INTERVIEW WITH PRIME MINISTER YITZHAK RABIN (1993)
By: Joseph Puder
On a sunny Thursday afternoon in March 1993, I was summoned to the Defense Ministry office of Prime Minister Rabin at the Kiriya in Tel Aviv. Holding both portfolios, and a few others at the time, the prime minister's favorite office has always been at the defense ministry. Here he served as Chief-of-Staff and defense minister, and even as prime minister in his first term: it was the office in Tel Aviv, that Rabin preferred, and was far more attached to.
At the reception area I was offered cookies and soft drinks, and asked if I was hungry. The wait for Mr. Rabin was not especially long, and considering that it took place before the Oslo negotiations began, might explain Rabin's largess with his time.
His no-nonsense, direct manner betray an obvious sensitivity for people. And, although direct and biting at times his responses appear genuine, and reveal a true commitment to his beliefs. Prime Minister Rabin looked much younger than his age at the time (71), his ruddy cheeks, said to be a result of his disciplined drinking (Whiskey was his favorite I was told). Some people considered him to be a superb conversationalist and certainly not aloof.
After a short description of my radio talk show program, The American Mideast Forum, the following was our question and answer conversation.
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, do you believe that the Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are an asset or liability?
Rabin: First, let me say that my preference is to see Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, living in security and peace. Also, I do not want to swallow as part of Israel 1.8 million Palestinians. The annexation of the territories outright, as the Likud proposes in its vision of Greater Israel is also the annexation of 1.8 million Palestinians, and would make Israel a bi-national state. Therefore, realizing that the Palestinians in the territories are a distinct national entity politically, religiously, and ethnically, I do not want them to be part of Israel Anyway, they would reject the idea, and we would have to impose ourselves on them.
Secondly, by no means am I ready to withdraw to the pre-Six Day War lines EVEN IN THE CONTEXT OF PEACE. A diplomatic peace is not yet the real peace. It is an essential step in the peace process leading towards a real peace. There will be however a long lapse of time between the signing of peace treaties, or the diplomatic peace, and the onset of a real peace, a peace that the average man in the street will consider as peace. In the time gap between the diplomatic and real peace we need defensible borders. Even though I do not want to absorb 1.8 million Palestinians and the territory on which they live on, I want to make clear (a) few things: First, Jerusalem and its surroundings must remain united under Israeli sovereignty, and our capital for ever. Second, I want the Jordan River to be the defense line of Israel...
Q. Do you mean the Jordan River or Jordan Valley?
Rabin: I mean both the river and the valley. I am also referring to the Eastern slopes of the Samarian-Judean hills. As you know the area is sparsely populated by Palestinians.
Q. I believe Mr. Rabin that this was in essence the Allon Plan, is it?
Rabin: Yes, it is basically the Allon Plan. And thirdly of course, even in the context of peace not to go down from the Golan, as far as peace with Syria is concerned. Therefore, on the one hand I oppose the position of the Likud and the Right wing parties demanding all of the land. The Question for me is not "territory for peace" but rather maintaining an Israel that is at least 80% Jewish, and democratic. I do not want to see an Israel with a third of its population being Palestinian. Since I believe that Judaism and racism are in contradiction to one another, I reject the transfer of the Palestinians, or an "apartheid" like situation of denying them equal rights.
Q. If somebody would to tell you that the demographic time bomb that Yasser Arafat promised will not materialize because of the massive Jewish Aliyah from the former Soviet Union, would that settle the demographic question?
Rabin: I never believed in the demographic issue. Everyone knows that since 1967 basic demographic ratio within what used to be British Mandatory Palestine have not changed. Let us assume that another million Soviet Jews will arrive - it would still leave a third of the population being Palestinian.
Q. Mr. Prime Minister, do you believe that peace with the Arab states is possible given their social, political and economic system. Can you make peace with dictatorships in the long run?
Rabin: It will require first a change in the Arab society throughout the Arab world, and the achievement of a democratic system similar to the one in America, Europe or Israel. For that we will have to wait fifty to one hundred years. In the coming thirty years there will be no peace. I believe however that peace is attainable regardless of the Arabs mentality, society or government.
Q. Do you mean a peace that is no war or real peace?
Rabin: That is why I said earlier that I distinguish between the diplomatic peace or a peace treaty and a real peace which mean(s): the disappearance of hate, suspicion and prejudice that accumulated on both sides. This is why even in the context of a diplomatic peace (peace treaty) I would seek defensible boundaries. It is because I am aware of signing peace treaties with Arab countries that have no democracies, and that there can be quick changes of policies, attitudes, and governments... At the same time I also know that without diplomatic peace there can be no real peace.
When I visit with German or French leaders I ask them how long it took them to achieve real peace, some of them would say 150 years, other say 300... To assume however that once we sign a peace treaty there would be no threat from the Arab States in the future would be a mistake.
Q. If real peace is to reign in the region, and between Israel and its Arab neighbors, would it not require democratic institutions to emerge, do you see any in the horizon?
Rabin: I believe you can sign a peace treaty with all the neighboring countries except Lebanon. It includes Syria, Jordan and even the Palestinians. It will however be a diplomatic peace, and it won't be a "love affair." And as you know in international affairs you cannot find love. I also believe that the guarantee of any peace agreement will require a strong I.D.F. and defensible borders. I remember once asking the former Secretary of State Dean Rusk (when I was ambassador to Washington) "What is the value of international agreements?" He replied: "It is not worth the paper it is written on unless it is backed by the kind of force that will make the other side consider the penalties too heavy to break the agreement."
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