outside the Old City, to the east of the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. It is home to a densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood.

Begin clarified in his speech that ‘there is no equality between nations and religions regarding the right to Jerusalem’. ‘There will be free access to all the sites that are holy to all members of religions, but in order to ensure this it is necessary to have a Jerusalem that is under the sole sovereignty of Israel.’ Begin ended his speech with the words ‘Jerusalem our capital, in its entirety, under Israeli sovereignty, will never be divided again.’

Begin on the settlements:
Begin has been a champion of the settlements since the beginning of the project shortly after the 1967 war.

Most recently, after Israel agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction on the West Bank, in a speech in Tel Aviv on10 Dec 2009 Begin clarified that ‘by the end of the [settlement] freeze there will be more than ten thousand new residents in Judea and Samaria [biblical names for the West Bank].’

Referring to unauthorised outposts set up by hard-line settlers in the occupied West Bank, he added that ‘we make no distinctions between isolated settlements and those that are considered widely accepted. Had we agreed to such a distinction, we would have been setting the borders of the state before the start of the negotiations.’

This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source

Photo by Jeremy Feldman

commentary rss feed