Twenty-nine years ago Menachem Begin was the leader of a violent Jewish terrorist group, fighting against the British and Arabs and for the birth of Israel. There was a price of 10,000 British pounds on his head.

Soon, when Israel's President Ephraim Katzir performs his constitutional duty and asks the leading party in Tuesday's election to form a government, it will be Begin who takes on the task.

Fod Begin, leader of the front-running Likud party, it will be the realization of a 46-year-old dream.

A brilliant speaker who has long ruled his party with an iron fist, Begin is a gentle, even courtly man in his private life. He still chooses to kiss the hands of women, in the continental manner, and in an egaliterian country like Israel where almost everyone is on a first-name basis he stands out by never using first names. Even his closest associates call him "Mr. Begin," never Menachem.

Now that he appears to be on the threshold of power there may be some doubt as to how long he can enjoy it. Begin, 64, recently suffered a bad heart attack but he told reporters today he was a completely well man and intended to work a 20-hour day.

The dream of heading a Jewish state is something Begin has held on to since his student days in Poland.

He was born in 1931 in Brest Litovsk and began his career as a political activist before World War II while a law student.

When invading Germans reached Warsaw in 1939, Begin fled into the arms of the also-advancing Russians. They put him into a concentration camp but released him to join the Soviet-sponsored Polish Army.

Begin arrived in what was then Palestine in 1942 as a Polish officer attached to the British army. He was soon contacted by the extremeist Jewish terrorist organization, the Irgun. At first, he refused to join them but in 1944 he went AWOL and soon became their leader.

The Irgun was known for some of the most violent acts of terrorism at a time when violence was the order of the day.

The Irgun eventually challenged the authority of the main Jewish resistance group, the Haganah, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion and the Labour party. After creation of Israel, Begin turned his efforts toward parliamentary opposition to Ben-Gurion and his party.

He is married and has one son and two daughters.

The following chart illustrates the decline in Parliament seats won by Israel's Labor coalition and the rise of conservative parties since the nation's first parliamentary election in 1949.