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Dan Meridor recalled this week remarks made by Menachem Begin in the Knesset on December 28, 1977. Presenting his autonomy plan for Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, Begin declared: "No matter what their present citizenship status, residents of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip will have the option of receiving Israeli or Jordanian citizenship. A resident of Judea, Samaria and Gaza who asks for Israeli citizenship will obtain it in compliance with the citizenship law of the State of Israel. Residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza who freely choose Israeli citizenship will be eligible to vote, and be elected to, the Knesset, in accord with Israel's election law. Residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza who are citizens of Jordan, or who freely choose to be Jordanian citizens, will be eligible to vote, and be elected to, the Hashemite Kingdom's parliament in accord with Jordan's election law." Begin added: "We propose full, equal rights."

This plan encapsulated Begin's stance on the future of the territories, and the status of its citizens. He formulated his autonomy plan out of a belief that it would suffice to solve the Palestinian problem. He believed that Jews would beat Arabs in the demographic race, and that an irreversible Jewish majority would emerge in the Land of Israel. Promoting this proposal, Begin upheld the Revisionist movement's aspiration for a Jewish majority in Eretz Israel, on the assumption that all residents of the state, including Arabs, would enjoy equal rights. Due to his demographic assumptions, and also his devotion to liberal-democratic principles, Begin did not hesitate to offer Israeli citizenship to Arabs in the territories. He never imagined that they would be left without any status, under an apartheid-like regime.

Reality undermined Begin's vision. Jordan revoked its official connection with the West Bank. Palestinian nationalist aspirations crystalized as an uncompromising demand for independence; and this demand won international support. In the demographic race for majority control in Eretz Israel, the Palestinians have an apparent advantage. On the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians outnumber Jews by a ratio of 17 to 1; and demographic forecasts for years to come warn that should Israel not detach itself from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Jews will lose a majority on both sides of the Green Line.

Begin was an impassioned believer in the idea of Greater Israel; but he was also a disciple of the liberal-humanist outlook espoused by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. It is impossible to know how Begin would deal with contemporary developments. Would he revoke his autonomy plan? Or, would he insist that the only two options available to Palestinians are Israeli citizenship, or Jordanian citizenship? At any event, it is clear that he would not have countenanced a situation in which Palestinians do not have an Israeli citizenship option, and in which they completely lack the state citizenship option. He presented his stance categorically in his statement to the 15th Knesset.

As members of Likud's Central Committee meet tonight to discuss a proposal to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state in principle, they would be wise to recall Menachem Begin's views, and come to terms with the meaning of the position he submitted to the Knesset in December 1977. Anyone who opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, in accord with the spirit of Begin's position, must draw the necessary conclusion, and support the conferral of Israeli citizenship to Palestinians who want it. During a period of conquest, a situation in which rights of a national minority are denied can be condoned for a limited time; but this situation cannot continue indefinitely.

The resolution which is being put on the Likud's discussion table tonight would bind the hands of the party's leaders for generations to come. Whoever adopts this position proposes just two solutions to the Palestinian problem: transfer, or apartheid. Begin, the record shows, upheld neither of these policies.