In Jerusalem, Aliza Begin Remembered the Crises She Had Weathered Before
04/02/1979 at 01:00 AM EST
I didn't need the chief of protocol or anyone in the foreign office to make arrangements for us," says Aliza "Alla" Begin, 58. "From the moment Mrs. Carter and I first met in Camp David we had a relaxed, informal relationship. We never planned anything there. We just did things as they came." Relations between the two wives stayed reassuringly low-key during the latest talks. Rosalynn Carter had arrived in Jerusalem understandably exhausted. After dinner at the prime minister's residence, Begin and Carter began their first serious talks, and Aliza sent Rosalynn off to her suite at the King David Hotel. "I'm sure you want some sleep," she said, escorting the First Lady to the limousine and kissing her on the cheek.
The next morning the women met again at a moving ceremony at Yad Vashem, a memorial for victims of the Holocaust. As Aliza later rode with her husband to a crucial meeting with the U.S. delegation, her mind wandered back four decades, to the time she and Begin were married in Poland: "I thought of the Second World War, the parting with Menachem till we met again in Palestine. Going underground for four endless years during which a price hovered over Menachem's head. The threat of death when we were hunted by the British. The creation of the state of Israel. Menachem's election to the first Knesset. And now, within a few hours, we would know if the efforts to reach peace would at last be crowned with success."
That evening Begin came home to report, with a weary smile, "Alla, we are doing it. We are progressing." After the state dinner for the Carters that followed, the prime minister, suffering from a cold, was off again to a stormy all-night cabinet meeting that would momentarily dash hopes for peace. Aliza whiled away the hours drinking tea at home with her daughter Leah, 30, and awoke at dawn when her husband came home, too tired to speak.
Later that day Aliza sat in the gallery with Rosalynn Carter as their discouraged husbands spoke to the Knesset. Rosalynn listened through earphones to a simultaneous translation until her headset went dead. Then Aliza helped translate the bitter debate that followed. Hopes for peace were at a low ebb, but the women carried on, proceeding to a lunch for 60 guests while their husbands returned to the negotiations. Between dessert and coffee, Mrs. Begin made a passionate appeal to her American visitor to press for the release of Jewish prisoners in the Soviet Union. Rosalynn Carter's eyes were moist. "Israel is very special to Jimmy and me," she murmured. On her way back to the hotel after lunch she remarked, "For three hours I didn't have to think of all this. I'm curious to know how I'll find Jimmy." What she discovered, of course, was that they were heading for Cairo next day with a set of compromises that would bring a treaty at last.