Long before his death Monday after a heart attack at 78, Menachem Begin was a spent force in Israel. In August 1983, he resigned and went into a seclusion from which he never emerged. What had happened? His wife of 43 years had died. Israel's invasion of Lebanon the year before, which he had ordered, accomplished none of its political goals, leaving the PLO intact as a force against Israel and Lebanon a shambles of anarchy.
Yet two of his legacies endure. One is the peace with Egypt, responding to President Anwar Sadat's initiative and President Jimmy Carter's patience at Camp David in 1978. The other is Israel's relentless construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank in the face of world condemnation.
Both legacies reflect the themes of Mr. Begin's prime ministry and his prior, seemingly permanent, leadership of opposition in Israel: The permanence of Israel as a self-achieved sovereign homeland for Jews, in peace if possible, in defiance if need be. As a founder of the extremist Irgun Zvai Leumi during World War II, as a thorn in the side of the mainstream Zionist leaders who founded Israel, as a terrorist with a price on his head, Mr. Begin brooked no compromise. But he did not want endless war. He wanted Israel accepted and at peace.