(November 1, 1995)[Interview with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by anchorman Ehud Yaari, Kol Yisra’el party affairs correspondent Yaron Dekel, and YEDI’OT AHARONOT political correspondent Shimon Schiffer in the studio on 1 November; from the weekly “Focus” program – recorded]
Note: This Rabin interview was conducted three days before his assassination. In the days and weeks prior, several events dominated local and regional politics: an Islamic Jihad leader, Fathi al-Shaqaqi was assassinated in Malta, an economic conference took place in Amman focusing on commerce between Arab countries and with Israel; Israeli-Syrian negotiations were at an extraordinary sensitive level of diplomatic exchange which included American mediation, and the public temperature was raised against Rabin, led by the Likud Party. In this interview Rabin voiced his dismay, if not disgust for the actions of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud leader. Rabin called Netanyahu out for being at a rally where Rabin was portrayed in a Gestapo uniform, and for Netanyahu’s direct interference in the sensitive diplomacy going on with the Syrians. [ Kws, 11.6.2015] [FBIS Translated Excerpt] [Yaari] Unfortunately, we had yet another incident in Lebanon today. Isn’t there a way to stop this bloodshed?[Rabin] However painful this is – and this is certainly painful for our and the SLA [South Lebanese Army] soldiers – we have the experience of three years of war in Lebanon. We sustained 650 fatalities in those three years, and we saw that the war, including our marching all the way to Beirut, did not solve the problem. We solved the problem of terror with the Palestinians, and in its wake came a far more serious terror problem with the Lebanese and with radical Islam, which is our main problem.
We have no alternative. We, together with the SLA and the residents of the security zone, must continue to cope with the terror of Hezbollah and its supporters. I have no doubt that Iran and Syria are using this as a way to pressure us to accept conditions that are unacceptable to us concerning the negotiations with the Syrians.[Schiffer] Perhaps there is a solution, Mr. Rabin. In the last few days, you have been pointing to Syria as a center of terror. Perhaps the time has come for the Syrians to understand that there is no gratuitous shooting in Lebanon, and for you to deal directly with the focus of terror in Damascus. [Rabin] I believe that those who thought that the problem could be solved by means of a war in Lebanon – not against the Syrians, but a limited war against the Syrians in Lebanon, which also took a heavy casualty toll- and who apply this to a war with Syria will be committing the most serious mistake possible. [Schiffer] Then al-Assad can simply rest peacefully and go on letting the rejectionist organizations do as they please? [Rabin] I did not say that. Action must be taken against them, but we must always keep the goal in mind. Terror has never been eradicated with one fell swoop. Terror has never been eradicated solely by military means, without supplementary political means. Mistakes must not be made. [Schiffer] The regular killing of IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers every week… [Rabin, interrupting] Sir, mistakes must not be made. People must know that in the absence of a political solution with Syria, we will have to pay a bloody toll in Lebanon. [Yaari] In the 1960’s, Israel conducted air raids on training camps used by the terrorists near Damascus in al-Hama and al-Zabadani. Isn’t this on the agenda today? [Rabin] Whoever wants to get Katyusha salvos or to engage in a war with Syria… [pauses] The situation at that time does not resemble the one today. We are living in a totally different reality. Whoever is prepared to go to war in Lebanon once again and pay a more painful price than we paid in 1982, 1983, 1984, until mid-1985, let him do so. I will not do it. I know that Israel faces tough enemies; I know that without a political solution we will not put an end to the pain of causalities in Lebanon. Therefore, we must show our resistance and find solutions, seeing that certain incidents could have been avoided and need not have happened. This is a war we must wage and tackle. We must know that without a political solution with Syria, there will be no solution to the terror from Lebanon. [Yaari] Something happened in Malta to a figure who had been living in Damascus in recent years. A Jordanian colleague asked us to permit her to ask you a question. Here it is: [Rakad al-Hadid, in Arabic] Mr. Rabin, how has Fathi al-Shaqaqi’s assassination affected the peace process? Who do you think is responsible for his assassination, the fact that Israel’s Mossad is being blamed for it notwithstanding? [Rabin] I do not think it is exactly my duty to answer her questions. The headquarters of the Islamic Jihad have been in Damascus for years, while Hamas [Islamic Resistance Movement] has been moving in the direction of Damascus. Of course, some members of Hamas and, certainly, the Islamic Jihad are the allies of Iran, are linked to Iran, and receive aid from Iran. In the face of radical Islamic terror, particularly in light of the fact that the statement in which Hamas assumed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Ramat Gan and Jerusalem was broadcast on al-Quds Radio in Syria… [pauses] These are the main enemies. They are the enemies of peace; they announce that the political goal of their terror is to torpedo the peace. In their latest statement, I am the main enemy, and the question is how to bring down the government I head in order to eliminate the chances for peace. There are people in Israel who would also like to see that, but at least Hamas and the Islamic Jihad say so publicly. [Deqel] Could his assassination, at a time when the Islamic groups are engaged in a dialogue with Arafat, affect the process under way between Arafat and Israel? [Rabin] I would like to make one thing clear: Arafat became our partner in the process of reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israel. I would like to quote Tomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, who said that “there is no need to love one another in order to attain peaceful coexistence. We chose Arafat and the PLO as the partner for reconciliation and a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I would like to say that since 1993, the PLO has stopped its terrorist attacks and no Israeli has been hurt. Those who perpetrate the attacks are Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and we must fight them, just as we must fight demented terror. Since April 1993, we have not experienced on the part of Palestinian elements… [Schiffer, interrupting] Did you take into consideration the possibility that you might be starting a bloody cycle, that Israeli and Jewish institutions might be harmed as a result of al-Shaqaqi’s assassination? [Rabin] This is a bitter war against demented, radical terror. From the beginning of 1994 to this day, some 70 percent of the Israeli casualties were sustained in suicide bombings, a phenomenon we had not experienced before, say in Lebanon. As for the Palestinians, we never experienced a suicide attack in the true sense of the word – namely, a man who carries explosives on his body, in his car, or in his bag and detonates them, knowing that he is going to be blown to pieces, only to kill Israelis. [Deqel] If this is a war, then why doesn’t Israel declare that its goal is to kill the leaders, even if they are in Damascus? [Rabin] A war on terror is not waged with declarations. So-called terror experts abound everywhere. A war on terror must be waged with brains, wisdom, and daring and not with words. Even if there are casualties on our side, we must go on hitting those who execute and conduct the terror. Otherwise, terror will continue to rage, regardless of the terrorists’ degree of experience. [Schiffer] Mr. Rabin, in a briefing to journalists in Tel Aviv today, a U.S. diplomatic source said that the negotiations between Israel and Syria are stuck due to the fact, among other things, that you, the prime minister, decided not to move the process until the elections. What is your position? Do you estimate that there is no chance of getting the negotiations with Syria moving? Do you think the Syria-Israeli public can bear yet another set of negotiations or the concession of the entire Golan Heights? [Rabin] I have said more than once in the past that I ran for the leadership of my party and ran in the 1992 elections in order to become the prime minister, and not just sit in my chair and judge my actions by this or that public opinion poll. There is a certain path I believe in, and I think we are living in a time of historic opportunity. I tackled the Palestinian issue – and I believe in this process – knowing where I was headed and what my goal was, and I am prepared to tackle the Syrian issue. With regard to the Syrian issue, the negotiations were not halted because of Israel. Three or four months ago… [Schiffer, interrupting] You have said that quite a few times in recent months. Ultimately, the negotiations will get moving not because of what you said or he said. Has the basis been created for a resumption of the negotiations between Israel and Syria? [Rabin] I cannot say that with certainty. I can say that the problem with the negotiations with Syria is different than that with the Egyptians prior to or after al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem; than that with the Palestinians, with whom we sat for seven months in Oslo without anybody knowing about it; or than with the Jordanians and with King Hussein, whom almost all Israeli prime ministers met in the past. The Syrians do not want to meet with us, and that is why I must rely on the Americans as go-betweens. We agreed on something; two phases were fulfilled, but the third was not. The Americans themselves tell us that they understand us and that they will try to achieve what they stated in Damascus. Yesterday I met with Dennis Ross, who was sent by the secretary of state and who participated in the meeting with al-Assad. I have not yet giving up on it. It was not Israel that stopped the negotiating process on the basis of the understanding reached between the Americans, the Syrians, and us. It was the Syrians that did so. [Deqel] There is still a year before the elections. If you manage to attain some kind of agreement with Syria in the next year, will it be right to assume that you will advance the Knesset elections and hold them as a referendum on the Golan? Will you make the citizens go to the ballot boxes twice? [Rabin] If I reach an agreement with the Syrians in February or March, I would prefer to hold a referendum on this treaty- if we reach an agreement; if we do – while the elections must be held at the end of October. On the Syrian issue, I declared and promised to the Knesset and to the public to put a peace treaty to a referendum because the position of the Labor Party and my position as its leader in the election campaign in 1992 could have been interpreted as not advocating a significant withdrawal in exchange for peace. Therefore, seeing that the public has not been told about it in advance, a special referendum must be held. [Yaari] The Syrians claim they are not convinced that Mr. Rabin indeed wants and is politically and psychologically prepared for an agreement before the elections. Are you prepared to tell President al-Assad from this podium: Yes, under the right conditions I am prepared to make an agreement before October 1996? [Rabin] In March this year, before departing for a meeting with President al-Assad, Secretary of State Christopher asked me: Do you want peace with Syria? Can you obtain support for a peace with Syria? I told him: Yes, of course; not under a Syrian dictate, but in negotiations that will end in the fulfillment of Israel’s security needs, and on condition that the full peace will be entrenched over a longer period than the full peace with Egypt before we complete our withdrawal to the line on which we will agree. Let us not forget that Israel withdrew to the middle of the Sinai Peninsula at the end of 1979 or beginning of 1980. There were two years and four months of full peace on the al-Arisha-Ras Muhammad line without a withdrawal on our part. This followed al-Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. Aren’t we entitled to demand a test of full peace before we finish withdrawing to the line to be agreed upon on the Golan Heights? [passage emitted] [Yaari] Mr. Rabin, will Arafat accept your map, which includes the West Bank without, for example, the Etzion Bloc and East Jerusalem? [Rabin] No, he does not accept this map. We all know why the letter of invitation to the Madrid Conference stated that we should proceed in two stages. The Madrid Conference was the first international conference that declared that the Palestinians are partners. During the first stage, when Likud was still in power, and also during the initial stages of the present government, the PLO did not show us its true face. Haidar Abdel-Shafi is now forming an anti-Arafat party because he believes Arafat has given Israel too much. And where is their star, Hanan Ashrawi? [Yaari] She will be back. [Deqel] Mr. Rabin, President Ezer Weizman said that a majority of 61 Knesset members is a problematic majority for making crucial decisions. [Rabin] I prefer to go by what Menachem Begin said at the time – namely, that in a democracy, a majority of one is still a majority. In order to make myself as clear as possible, let me state that as long as the government that I head has a majority of one, I will continue to implement what I believe in the peace process with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. [Schiffer] Mr. Rabin, how do you feel these days, when almost every contact you have with the public is accompanied by tight security? More and more policemen and guards can be seen protecting you from the public. [Rabin] Last night I had a pleasant surprise. I was granted a very warm welcome during the Israeli Film Academy awards ceremony. I realize that wild incitement and verbal violence are taking place; there is violence on Israeli streets. With this in mind, nobody should be surprised by the casualties in road accidents. Violence, just like discipline in the army, cannot be divided: Without discipline on the administrative level, there can be no discipline on the operational level. If there is verbal violence in the Knesset and violence in the street, there will also be violence on the roads. [Deqel] Is the right wing alone responsible for this situation? [Rabin] I did not say that. Whoever cultivates violence is responsible. [Yaari] Is it not worthwhile to attempt to reach an understanding with the main opposition, the Likud, regarding certain norms of behavior which both sides will honor. In that event, it will be possible to see who is violating them. [Rabin] I do not think there is any question regarding who is violating them. I saw the demonstration in Jerusalem in which I was depicted in a Gestapo uniform. I also saw David Levi, a Knesset member [MK] and former Likud minister, being chased away by an angry mob. I saw the violence in front of the Knesset.
MK Netanyahu, the Likud chairman, asked me to hold a meeting with him on the Thursday or Friday before I left for the United States. I arrived home on Friday afternoon and encountered a demonstration, the Likud slogans, shouts of traitor and murderer. I realized it would be sheer stupidity on my part to play the hypocritical game of the Likud chairman. He sat there and delivered a speech under the Gestapo pictures. He proposes we meet while he takes part in these demonstrations. I do not believe him.[Deqel] Such being the case, the situation will continue to deteriorate until the elections. [Rabin] This may happen, if the Likud so decides. We are not responsible for this violence. [Deqel] Mr. Rabin, you are the prime minister. [Rabin] I cannot do anything about the violence outside the boundaries of the law.
If I may say so, regarding the Syrian issue, I have additional proof today regarding messages Netanyahu sent to the Syrians to the effect that they would do better to wait until after the elections.[Yaari] What do these messages say? [Rabin] They say the Syrians should wait, but I do not want to go into details. [Yaari] Mr. Prime Minster, the three of us are very curious people. Do the messages sent by Mr. Netanyahu to Syria include something that is opposed to, contradictory, or different from what Netanyahu is saying in public? [Rabin] Most certainly. [Yaari] Do they refer to the range of withdrawal on the Golan Heights? [Rabin] I said nothing about ranges. [Schiffer] Why are you not divulging the details? What you are doing here is ethically wrong. [Rabin] Let me reiterate that the emphasis is on telling the Syrians they would do better to wait. What does the statement – they would do better to wait – mean? They are familiar with our positions. The Likud keeps attacking us, but let me put this clearly: If Netanyahu tells the Syrians that they would do better to wait, what is the main problem? [Yaari] His message has not been replayed only by Christopher, has it? [Rabin] I did not say through whom. I will not endanger reliable intelligence sources, but let me reiterate that his has been said. [Schiffer] Mr. Prime Minster, allow me to ask you a personal question regarding your candidacy for the premiership in 1996. Aren’t you concerned that the Likud will focus on the issue of your age? You are 72 and a half years old today. [Rabin] What are you talking about? I am 73 and a half. On 1 March 1996 I will be 74. I am not trying to hide my age. I am not a woman, and everybody knows my true age. [Schiffer] Do you think that at your age, you will be able to confront a relatively young, 47-year-old candidate? [Rabin] I think every person should be judged on his own merits. I think that stigmas or objective facts… [pauses] I know many young people whom I consider old, and I know some older people whom I consider young. Assuming I will be the candidate, I think the Israeli public should choose between an experienced, healthy man and someone who completely lacks experience in leading a country. This will be the choice faced by the Israeli public. [Yaari] Mr. Prime Minister, can we consider these remarks an official declaration of your intention to run for the premiership as the Labor candidate? [Rabin] No. I said: assuming I will be the candidate. [Yaari] Why are you delaying this announcement? [Rabin] My primary mission is to advance the peace process. I do not think that at the moment, as prime minister, I have to make any announcements. As prime minister, and together with Peres and my colleagues in the government, we are carrying out a historic move in the peace process and are also changing Israel’s general situation, its economic situation, and its status in the Middle East and worldwide.
A video of the last portion of Rabin’s interview in Hebrew can be viewed by following this link: https://www.facebook.com/ShalomAchshav.PeaceNow/videos/vb.198917210119704/1100592363285513/?type=2&theater