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Revealed: UK's Thatcher Found Begin 'Difficult'

The British National Archives revealed former PM Thatcher's views on “difficult” Menachem Begin, who helped drive the British from Israel.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 1/4/2011, 8:50 PM / Last Update: 1/4/2011, 8:59 PM

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Documents released by Britain's National Archives show that former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a strained relationship with Israeli PM Menachem Begin, who in the 1940s fought to drive the British out of Israel.

Speaking to France's President Giscard d'Estaing in 1979, Thatcher revealed that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Begin.

She termed Begin's policy of encouraging Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria “absurd,” and lamented that British arguments “had failed to move him.” Giscard, as well, termed Begin's approach “fanatical and unrealistic.”

Begin allowed Jews to settle in areas that had been seized by Jordan in 1949 and restored to Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. He told Thatcher that Judea and Samaria had been Jewish in Biblical times “and that they should therefore be so today,” according to the archived documents.

Decades before he was Prime Minister, Begin led the pre-state Jewish militia Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi), which worked to expel British forces from Israel in order to create an independent Jewish state and allow for Jewish immigration. At one point, Britain's MI5 put a bounty on his head.

Documents also showed that the British embassy in Israel was concerned in 1980 that Israel would use nuclear weapons in a war with Arab countries. “The situation in the region is deteriorating and with it Israel's dangerous mood of isolation and defiance will grow,” a cable from the embassy warned. “If they are to be destroyed they will go down fighting this time. They will be ready to use their atomic weapon. Because they cannot sustain a long war, they would have to use it early."