November 12, 1992

Born in Egypt, Yossi Ben-Aharon, served in Israel’s Foreign Ministry from 1956 to 1980 before becoming Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office under Yitzhak Shamir in 1986. Ben-Aharon focuses his first-hand recollections on the Shamir governments precise considerations for reengaging in negotiations with Arab neighbors arranged by the United States, after the 1991 Gulf War with the convocation of the October-November 1991 Middle East Peace Conference. See opening remarks by US President George Bush where he summarizes Washington’s relationship with Israel at the time. 

Shamir staunchly held the view of not attending any conference lest Israel be pushed into unwanted withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Ben-Aharon traces Shamir’s logic, preferences and how he consented for Israel to attend the conference, giving enormous credit to the negotiating talents of Secretary of State Jim Baker and to Dennis Ross for intimately understanding the context and substance of the issues confronting Shamir’s extraordinary reluctance. In build up to the conference, at the conference and after, Ben-Aharon provides almost verbatim exchanges between Israel and the US negotiating team.

Shamir’s government wanted to reach only a working administrative  relationship with the Palestinians, not provide any territorial or political concessions to them; while at the same time Shamir was deeply focused on trying to obtain a political agreement with Syria, but not at any cost. Said Ben-Aharon, “initially we thought it would be different (with Syria), but by June and July of 1991, it was clear to us that we were in the same boat [with us.].” The Syrians were not prepared to even consider recognizing Israel until it committed itself to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Of course, this was a non-starter for Shamir, whose ideological commitments and security concerns precluded the transfer of the West Bank and Gaza to any foreign sovereign. 

Shamir’s hard-core stand did not allow progress to be made because he was not going to put Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights on the table. Baker remained relentless in trying to have a conference convene.  “Baker kept saying, you have the most to lose if you don’t take what is being offered to you.” Baker understood that Israel attending a conference with other Arab states in attendance was a diplomatic success for Israel, even if political agreements were not reached at the conference.” Said Ben-Aharon, “Baker is a phenomenal negotiator, he is very fast in the up-take, and he’s, he’s proficient, he’s excellent in what they call deal making. He’s a clever lawyer and understands that in order to cut the deal, you need these components. And he identifies the components very quickly and he juggles them very fast to be able to put them together to create the necessary building for whatever he has to do to cut the deal.” The September 1991,  US Memorandum of Agreement with Israel on the Peace Process demonstrates how Baker/Ross cleverly included Israel’s national concerns with the need to convene the conference.

 Ben Aharon details Shamir’s fraught relationship with President Bush (I) over Israel’s building of settlements and Israel’s effort to obtain $10 billion in loan guarantees from the US. Bush persevered over Shamir, but settlements were not permanently halted

 Like Begin in the late 1970s, Shamir was not prepared to acquiesce to and negotiated solutions imposed from the outside, even from Washington, Israel’s most important international friend. “Vital elements pertaining to our security and survival,” said Ben-Aharon. Israel fiercely kept those decisions in Israeli hands. There is no doubt that Shamir like Begin and Rabin did not want the evolution of a Palestinian state emerging in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. Ben-Aharon provides wonderfully clear assessments of the tension-ridden Shamir-Bush relationship. In a broader context of 1988-1992, after Israel attended the Madrid Peace Conference, both multi-lateral and bi-lateral talks emerged between Israel and multiple Arab states.  No one realized it at the time, but Secretary of State Baker’s persistence and Shamir relenting by attending the Madrid Conference led to unexpected consequences in Arab Israeli negotiations in 1993 with Israeli-PLO mutual recognition and the signing of the Oslo Accords. 

Ken Stein, July 2, 2023

Ken Stein Interview with Yossi Ben-Aharon, Jerusalem, Israel, November 12, 1992

KWS: Question, I mean I could sit here all day with you, but obviously we don’t have time.  Was Shamir glad about Madrid?

YB: He accepted it. It wasn’t an easy thing for him to decide. I would say he was excited. I would even tell you that Shamir was glad. He felt that the time had come. Circumstances were such that Israel had to make a showing there. He was happy with many of the palitary stages that were undertaken by the parties.

KWS: But once he got there, how did he…I mean, describe his personality once he got there.  Describe him.

YB: He felt that, once the stage was set and the players were there, the major Israeli players have to make a showing. And he came not as if he was being pushed to something that he hated, but as, since it is done, let’s make the best of it and see what it will produce.

KWS: Why did Israel go to Madrid?  Why did he do it?  What were the conditions that made it appropriate for Israel to finally say yes to this regional encounter?

YB: Well, he… I think all of us believed that uh, we had fought for our position as much as we could considering the other participants in the process and primarily, Jim Baker.  And, since this was the best we could produce, let’s go and see what we can get out of that new contraption. It was direct negotiations, and not really direct negotiations in every sense that we had in mind. Therefore, there was a mixture of uneasiness and maybe even apprehension, and curiosity. Maybe something good will come of it.  I am trying to characterize the general feeling of those who are involved directly.

KWS: And what about substantively?

YB: There were many things that we didn’t like. And this made it difficult for us to make a decision.  They weren’t…they didn’t come and…

KWS: Not, no…Let me, let me not get, let me not go back in time yet. Substantively, what did you want to come out of Madrid?

YB: Oh, that’s it.

KWS: I mean, when you left three or four days before it-

YB: What we wanted?

KWS: What did you want at that moment, after you decided to go. I am going to get into the detail of all the Baker shuttles and stuff.  But, once you decided to go, once he was there, once he gave the speech, what was the dynamic of what you now hoped to accomplish? I mean, what was your goal?  Was it articulated, did you write it down, did you hope for a peace treaty? I mean, what was it that you wanted to have happen as a result of Madrid?

YB: If I could limit it to the focus of one realizable, attainable objective, it was the autonomy of Judea and Samaria. And we, I think many of us believed it, it might just be achieved.

KWS: That autonomy would be implemented.

YB: Implemented, yes. And all the rest we thought was just irrelevant. Nothing would come of the talks with Syria, Lebanon…

KWS: And why was autonomy, why was it, why was the focus on autonomy, or why did you think the focus would be autonomy?

YB: Because we had believed that there was a chance of an overlap of interest on this, on this particular subject since the government of national unity and the initiative of May of ’89. And we hadn’t changed our view that this could be brought about because there was a willingness as we thought on the part of the other side–in this case, the Palestinians–and we were offering them something which we believed that any right-minded person would take, because it gave them something without them losing anything. As Jim Baker kept saying, you have the most to lose if you don’t take what is being offered to you. 

KWS: And that is why you crafted the procedure in such a way as to get into these bilaterals because you wanted to move on the Palestinian autonomy.

YB: Yes, we crafted. We didn’t, Jim Baker crafted it.

KWS: O.K., but your resistance at certain points forced it to go in certain directions.

YB: Yes, to the extent that we, that we succeeded, yes.

KWS: I think you succeeded in a quite extraordinary fashion because there is very little that you didn’t get in terms of procedure.

YB: Well, you have to judge it from the starting point. What was the starting point when this whole thing started?  And where will we be eventually?

KWS: It was fine, and may I have some coffee?

YB: I will join you.

KWS: When you started this process, after the Gulf War, Eaglebergers visit, Shamir’s relationship with Bush…what was it that fired the imagination that you could get to a meeting, whatever they wanted to call it, and you could get toward an autonomy? What was the generator in Shamir’s mind, or in your mind or in Eli’s mind? What started the ball rolling? You had the initiative of May of ’89. It didn’t go anywhere. The Americans claimed that you had reneged. There was not a great deal of warmth between Mr. Shamir and Mr. Bush, and Mr. Shamir and Mr. Baker. I mean, that’s an old tale out of school. Israel would have to restrain itself during the war.  What were the positive attributes that you saw that were different in February of ’91 that were not there in February of ’90?

YB: I would divide them into two categories.  From our very limited, narrow, particular point of view, we didn’t see that there was much of a change on the part of the Arabs and we didn’t see that there was much of a chance that any process would produce what we hoped to produce.  So we said what we are committed to, we are willing to carry out. And these are the two things: one was the May ’89 more or less initiative, plus Shamir’s understanding with Shultz with regard to what eventually became known as the regional conference. It was not really a regional conference. It was a proposal by Shultz that Shamir would go to Washington when Gorbachev and Reagan.

KWS: In December ’87.

YB: Yes, that was it.

KWS: Shamir asked Shultz, as a matter of fact, when they meet in a couple of months from now, why don’t we just show up and…

YB: Right, which was a twisted wish. It turned on Peres’ idea. It was all a substitute for Peres’s idea.

KWS: And Shultz’s reaction to that was what?

YB: Positive. Very positive. He went himself to London to meet Hussein, I think. And put it to Hussein, who turned it down. He said he can’t come along.  Which is what you would expect Hussein to say. Any time he has to come out on a limb or come out alone and look over his shoulder at his brother Arabs, he has a problem, which is precisely what is happening today on the agenda. So that was one part, one category. The other one was that we were realizing that international circumstances had changed. U.S. was the real super…the one and only superpower.  The president was full of his might and spoke of a new world order. And the Soviet Union was no longer there. And the Cold War was no longer there. And therefore, the U.S. was calling the shots. We are always aware about dependence on the U.S. and on the extent to which it can, it can call the shots, it can apply this or that kind of pressure. There was another positive aspect: The U.S., for the first time, had been involved in a war against the Arabs. The U.S. had brought soldiers and applied its own firepower, its own power against an Arab state. And that also had an impact on us because we expect this to uh, have uh, caused a kind of a reappraisal of the U.S., the American role in the Middle East. Until now, I think any Secretary of State before that, even if you take him out of the grave and tell him, “you know, the U.S. will one day have to send battleships against an Arab state.” You would tremble!  He would turn over in his grave! God forbid! You know, so, we thought maybe a combination of all these factors would produce something that we thought was not available, was not in the cards. And again, this element of curiosity, maybe something to do. And this was taken, here I come to a point– Forgive me if I talk randomly…

KWS: That’s fine…The whole objective is to keep on probing and to pull away the layers.

YB: Yes, yes, right. In this respect, we were very encouraged, very much encouraged, by some of the things that Baker brought with him in his first shuttle immediately after the war, because there had been a traumatic…an earthquake in the Middle East. The United States had exercised its muscle and its might and the Arabs were very much down over this thing. It was a shameful thing that there were these heretics who had come and subjugated or broken the backs of a very strong, big Arab country. And Baker, Dennis Ross and the others were telling us that the Saudis especially the Saudis, were always raised by the U.S. way above anything that they can. I mean this is something beyond logic. The extent to which Washington looks to Saudi Arabia is something that…

KWS: We have blown it way out of proportion.

YB: Always, and this continues to be.  But anyhow, they came and they told us that the Saudis would sing, the music they were playing was phenomenally new. They were saying: “We realize now that our true enemies are not Israel, that we were in trenches together with Israel facing the same scud missiles from Saddam Hussein, that the Palestinians are sons of bitches, they are the renegades and the traitors and they, they stuck the knife in the backs of the Kuwaitis and in our backs when Saddam invaded Kuwait. And therefore, we want to…its a new ballgame. We want now, we are ready for a new arrangement. We want to invest there. We want to help the Palestinians who live in the territories. To hell with the PLO and the Palestinians outside. We want to bring money and help improve their plight; we want to invest there; we want to give them projects, immediately.”

KWS: Did they?

YB: Boloney. Nothing, nothing came of all of this.

KWS: But the point of it is, did you, other than hearing it from the Americans, did you have any physical confirmation that the Saudis had actually changed other than the words that were brought to you?

YB: No. No. As a matter of fact, we tried to engineer some kind of a meeting with the Saudis. We said maybe Bandar will meet Shoval in Washington. And Bandar was playing the game very cleverly. He was beckoning to American Jews and meeting them and saying something similar. And we thought, hmmm, messianic times. And here we were waiting for that meeting to take place and for the projects. And Dennis was complaining that he had asked for projects and he hadn’t received them from the guy who was in charge of our military administration. And General Danny Rotschild, he said: “I’ll get them, I promise you, I will get them for you.” We made some proposals on housing and on some small industry proposal. I think they were conveyed to the U.S. and the Saudis.  He said…wait there was something else that Baker said…he said that they would end the boycott.

KWS: Trade the boycott for the settlements?

YB: No, no, no. That was Baker’s idea, that was not… again, what a disaster. No, no. But he came with uh…

KWS: But in any case, by the time you get to the Damascus Declaration, these guys are on board, willing to work with Baker on what Baker had communicated to them was look, now support us in this peace process, and they didn’t say no.

YB: No, of course. I mean, it didn’t all fall through, fall into the water. But the big things that we thought…the big change that takes place: that the Saudis would now stand up rather than be the meek kind of followers that they always were.  You know… they didn’t want to… they were willing to to subsidize various Pan-Arab, inter-Arab… whatever it was, processes, arrangements, up to a point. But they were never willing to be the ones who take the lead in any political action. You know that. And here, because of what they had been through, what they had to sustain in the war, we thought that they had changed their approach and they were willing now to stand up for what they thought would be right, including on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And tell the Palestinians or the PLO: “Actually, you go to hell! We don’t want you inside here.” And they would be instrumental in getting the others to join in, especially since they were providing a lot of money to the Syrians at the behest of the U.S. And Egypt who had, because the Syrians came and gave the kind of a stamp of kosher to that coalition that joined the U.S. against Iraq. You know, that is why the Egyptians were very anxious to get the Syrians into it. Syrians never fought the Iraqis. Not even one bullet. But just the flag was needed. So that was some of what we expected would be the result of the kind of substantive…

KWS: So the environment, the regional environment changed and the international environment changed.

YB: Yes.

KWS: And that was sufficient to listen to Baker when he came?

YB: Yes.

KWS: And, of course, Baker was bringing some of the ideas that had been on the back burner and now were being reheated again.

YB: That was the problem. As soon as we tried to where we started getting into the substance and he was bringing us the feedback on the Arab capitals, we saw that in substance it was the same old tune again. It was again 242 and withdrawal and the PLO and…

KWS: Land for peace.

YB: Land for peace and the same, and we felt that we were back to Geneva ’73. At least I felt it.  The same old hat.

KWS: So what convinced you it was different?

YB: Initially we thought it would be different, in February and March of 1991, but by June and July it was clear to us that we were back in the same old boat.

KWS: But hadn’t by June and July, hadn’t you begun to get indications that the Syrians were going to do something that they never have done: negotiate on the basis of 242 and 338. 

YB: Well, they had never done it, but they weren’t that far. They had initially rejected 242, you know, but then there were some switches even before that and under pressure even from Schultz that caused Assad to say something that was closer to an acceptance of 242. And that wasn’t a great… you know how they say in Yiddish, a great glich. But clearly, Syria was the tough nut. And it was from the Syrians that Baker kept bringing bad news on the various technicalities pertaining to the set-up in Madrid. We wanted something that would be really a regional conference, without a lot of fanfare, just to launch the direct negotiations. We didn’t want a world conference to be used even.

KWS: In March ’91, Shamir on Israeli television explicitly opposes an international conference but states that he favors, quote, “regional encounters.”

YB: Yeah.

KWS: This is the 13th of March.

YB: Yes.

KWS: And this “regional” comes from the Schultz thing back in late ’87.

YB: Yes. It was a new definition of an old idea.

KWS: Did that come from Shamir himself? Or someone around him? 

YB: The regional?

KWS: Yes.

YB: I think it was almost an accident. I remember suddenly hearing a minor official using the word.

KWS: Esorit (???)?

YB: Vidat Esori(???), yes. And I said, “What?” I did not like the use of the word Vida because I feel that once you say Vidat Esorit (???), sooner or later it will become Vidat (???) and not so much later as a Ben Amit (???).

KWS: I understand.

YB: And this guy was his bureau chief. He said: “No, I heard Shamir using the expression.” It was almost accidental. There was never a decision by some kind of forum or even…

KWS: A think tank or anything. It just blurted out. I understand. It happens sometimes.

YB: And then, sometimes big things happen and sometimes disasters also. Because I…

KWS: (Laugh) Like Palestinian homelands.

YB: Because the U.S. grasp the… I remember Dennis Ross, I remember he came and he said, “this thing, this thing that you mention, the regional conference is interesting.” And we realized that we had focused on it and they realized the potential of building upon it in the direction that would meet or create some kind of overlap between what the Arabs were demanding, especially Assad, which is the full blown international conference, and what we were proposing, which is the regional.

KWS: Dvar reports that Shamir categorically opposes a conference sponsored by the superpowers on the 14th of March. And in April, Dvar is reporting that you are willing to participate in a conference summoned by the superpowers.

YB: Yes.

KWS: You know, now we are getting down to some very nuanced differences… I mean, real specifics.

YB: Right.

KWS: If it leads, he said, if it leads immediately to direct talks, I’ll go to this if…

YB: The opening concept, yes.

KWS: And then he says of course we can’t talk to the PLO; we have to affirm our position to the Palestinian state, we cannot go to a conference on the basis of 242… we can go on the basis of 242, but not your definition of land for peace. He is still at this juncture in the spring. You’re still seeing the term international conference as a tribunal.

YB: Yes.

KWS: He saw this as a place that would give a decision and a rule and Israel would have to, by definition, give away its prerogative in negotiation.

YB: We were against the use of the word, “international.” We were against the use of the word, “conference.” We said the meeting, the para(???) meeting to launch, you know what the word to launch was. And we fought. And that was why when he came back and he said “peace conference,” we said that, “peace is alright, but conference is not.” And then he said: “Alright, only conference.” There was a lot of haggling around all of these definitions, behind which was this struggle on our side to make sure that it was not going to be an international conference. We will not be sitting on the dock. It was the constant fear. And it would be a one shot affair without any continuum.

KWS: No reconvening?

YB: No reconvening. And then of course, no U.N. presence. No U.N. presence.

KWS: Well, if there was U.N. presence they would be observers or didn’t you make distinctions between observers and participants?  No deliberations.

YB: We didn’t want the Europeans there.

KWS: No deliberations. It could not enforce results, it couldn’t be in an appellate place. It couldn’t be a tribunal. It couldn’t issue reports. It couldn’t reconvene. It was a place to give speeches and then we go to direct talks.

YB: And to a large extent we got what we wanted.

KWS: That’s my point.

YB: Yes, I understand.

KWS: I mean, you guys… I mean when you think about what the PLO gave, or what the Palestinians gave or what the Arabs gave. I mean, if Shamir had sat down in February of ’91 and said in October I am going to get a conference and this is what will not happen.  And he wrote a list. He virtually got his Christmas list.

YB: To an extent, yes.

KWS: Well, what didn’t he? That’s the third time in this interview that you’ve said you are not quite sure.

YB: Yes, because I remember how much fighting, how many compromises we had to make.

KWS: What compromises did you make?

YB: Well, even the use, for example, of the letter of invitation. We didn’t like the… we wanted the letter of invitation just to state that you are invited to an opening of direct talks and to a meeting which will take place at so and so and such a time. Following which the sides would convene for direct talks in the region. That was another point. And there won’t be a conference. It will not be based on 242. And if there will be any mention of 242, we will have to mention that…I remember Eli fighting over this one…that in the letter of invitation it will be stated explicitly that considering the fact that both, every side has his own…

KWS: Go ahead.

YB: Has his own interpretation of 242. You remind me of Eli, he can talk and write and listen to radio at the same time.

KWS: I can also play tennis if given a chance. When you work for people who think fast…

YB: You have to.  

KWS: The key is to be able to take notes while you eat.

YB: (Laugh)

KWS: Now, that is really the key.

YB: I remember Eli fighting over the words that would make it clear that 242 was the basis for the talks. But it should be clear from the outset that every side has its own interpretation.

KWS: His own interpretation of what 242 is.

YB: Yes.

KWS: Was Levy too quick to accept Baker’s proposals? In the States, the appearance was that the foreign minister had become Baker’s ambassador to Shamir. 

YB: Yes, some of this is…

KWS: I mean, is that a misinterpretation on my part?

YB: It is not that he became Baker’s tool. No. It is simply that Levy, I don’t want to be quoted on this.

KWS: Okay, that’s fine.

YB: Okay.

KWS: I will use it with absolute discretion.

YB: Ok, Levy is a megalomaniac. He wanted to be, what do I want to call it, known as a great man, who is liked by everyone.

KWS: Shamir’s Kissinger?

YB: No, not in this way. He wanted to be the man who succeeded to build the bridges to the Europeans, especially to the French because he had some Moroccan background. And that he, contrary to Shamir and Shamir’s image, which was constantly being portrayed in the media as negative and brooding, though lately it’s different, is different and open and he’s willing to consider. When he talked to Shamir, I checked with Shamir afterwards and if he understood Levy, understood what the man was all about. Shamir would say the guy ???.  Exactly as you say it. And then the impression was created that when he talked to Baker, he met Baker more than half way. 

KWS: May I use the Yiddish word Shvitser? Or is that not appropriate?

YB: No, Shvitser is just the guy who brags. He’s not that. He’s a little bit more savvy, more clever. I will put it this way, Baker after a few rounds realized that he couldn’t achieve much through Levy and that the guy to talk to, to get results, was Shamir and only Shamir.

KWS: About what time did that happen? Summer?

YB: Yes, some time in summer.

KWS: June, July?

YB: I can’t say exactly. There was one case and I can’t remember exactly when, when he came away from Levy with a thought that he had gotten an agreement on some point.

KWS: Yes, Levy said that the conference could be updated periodically every six months.  And Shamir said:  “What?  What are you talking about?”

YB: Yes, it fell through. And that may be one instance where Baker realized that you can’t deal with Levy.  Because he just doesn’t have the…

KWS: But something happened to Shamir in getting information from Baker or from other sources about Syria’s intentions.

YB: Something happened to Shamir?

KWS: He got some information either from Baker or from other sources about Syria’s intentions, that Syria now was willing to go to this conference that was beginning to be clearly structured the way Shamir wanted. The summer here–June and July period–August, was a very dynamic sort of period in which people, who were looking at it from afar, said: “My God, if the Syrians will go, and the Israelis are going to go, and if the Syrians are going to go then it means the Jordanians are going to go.” And something happened…

YB: I don’t recall any specific event. In my memory, I think that after Baker touched base with Assad in the first round even, and after he heard from the Egyptians who were already active from then, the Egyptians did play a go-between-role and had brang the Syrians into the game…

KWS: How?

YB: From, from the beginning.

KWS: No, but how? How did they do that? Did they act as an intermediary?

YB: By acting as an intermediary. Mubarak had very good connections with Bush. Very close, personal. And uh, I think Bush entrusted him with that, to go to Assad and to convince him that it is worth his while, it will be worth his while to join in the process.

KWS: Must have scared you.

YB: It did. And I tell you why, because Mubarak didn’t play a go…

KWS: He was an advocate.

YB: He was an advocate of Assad’s.

KWS: Osama (El-Baz) told me that yesterday.

YB: (Laugh)

KWS: Yes, I know.  You categorize Assad as a master of deception.  Your words.

YB: That he is. He still is, by the way.

KWS: Yes, you’ve said that, you’ve said that again several times. But by May, he’d accepted the two track approach in public and by May, he said that negotiations could go on the basis of 242 and 338. And that is pretty significant for this character to say that publicly.

YB: Yes.

KWS: Now, you may still be right about him being the master of deception, but these are still new, or semi-new kind of ideas that are coming out of him.

YB: Yes, if you look back at uh, at Assad’s treatment of 242 you will see that it was nuanced. It wasn’t categoric already before that.

KWS: Certainly not your interpretation of 242.

YB: No, no of course not. No, I’m just saying that there was a degree of, of a, how shall I say, of attrition, in this opposition.

KWS: Yes. I mean, look, he still believed in May that the conference should be coercive; it should be binding; it should be supervised.

YB: Yes.

KWS: It should be the five permanent members of the security council, it should be continuous and he didn’t say anything about this thing will end in peace treaties. This was in May. I mean, he still had a far distance to come.

YB: Yes, but I will let you know that even today, he is not telling the Syrian people everything that is taking place on the format and that is one of the reasons why the Syrians refuse to permit the media to come in to take a picture of us sitting together with the Syrians for it to be deemed in Damascus and Aleppo and the other towns. So the deception works even domestically, internally. He’s slowly educating his people, but up to a point. We wanted him to educate his people in the direction of peace with Israel.

KWS: I get the feeling in listening to you, reading that the Israeli press, that you guys systematically, or maybe it wasn’t systematically, maybe it was random, haphazardly, proceeded to try and knock holes through each one of these things that Assad wanted. In other words, you guys went at the U.N. You particularly went hard at the U.N.  You pushed him.

YB: Yes.

KWS: You said, “don’t make the U.N. official part of the process. There is no U.N. role, it would be too one sided. Why do it? It’s not necessary. The U.N. won’t make any contribution whatsoever that we can’t do between ourselves.”  I am paraphrasing you.  You said that in June.  And it seems to me that from, from here on in that, now Assad had made certain kinds of statement of willingness, you were… I think you got the Americans so excited about the prospect that you could make something happen and they could make something happen, they almost were willing to cave in to just about everything you wanted.

YB: I think you are painting a much too stark…

KWS: But, by October they did.  Not everything that you wanted.

YB: You need to remember these are all technicalities on the set-up. There was a lot of give and take here that took place when we got to the format of that, of that opening…

KWS: Yes.

YB: The conference in Madrid.

KWS: Yes.

YB: And up to the very last moment when I was on my way to the first bilateral meeting with the Syrians, the Syrian foreign minister was still fighting a rearguard action. He wanted that the negotiations take place in the same building and to open at the same time, so that we retained the aura at least of an international conference, even though the talks would be taking place in different halls, but in the same building, so much so that Baker almost blew his top. He probably did blow his top. And I was on my way and the Syrians said, “we will not show up.” And I had to go back to the hotel and finally, the Americans said, “come.” And they agreed instead of having us live in separate buildings, that all the meetings would take place in one, that same building, but not at the same time. I think because of technical reasons they couldn’t take place at the same time.

KWS: So you guys were still fighting the symbols after the birth of the child.

YB: If you wish, yes, because…

KWS: And you still can do it. I mean, the guy from Ottawa is not going to Ottawa.

YB: Yes, because Assad, and understandably so, attaches importance as the Soviets used to do. And I think we have in many respects been responding. We are not that rigid on technical things, but when we, at least I, when I sense that the other side attaches so much importance because it believes that would have an impact on his constituency. The constituency is so vitally important.

KWS: To Assad?

YB: To me.

KWS: To you.

YB: To us, to Israel. If I see that Assad is educating his constituency in a direction that is positive towards Israel, he is preparing them for something positive. That is…

KWS: The best sign possible.

YB: That is the best sign.

KWS: That is the confidence building measure or what they call the tension reducing initiative.

YB: Yes, that’s it. And that’s what I kept hammering before and during the negotiations.  And with Shamir and…

KWS: Did the United States lack patience with you? 

YB: Baker is a phenomenal negotiator.  He has no real depth on the politics of this region. And I don’t think he knows much about Jewish history or Israeli history for that matter or the history of the Wars, the Arab-Israeli wars or Arab culture…

KWS: Who the Alawites are?

YB: Yeah, he (Baker) doesn’t know. But the little that he needs to know in order to run the show, he knows, he is very fast in the up-take, and he’s, he’s proficient, he’s excellent in what they call deal making. He’s a clever lawyer and understands that in order to cut the deal, you need these components. And he identifies the components very quickly and he juggles them very fast to be able to put them together to create the necessary building for whatever he has to do to cut the deal. That he is a great one. Now, he had a very able man on the side, Dennis Ross, who does know quite a lot with the background. And Baker is enough of a, I don’t like the man, but I can say he’s enough of a statesman to permit Dennis Ross to intervene even in the middle of what he’s seeing in order to set them back on the course, to put him on the right track, or to propose him something that can help overcome an obstacle.

KWS: Baker must have a lot of faith in Dennis.

YB: Yes, but then you really need to have some greatness. After all he is a junior aide. A senior aide, but a junior person in the hierarchy. But you understood that the man has quality, substance, he has know-how, and therefore, in order to get things going, to succeed in what you set yourself as an objective, Dennis was also a vital element. In most meetings it was, in the important ones, it was just Baker and Dennis Ross.

KWS: Why did…while you are on Baker, how did this Baker thing with Shamir evolve?

YB: Which?

KWS: This relationship. 

YB: Businesslike, cold…

KWS: And measure of trust at all?

YB: None whatsoever. Nothing like what to compare with Shultz.

KWS: And what was it like with Shultz?

YB: Trust, yes, some warmth way beyond the codes, the elements of what was being discussed.  There was something there, a lot of patience and willingness to, to encourage talk on side issues as well, and to attempt, on Shultz part, to explain the basis of his thinking. You could delve deeper into the man’s mind and reach not rock bottom, but reach a stratum that will enhance your trust in the man.

KWS: Is that because Shultz understood the Israeli idiom. He knew Israeli history; he had… I mean, Israel to him wasn’t just…

YB: No, it was his personality.  More than that.

KWS: His personality.  

YB: He is not a lawyer, he’s not a deal maker. He’s a statesman, who does not believe in quickies and quick deals. He believes in processes and evolution.

KWS: You know, the commonality between Kissinger, Carter and Baker, and you had difficulty with all three of them at one time or another, was that they were all interested in conclusions.  Not depending upon pace, I mean, each one differently…

YB: But that’s just natural.

KWS: Yes, but when their desire for conclusions, their desire to make a deal… every time you come in contact with someone from the United States that wants to, you get really suspicious.

YB: Of course. Very naturally so because we believe that we are exposing some of our most vital elements pertaining to our security and survival.

KWS: Your vital interests.

YB: Our Vital interests and we are not sure that the other side, the American side, is cognizant of the vital, of the extent to which these are vital.

KWS: The depth or the breadth of the vitality.

YB: Right. And that’s when we got apprehensive. But you raised another thought in my mind. I say looking back, it is a pity that it wasn’t Shultz that achieved the coup. The Madrid Conference coup. I am not sure where it will lead us. But I would have liked he to be the person, to be the midwife.

KWS: While these negotiations were ongoing, I assume, how did it affect the bilateral relationship?

YB: It definitely affected it. Bush made it very clear. You see the interconnection between the peace process and the loan guarantees, which was made explicitly by the president of the United States. And that had an immediate impact, not only on…

KWS: Settlements was not an issue in the peace process?

YB: It was injected into the peace process and inflated way out of proportion by the American administration, that is how I see it, subjectively. Way beyond what it merited.

KWS: But how did it ultimately affect the bilateral relationship?

YB: With the U.S.?

KWS: Yes.

YB: Well things, things kept snowballing…

KWS: Escalating.

YB: And escalating until we reach the stage where we have every reason to believe that Bush-Baker decided to do something in order to contribute to the downfall of the Likud.

KWS: Do you think it began with the AIPAC speech? I mean, it was certainly contributory when he said Israel has to give up this dream (of Greater Israel).

YB: It was a process. 

KWS: And then, then this September 10 thing with AIPAC, and then the loan guarantees, and then here’s my phone number, public, and all of these things. All of those things contributed.

YB: Yes, definitely. The media kept referring to Bush’s obsession with the settlement issue. And Baker added some of his own fuel to the fire and kept repeating. And of course the story would about Shamir wanted a meeting with Bush and the White House kept stalling and stalling and, how do you say it? I forget the word in English. Telling us, giving us, telling us that they can’t give us a date for a meeting. 

KWS: Postponed.

YB: Postponed. Well, I am not using a…

KWS: It is okay.

YB: They kept postponing. We were calling the American ambassadors here and we asked our ambassador over there. We never had something like this with an American ambassador, with an American administration. Because if the prime minister of Israel comes to the U.S., the most is twice a year. Peres made a point of coming when he was prime minister to come at least twice a year to the United States including Washington and calling on the president. Shamir was not that particular, but he said, “I cannot come to the United States and not call on the president. And the whole thing is an hour, an hour and a half of his time. Only with a semi-official visit, it is a little bit more than some kind of a luncheon at the White House. I am sure you know. So what was the problem in scheduling? They kept being postponed again and again.  And that too was added to the list of…

KWS: Irritants. There really were a series of irritants.

YB: Oh, I can give you some stories about irritants. I think some of this was deliberate. Maybe someone over at the White House, I don’t know if it was Sinunu or Scowcroft or the president…

KWS: Well Sinunu is gone by ’91.

YB: Yes, I know, but this issue of settlements started before.  The issue of settlements started before.

KWS: The issue of settlements started, you know even before Carter.

YB: No, I know.

KWS: American presidents have been riding this horse for a long time.

YB: No, no I understand. But in the way that the Bush administration treated it, this was no… there was no precedent.

KWS: Well, when–

YB: Even Carter who was pretty taken up with this, it wasn’t as bad as it was.

KWS: In March of ’90, just before we came on our last trip., we made reference to East Jerusalem as occupied Jerusalem.

YB: Who did, Carter?

KWS: No, no. Bush.

YB: Bush.

{End of side one, tape one}

{Beginning of side two, tape one}:

KWS: So until I read the texts I don’t want to make a comment.  

YB: That’s the best escape (laugh).

KWS: I mean, you know, I didn’t know how to handle this.  I mean, no matter what you say, you are going to say the wrong thing anyway. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  The best thing to do is to escape, so I found a reason to escape.

YB: No, I think you are right but ???

KWS: In early September ’91, getting back to Lebanon. Ha’aretz reports that  the prime minister’s office is now going to be in charge of the peace process…in early September ‘91, like eighth, ninth, tenth, and not the foreign ministry. And by now Shamir, this is going to be his baby. As much as it is his baby as is he’s not sure that Levy is the person whom he wants to represent Israel at Madrid. I mean, there is a little bit of both.

YB: Yes, but the decision to go was taken much later.

KWS: Almost at the end. Two weeks before, or ten days before, when Yossi Olmert gets called on the phone and says: “It’s our show. Get there and open up the press office.” Yossi said he was there ten days before. He found out eleven days before and he was there ten days before. If Baker asked you to choose between a unilateral letter of assurances and a bilateral memorandum of understanding. 

YB: No, he didn’t ask us. We proposed, we opted for a bilateral understanding, a memo of understanding. We preferred that.

KWS: Why?

YB: Because that had more standing, more commitment, and more dignity.

KWS: But…

YB: Excuse me, and also because it followed similar precedents in similar situations in 1973, 1975, and 1979. As you know.

KWS: But Shamir worried that the bilateral memorandum of understanding was…he felt that it was a letter of intent in the way it was phrased. He wasn’t happy because it left out an event that the Palestinians identify with the PLO or place the PLO flag that Israel will be permitted to… and he said that the United States ignores that the ’67 borders are indefensible.

YB: Yes.

KWS: And the IDF will not be required to pull out of southern Lebanon as long as foreign powers are there. In other words there are things in this memorandum of understanding that you didn’t get.

YB: That we had asked for and we didn’t get, yes. Over that, we had a lot of haggling and fighting over the wording. And over another thing which Baker finally…I guess the word is renege. He said there will be no double meaning. Whatever I promise you and the others will be available to the other side.

KWS: Did you see the letter of assurances to the Palestinians?

YB: No. Finally after the letters were issued or justifiable, he said that he had changed his mind.  He said it would play into the hands of extremists on both sides if I were to expose the letter.

KWS: But you’ve seen it?

YB: No. 

KWS: You haven’t seen it?

YB: Oh, well maybe from intelligence we have all kinds of sources. But we were not given directly.

KWS: I see, because I have the Palestinian letter of assurances…

YB: Oh, the Palestinian was published in a newspaper.

KWS: Did you also also get a letter of assurance and a memorandum of understanding?

YB: No, only.

KWS: Tell me now about the bilateral talks.

YB: At Madrid?

KWS: No, now. I am talking about Post-Madrid. It is a part of your recent political past.

YB: Yes. You want me to just recount what took place or to give you my analysis?

KWS: Yes. What happened in general during the time that you were there, during the six months.? I think what, there were six sessions? What was accomplished? How would you describe the tone of these meetings with the Syrians? For someone who wasn’t there, it is nice to get a verbal picture.

YB: O.K.. Well, I started before telling you about the explosion, that took place because of the Syrians.

KWS: At Madrid.

YB: At Madrid. So, that was solved and Baker… when this was solved, Baker could report to Bush that he had put the process on track and he left. It was then he left it to George, Herzl, and ??? to take over from  Baker just to oversee the continuation of the process to the end, to the end of the meetings. From the beginning, we wanted the talks to take place right here. Initially, we said, “we wanted the talks to take place alternatively in Israel and in each Arab country.” The Arabs turn this down flat. And then we said, “we are willing to start in the vicinity of the region with the hope that as things go on…”

KWS: This vicinity of the region (Laugh). Go ahead.

YB: (Laugh) We will meet in the capitals of the states that are negotiating. That was in itself cause for a lot of many cables, a lot of inquests built on this issue. We didn’t want, again, because of the same reason, lack of rest and insistence on negotiating directly with our neighbors in a format and in a situation where we are totally free to talk to each other without any interference with the outside. The U.S. respected our insistence on the freedom of negotiations in that they, from the outset, there was no presence alongside of the two bilateral parties to the negotiations.

KWS: No American presence?

YB: No, no, you have to remember that the Russians are constantly…they are there, they are co-sponsors. You have to pinch yourself to remember that this is what the Russians have been reduced to. Anyhow, when we came into the first meeting in one of these palaces that was set up for this purpose, the American representative was a guy from this embassy here. And a Russian representative, they were at the door of the meeting room, which had been set with a long table and chairs on both sides. And, we were… they didn’t know how to stage manage and who would come in first and how who would come in second. So they decided that they would enter simultaneously. So the Russians stood at one side of the room, one end, at the door, and the Americans at the other end. And at the given signal prepared, they opened both doors.  We were stationed, each delegation, at the one door and when they opened the doors we came in, like this, until we faced each other.  Chairman opposite the Chairman. They sat down. It was very tense.

KWS: This was at?

YB: At Madrid.

KWS: This is still Madrid?

YB: Yes. I’m just giving you the order. And we started pretty late because of the crisis. I think we started around nine or ten in the evening and it went until two a.m. By that time, I was done, dead tired, because already we were beginning to sound the same old record and repeating the same things. I said, first of all, we have to discuss some technical aspects. A) How about bringing in the media to take pictures? Flat no. We had an argument on this, “why not?” No is no. O.K.. Second point, let’s decide on the local. I am perfectly happy here, let’s continue, I am ready to continue here. I said, “you know that this is not our position, we want talks in the region. I invited you to Jerusalem, or if you wish Tel Aviv.” Out of the question. Madrid is fine. I cannot, and his expression was, “I cannot permit you to come to my country when you are occupying my land.” So I said, “we won’t continue here.” My instructions are that this is just an opening meeting and then we have to, how do you say?

KWS: Adjourn.

YB: Adjourn to a place and time which will be mutually decided. He says, “No.” So I said, “alright, we will have to go. Let’s set up some means of communication. You tell me which embassy you want to appoint for that purpose. You wish Paris or Washington.” He said: “No, there is no need for any communication. This is the communication right here. We are willing to meet as long as you’re willing to meet. If you don’t want, that is your problem. You caused the problem.” So I said, “alright. Let’s leave it, we’ll talk to the U.S. and you’ll hear, you’ll hear from us soon enough.” We kept saying, “of course, the co-sponsors, but that was only the United States.” Having said that, and that took, I don’t know how long, an hour or so, then I said: “Okay.  Do you want to open or should I open?”  He said, “well, I have an opening statement.”  I told him, “I have an opening statement.”  So he said, “well, I have an opening statement.” His opening statement was very simple: “We came here at the behest of the two co-sponsors in accordance with the letter of invitation and the key sentence in that letter of invitation is that Resolution 242, which means territory for peace…in accordance with a formula. This is the formula and accordingly we are willing to undertake whatever is defined in Resolution 242 as long as you will do the same. Therefore, my first requirement is, are you willing to withdraw? And, of course, it is not just the Golan Heights but, according to 242, it is the West Bank and Gaza and of course, your forces have to withdraw from southern Lebanon, as well.” Then I made my opening. My opening statement was all motherhood and apple-pie because I said that, “it was an historic occasion. We have respect for Syria. We know that Damascus was the capital of the caliphate in old times and considers itself to be the pioneer of Arabism and we understand that. And therefore we attach importance to this day and we hope that this will bring about peace between us. The peoples, we have spared enough blood and therefore, we are willing to negotiate directly without any let up until we reach an understanding. And that can be even the first point of agreement between us. Let us agree here and now that we will negotiate directly until we reach agreement and we will not let up. And if you agree, I am willing to sign a paper.” (Laugh) Of course, he said, “no, this isn’t the time for any kind of document. We haven’t reached it. First, you have to tell me if you are willing to withdraw. This is the basis of the formula.” And that of course, went back and forth like a record: “Tell me, are you willing to use the word withdraw?”

KWS: What happened? So then, how did you move from Madrid to Washington?  How did that happen?

YB: So, when we ended that meeting by two or so, then that’s it. We came back to Jerusalem. And then through diplomatic channels, the Americans realized that they had to do something. We started an exchange. We said we want to meet in the region. We gave some proposals. Finally, the Americans said, “let’s have one meeting in Washington and, among other things, we will discuss the…

KWS: Venue.

YB: The venue. So Shamir gave the order that we go there and we discuss only the venue.

KWS: Really?

YB: Yes, only the venue and then we will adjourn. But it couldn’t work. If we were to discuss only the venue, we would’ve exhausted the issue in…

KWS: In five minutes.

YB: Ten minutes. Then you could drag it on for another ten minutes. So, we decided, with his approval, that we would keep hammering at the venue, but at the same time talk some substance.  This became really the format, or the kind of agenda, that we followed for a good number of meetings. Two or three meetings were devoted to discussion on venue and why not this venue and why not that venue, and substance, alternatively. At some point, I think around the second meeting, someone made the suggestion that we would draw a list of ten places, in order of preference, and the Arabs would do the same. And if there is an overlap, then that would be the place. So we drew and they did. And of course, the end result was Rome. We were almost the most removed from the area.  At some point Shamir began saying that, “it is not that important; substance is more important.”  We gave a fight in the beginning, but then we decided that it wasn’t worth fighting so much, devoting so much time and effort to an issue which was basically technical. But it is not all that technical really because…

KWS: It was a perception.

YB: It’s a perception, yes. I kept telling him, I told him, I want the people of Damascus and of Syria to see us negotiating. That’s why–that there is some movement.

KWS: What groundwork did you lay for Itamar?

YB: And then we decided on the strategy. The strategy was that we would not enter into the subject of territory until and unless we had satisfaction from the Syrians that certain preneg…what we call, prenegotiation requirements, were met. We said-we wanted Syria to indicate its acceptance of the right of Israel to exist and its legitimacy as a state in this part of the world. And of course this was subject to many, many, and long discussions because it was important to distinguish between that requirement and, what you define in diplomatice, as diplomatic recognition of the state of Israel which was supposed to be the outcome of an agreement. We said: “No, that’s not what we have in mind, that would be the outcome. Now, against the backdrop and the background of Syrian attitude towards the very right of the existence of Israel, we want this to be removed.”

KWS: You needed affirmation.

YB: We needed affirmation, yes. That was one requirement. The second requirement was, since Syria clearly indicated that Golan was not sufficient, withdrawal from the Golan, it had to be what he kept referring to as a comprehensive peace, and his interpretation of comprehensive meant that we should agree to withdraw from all the territories and that the agreement should take place simultaneously between us and each and every one of the participants, the Arab participants. We said, “we are not negotiating with you bilaterally. This is multilateral negotiations. You are linking our set with the other sets of negotiations. Now let’s assume that you and I will reach an agreement, you will hold it in obeyance until the others agree and if there will be no agreement on the other side or in the other sectors…” So we said, “no, this is no, this is simply a violation of the basic rules of the conference. We want an understanding that once there is an agreement, when negotiating bilaterally and only bilaterally, and once there is agreement, that agreement should stand on its two legs.” Rabin, by the way, referred to that as well and he adopted the same approach. The third point was terror. We said that, “we cannot negotiate with Syria while Syria is playing host to a number of terrorist organizations. Aiding and abetting them, giving them, for example, radio Damascus that broadcasts.” Gibril has a corner there and I think some of the Palestinian corners and in Jerusalem broadcast, which is Gibril. And terrorist attacks are taking place from territory that is under the control of the Syrian army in the Baka Valley. We want an understanding that Syria would put an end to that, at least during the negotiations.  I remember saying that you can’t hold, maintain both, one and the same time. That was the third point. Fourth point was the Jews of Syria. You have that?  And I said, “we want an indication, an understanding that the Jews will be given the same rights as the others, including the right to emigrate, primarily focused on the right to emigrate.”  The fifth point…it was on Lebanon. “Considering the fact that Syria was in effect occupying Lebanon, we can’t negotiate with the Lebanese on anything when Lebanon is under the occupation of the Syrians.” We make reference to Lebanon. That was part of it. We didn’t want to push too much because that would be, in effect, another kind of linkage from our side. We didn’t want to link it…

KWS: I understand.

YB: It wasn’t a conditional linkage. And the other point we made, we attached some importance to it, and I think with the American public, the drug traffic that was taking place under the…

KWS: Watchful eye.

YB: Watchful eye and participation of the Syrian army.  He said that. So we defined these as renegotiating requirements. And then we said, once when there is an understanding of these issues, we would set up an agenda, and agree the agenda, and then we will negotiate it, negotiate on all the issues, including and I kept telling him, the issue of the delineation of the secure and recognized boundaries. In other words, the territorial aspect. And he kept hammering throughout at the word, withdrawal. I want you to say it, to utter the word withdrawal.  I said, and I kept telling him. He said, I have been sitting with you for x number of meetings and I have never heard the word withdrawal from you. So, of course, these five, five requirements took up most of the time and of course, we went back to history, as well. There was no way that we couldn’t because his basic interpretation of 242 and withdrawal was founded on a very interesting, revisionist rewriting of history. We were the “aggressive party” that had launched an attack on its neighbors, including Syria, from the very beginning, except for the Yom Kippur war, which he said was clearly an act on the part of Syria and Egypt to liberate occupied territory from its occupiers.

KWS: But your very existence is a signpost of aggression.

YB: They never said that, not our existence, but there was some references, that hinted that it would give us this feeling. For example, when I said, on the right to existence, and he once used the word, “what you call Israel.” How could I? How can I? How can I define it? Is it Israel in ’47 or ’49 or ’56 or ’67? And I knew because I had heard this already before by Arab spokesman and I said to him: “You choose.  I don’t mind. You choose any Israel, any kind of definition, geographic and tell me what you accept.” Of course, he never did. He never did.

KWS: Did anyone else from his delegation speak?

YB: Yes. At my time it was the legal counsel. I think his name is Jojate(???), who read and prepared the paper on the interpretation of 242. That was also a subject for a lot of discussion because of course we had different interpretations. We had our own legal, on our side. So that was what I gave Itamar Rabinovich. And I had some criticism, subsequently, of the way Itamar made that mistake, unnecessarily. You don’t throw ammunition even if you do not intend to use it because you might at some point find yourself in the need of that particular ammunition. Now he ditched the five prenegotiating requirements. He said to the Syrians, “we don’t want to deal with the past, let’s deal with the future.” In other words, let’s talk business. And immediately it had to focus on the formula of territory for peace. And in a short time, he was already under pressure to define an Israeli position on the issue of territory, in return for his insistence on getting some kind of satisfaction from the Syrians on the issue of peace. And that caused the first crisis. And now there is a crisis of sorts because the Israeli side is not willing to say anything beyond the acceptance of the principle of withdrawal on the Golan Heights. And the Syrians are not willing to deliver anything on the substance of peace until and unless they get more clear indication on the kind of withdrawal.

KWS: How did the multilateral talks fold into the bilaterals? I mean, what was your hope or Shamir’s hope at that point?

YB: Good question. The multilaterals were… I’m interested to know if anyone told you this because it was an idea that was injected, I think by Shamir, in what we call the peace or initiative of May ’89 under the government of national unity. It was there that there was a paragraph, at the very end, that said alongside the process that would bring about implementation of the autonomy, there will be negotiations with all the other Arabs in order to put an end to the conflict. It was Rabin, I know, who didn’t attach any importance to this. To him, the only place of focus was on the autonomy, to solve the Palestinian issue. But Shamir, at least outwardly, I don’t know if he was completely convinced of the importance of this, he kept telling Bush and Baker from the outset, he said, “I don’t understand, why do we have to have a state of war with Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and all of these Arab states who have finally moved? We believe that alongside an attempt to solve the Palestinian issue, we have to talk with all these others in order to put an end to it. At least they should put an end to the state of belligerency and put an end to all those manifestations of belligerency such as the boycott in ’73?” And that germ of an idea, I think, was adopted by Baker and on that also there were some exchanges between him and me because I thought that there would be a first step on the part of these far removed Arab countries to put an end to the state of belligerency. Since we are talking peace with our immediate neighbors and with the Palestinians, then they would say, “alright, we are not no longer in a state of war.” And then, there would be room for such conferences as eventually evolved on substantive issues such as ecology and economic operation and all that. Baker didn’t do that. He adopted the latter part.  In other words, he said: “We will set up conferences on all of these substantive issues and that would be kind of a buttressing effort from the side.”

KWS: So the multilaterals were aimed to give support to the bilaterals?

YB: Yes, in Baker’s mind. But the way it was engineered, and the way it has evolved since it started, produced zilch. If anything, it became an additional forum of political football between Israel and the Arabs. Not acrimonious. There was show of talk of substance, but nothing and I don’t see any progress. And this is where the Syrians, who refused to participate, were aided and abetted and supported by the Egyptians, who made a big show of their participation. But they, in each and every one of the multilateral forums, they stood up and said: “We understand and support the position.” In other words the Syrian position that there can be no progress in the multilaterals until and unless there is progress in the withdrawal.  In other words, if we withdraw from the territories and if we accept basically the Syrian approach, then of course they will be willing to cooperate with us on ecology and economic cooperation and solving the other problems. You know, you have to wait to see if, at all, this would take place. That’s no use. That was not the intention at least on our part. It turned the thing upset. And I made reference to this when at first Baker trumpeted the information…the statement that Saudi Arabia had condescended to come to the multilaterals and they made a big thing out of this achievement. I poured cold water on it, publicly. And he was very upset. But I poured cold water because it was not the way that we wanted it to be. We wanted the first switch, the first obstacle to be removed- that Saudia Arabia is no longer in a state of war with us.  And then you start talking on the other issues.

KWS: Did the zionism equals racism resolution, the idea of its repeal….

YB: Yes, it was mentioned in the, in the ???.  Because it took place in…

KWS: It took place in December.

YB: In December.

KWS: But it must have been mentioned early on by Shamir to Bush about something that he wanted.

YB: Oh, between us and the U.S.?

KWS: Yes.

YB: Yes, of course. There was a lot of talk and the U.S., at the behest of maybe Bush himself, gave the order and the State Department went full speed ahead.

KWS: Right after the loan guarantee flap by the end of September, he knew the United States…that the U.S. was going to work with the Soviet Union.

YB: On this issue.

KWS: Yes.

YB: Yes. It started even before. It was an order even from the White House. Baker, for sure, and all the embassies throughout the world coordinated with our embassies in working with the host government in order to achieve a positive vote. But you must remember, we had started this even before that. There was talk of this in the previous general assembly and for all kinds of reasons, because of the Gulf War, it was postponed. So, the stage was set before, maybe even the word from the White House had been given way before that. I just don’t know.

KWS: A couple of small points on some historical points. What did the opening of the U.S./PLO dialogue do to Shamir? I mean how did it…

YB: It was a rude shock, especially coming from Shultz. I have this sneaky suspicion that it was not Shultz’s making.

KWS: It was not Shultz’s making.

YB: It was after Bush had been elected and it was Bush who was the man who pushed for this.  But…

KWS: It was convenient to have it happen during the transition period.

YB: Yes.

KWS: Very convenient.

YB: Yes. We were very upset. We sent a fairly strong, long letter to Shultz and to Reagan, with a lot of disappointment in it on how come this took place. But I think Shultz was duped. He was duped by some Jews in the United States and he was duped by the PLO very cleverly. Very cleverly.  It was a masterful thing they put on. They managed it in such a way that Arafat, the man… he was the one who ostensibly made the statement that accepted the American conditions. But the PLO at PNC in its decision adopted double talk. If you analyze the decision of the PNC meeting in November of ’88 in which they say that they had accepted the two state formula, but that’s not really…they had not accepted a two state formula. They had made the reference to the two state, but they had not adopted the two state formula and a few other formulations that could be interpreted as giving the backing to Arafat’s acceptance of the various conditions you know… the suspension of terror, and acceptance of Israel…

KWS: But, the dialogue itself, the upshot of the dialogue, proved to the Americans that they couldn’t get the PLO to modify it.

YB: Couldn’t get the PLO?

KWS: To modify it. Hussein couldn’t and now the Americans learned themselves.  I mean, this was a going to school kind of process.

YB: Yes. By the way, Americans are still going to school. We all are, we all are. We just don’t know the Arabs. I know I am saying this because I do. Perhaps I know a little bit more than others, but there is a lot to learn. I don’t want to waste time on this. But on the operational expression in the political sense of Pan-Arabism, the way it expresses itself in the peace process, and in the relations between the Arab states and the outside world, and the relations between the Arab states and Israel on the peace process. That element had not been penetrated by the Americans and not by Israel either. I am not sure I can understand, explain it, decipher and explain it very well.

KWS: Do you still think it is there beneath the surface?

YB: Oh yes. There is nothing to say. It is there. The question is how and when does it raise its ugly head, if you wish, and serve as an obstacle to the things that you and I–you as an American, and I as an Israeli–-want to achieve. And if we will not understand how it operates, how it becomes an obstacle at various junctures, we will not be able to overcome that obstacle and reach the kind of accommodations that we do want to reach because out there, among the Arabs, there are people who might want peace, real peace. The problem is how to… how to reach out to them and how to utilize those who are the slaves of Pan-Arabism.

KWS: Did the dialogue at all nourish the Rabin-Shamir thing, the five point plan, the four point plan? In other words, one of the four elements is not only being two tract, but the element, of course, is Palestinian elections. The PLO saw this as a way to get around the PLO. I mean, that was their interpretation.

YB: Yes.

KWS: I interviewed Nabil Shaff.

YB: Of course.

KWS: And they are absolutely convinced that this was your intent to…

YB: To create another leadership.

KWS: An alternative.

YB: Of course.

KWS: Is that a correct interpretation?

YB: Right. A leadership acceptable, there is no doubt. I mean, you don’t have to be a ???.

KWS: You’d have to be a nuclear physicist.

YB: Right, to understand that this would be the almost automatic outcome of these elections.  But whether this was explicitly…

KWS: You think implicitly?

YB: No, I’m trying to remember if I heard them, even in a cabinet meeting, say something to the effect that this is our way of neutralizing the PLO. 

KWS: But everyone understood it. It was understood.

YB: But wait a minute. At the same time, we knew already then that you can’t deal the PLO totally out of the picture, that these people are enslaved to the PLO. I’m using my, my definition.

KWS: Your terminology.

YB: My terminology, to an extent that we cannot change unless we take measures that are more typical of Assad.

KWS: Draconian. Yes, but everyone recognizes that after Madrid, you did that. I mean, you’re now in bilateral talks with Nabil Shaff coordinating everything in Washington. You know who’s there, you know.

YB: I mean, we did what? We…

KWS: You know the PLO is behind the curtain. You accept it.

YB: Yeah, but did we establish an alternative leadership? 

KWS: Not yet.

YB: That’s the big question. Are these clones, or not clones, I say, patsies of Tunis?

KWS: No.

YB: Alright, they aren’t. But are they free agents?

KWS: Not yet.

YB: Not yet, you say. You are putting your finger on a very sensitive point which many people don’t understand. They kept explaining this at me, especially because I am the firebrand. You know, I am the big guy. 

KWS: If you’re the firebrand, I’d hate to see what a forest fire looks like.

YB: Oh no, I am here known as the worst… never mind (laugh).

KWS: What? Do you carry the ideological flame?

YB: Yes, that’s what they do!

KWS: You?

YB: Yes, they attach this to me because… I’ll tell you why because Shamir is very introverted and I have to do much of the outward…

KWS: You were the antenna.

YB: Yes.

KWS: No, but you did it intentionally.

YB: No, I did it consciously.

KWS: I understand.

YB: But of course, because then I had to draw the flack.

KWS: But it’s also something you felt personally, otherwise you couldn’t do it.

YB: Of course. No, you should’ve seen the kinds of statements… the media references to me after I was kicked out.

KWS: I read them.

YB: In Hebrew?

KWS: Yes, I read them. Richard Nixon was treated better by Woodward and Bernstein.

YB: I tried to take solace in what Kissinger once said, as long as they spell your name right–

KWS: (Laugh). But you, you were headed toward a point about the sensitive issue.

YB: Yes, yes. Not issue. The sensitive dividing line between this leadership here and Tunis. Now, the media and many others kept flinging at me, in much more ironic and biting terms, what you just said. You knew that Nabil, or whoever was there, was coordinating, and therefore, you weren’t fooling yourself. True, we knew that. And there was no way that we could prevent it unless at the expense of blowing up the entire process. But our calculation was that at some point, there will have to be very difficult decisions, almost insurmountable, taken by both sides because at some point after we had offered the Palestinians here what the autonomy will look like, how it will run, etc etc etc. At that point, Tunis will come to the people in the delegation and say, “wait a minute, stop.  We are going to run this show. You’re not going to begin posing, adopting the position of your the minister of health, and he’s the minister of religious affairs and this guy is the minister of municipal affairs. No, this is for us.”  You were just for this transition stage.

KWS: What do you think is going to happen after these elections? What happens to…

YB: No, it will happen before the elections.

KWS: What will happen before the elections?

YB: There will be a confrontation between Tunis and these people because at some point they will have to. Let’s assume that this government here in Israel will give them as much as they want. You understand? But then, who will take it? Who will take the merchandise? Tunis cannot afford to permit the people here to take the merchandise.  It wants to be, to take itself and to…

KWS: Can I say something to you?

YB: Yes.

KWS: Now, you can say that I’m naive, or that you can say that Nabil is trying to sell a bill of goods. Nabil actually believes that once there are elections, within five years the PLO will dissolve.

YB: And? I am talking about personalities. Not…

KWS: The personalities will dissolve. Nabil tells me… and he may be looking me straight in the face and lying to me. I think I know him a little bit better than that. He said, “ultimately what will happen is we will be talking about the final status and we will be talking about a place of our own, and then we are no longer the PLO.”

YB: Yes, but that means what? 

KWS: That means that people like Abu Mazen, General Sarami (???), Nabil Shaff(?), the apparatus of Tunis will dissolve and they won’t have positions. They may be part of the Palestinian National Council as it may still be constituted, but they won’t have a designated position about how the garbage in Hebron is collected, or when the lights get turned on or off. Now, I asked Nabil that. I said: “Do you know the Israelis are worried about your taking control over this at the final… the morning after?” He said: “We are not going to. We can’t.” And then he stops for a moment and said, “they won’t let us.” He points to this one, to the intifada, the Gulf War, the absence of Arab unity, separate peace between Egypt and Israel, have left us in such a naked status. We have no money, we are weak.

YB: It is true that they are weak, and it’s true that they have much less money than they used to have.

KWS: He is a realist. He must just prefer to become the speaker of the parliament of the West Bank state. And I said that to him. He said, “of course I would.” But he said, “it is not going to be offered to me.” My point is I think, I don’t think they’re going to totally…

{End of tape one, side two}

{Beginning of tape two, side one}

YB: I’m saying that that is the enigmatic part of the relationship between the inside and the outside. Just as it is no less enigmatic as it pertains to the relations between the various Arab countries and the extent to which Pan-Arabism is, you know, a very strong negative attempt.

KWS: Particularistic or parochial versus the supra.

YB: So, I can say my gut feeling is that he was giving you some thoughts that is using American terminology, but which is strange to, different from his way of thinking.

KWS: But you see, he and the Palestinians, in terms of their personalities, straddle their roles. They straddle their traditional role. They straddle the West. So when you get different signs, which one are you talking to at which moment?

YB: What is the answer to that?

KWS: There is no answer.

YB: You don’t know.

KWS: It is whatever is prevailing at the moment.

YB: And in a moment of crisis or stress it is the Arab side that holds the upper hand. It is the Arab side that decides really the fate or the action to whatever takes place.

KWS: In October of ’89, both you and Moshe Aarons said that Israel might negotiate with the Palestinians in Cairo if the agenda were restricted to the issue of elections. This was in October of ’89. This is five months, four months after…

YB: After the initiative.

KWS: And then it fell through.

KWS: Why did the Shamir plan fall through?

YB: Which plan, the initiative?

KWS: Yes, why?  What, why didn’t…

YB: Oh, well, the final reason was that there was insistence on the part of Baker, at the behest of the Arabs, on including in the Palestinian delegation of two elements to which we were opposed, strongly opposed: a Jerusalemite and an outsider.

KWS: Why did Baker insist on it?

YB: Because he was apparently being told by the Arab side that unless these two are met, there will be no negotiations. We cannot accept because they, at that stage, believed that if there is no Jerusalemite, they had given up on the issue of Jerusalem and if there is no outsider, they give up the right to return. Since then, they have learned to be more pragmatic, of course, as you know, because they gave in. When Baker came in the first round, he turned to Shamir and said…

KWS: You mean after the Gulf War?

YB: After the Gulf War he said: “No more. We, the Arabs, have accepted your conditions. It is no longer the issues that brought down the government and national unity in March of 1990.”

KWS: Namely the PLO, I mean Palestinians from the outside and in East Jerusalem?

YB: That was the issue that broke it up. There was a division inside the Likud. Aarons was leaning towards, he may have told you this…

KWS: No, I haven’t talked to him.

YB: You ask him. He was leaning towards some kind of an acceptance conditional, limited, of course, that the outsider be someone who was really an insider who had been expelled, but not for murder or something worse than that, and it was returned in accordance with our regulations.  There was kind of a mixed bag on this issue. And with regard to the Jerusalemite, it would be someone who lives outside Jerusalem, but has an address in Jerusalem. Someone…

KWS: Who has a P.O. Box number?

YB: No, he has an office in Jerusalem.

KWS: I get the feeling that Baker learned by his previous mistake. And he learned that there are certain things that you can do and you can’t do. My sense is that American Secretaries and Presidents need to fail a couple of times during their own tenure in office in order ultimately to succeed. 

YB: Well, that seems to be the pattern. Carter failed.

KWS: Yes. He tried to go to Geneva, he tried the comprehensive peace. He had to write that to Rabin and said you are going to have to withdraw to almost the PLO borders. Yossi…

YB: They don’t learn a lesson. 

KWS: I don’t think. No, I think each administration doesn’t learn from its predecessors.

YB: Especially if it is another party.

KWS: It doesn’t matter. Look at the shock treatment that Israel has received. Shock in the October 1 communicate. That’s a Democrat regime. Shock from Reagan. They seemed shocked from you on the loan guarantees. They don’t understand that when you are surprised, it drives you nuts. They don’t understand.  

YB: That was one mistake it kept hitting at. It hit Begin; it hit Shamir; it hit Rabin also.  Something is sprung on and its natural. 

KWS: You just said it yourself. You said it a half an hour ago. What’s to be surprised? What’s to be shocked?

YB: On what? On what issue?

KWS: On the issue that is going to take away your prerogative to negotiate for yourself.

YB: Yes.

KWS: The Reagan statement or the AIPAC speech. You don’t like someone else coming to you with a blueprint. You didn’t like Brookings, you didn’t like AIPAC speech, you want to decide it yourself. And you don’t want the Secretary of State or the President shocking you. And it creates ill will and bad feelings.

YB: Yes, maybe you can convey this to the meeting.

KWS: I’ve been trying.

YB: We’ve talked on the phone on this, are there any…do you have any…You’re not in the picture. 

KWS: Yossi, to be quite candid, I really don’t care to be. I mean, I am very content to do what I do.

YB: Yes.

KWS: There are a lot of good people there who, you know, really are policy freaks. I mean, they live for this. I could do it and do it reasonably well and have a compassion for both sides. But I don’t… I mean the people who are just absolutely, they, they froth. I froth when I can sit and interview you and you know, copy a footnote or something. Look, someday… I’ll tell you something. If Sam Lewis were to go out and become emissary and he wanted me to carry his luggage, I’d run to carry his luggage.

YB: Really?

KWS: Yes. I wouldn’t hesitate.

YB: That’s because he is Sam Lewis?

KWS: Because he is very, very bright.

YB: I like Sam Lewis.

KWS: See the problem…the thing is: Can I learn? And I know I can learn from Sam Lewis. I mean, he is just a very, very smart man.

YB: And he has a chance now.

KWS: Look, that is the reason that I have been enjoying my work with Carter, because he is an extraordinarily bright man. Yes, he says things way off the wall and yes, he is a misguided missile at times, but he is extraordinary. He knows how to create compromises that you’ve never seen. He is a deal-maker because he comes at it as an engineer. And there is so much similarity between Baker and Carter.

YB: Yeah?

KWS: It’s amazing, truly amazing. The difference is that Baker doesn’t talk about it. How important was this Shamir thing that he had a visit with Mubarak? This was pretty important, wasn’t it?

YB: No, not so. It was not that important. You shouldn’t overestimate it because at some point we began to realize that Egypt and Mubarak, he had achieved what he wanted to achieve. For him, by the way, Camp David was anathema to this day. One only mentioned of Camp David or the autonomy only in the sense that it could produce what now the peace process can produce. But, in other words, he doesn’t want Egypt to be beholden to the second part of the Camp David Accords at all, and that is why Camp David does not feature with him. And the second thing, which pertains to the first part of Camp David, the word normalization. He hates it because he doesn’t want normalization. Or he wants the kind of normalization that he has agreed to, and maybe even Sadat wanted that. We are not sure. What is normalization? More or less what we have today. No real commerce, no Egyptians coming to Israel.

KWS: Very, very few.

YB: Yeah, in effect only official… Egypt is part and parcel of the Arab world. It is working with the Arab world, for the Arab world, advocating for the Arab world, attending to the needs of the Arab world outside vis a vis the outside world, and vis a vis Israel, as well. It is important for Egypt to be the spokesman for the Arab world. This is another part of this Arabism, by the way.  And they put a lot of effort in this. And for Mubarak to get Assad aboard. This was something very important. I think he even sustained a few slaps in the face, initially, both from Hussein, and from Assad and maybe even from Sadam Hussein until he finally got his way. And, Egypt, you must hand it to them, the Egyptians slowly but surely, again regained the position of pre-eminence in the Arab world. It’s different, very different from the type of dealings that Nasar tried to achieve, but nevertheless, much more fruitful and impressive. Look at what Egypt has been gaining in the last ten years in terms of material benefits.

KWS: You can see it in the streets here.

YB: Yes, in terms of stature, of status, of importance. The Egyptians are in the Arab councils, international councils. The Secretary General of the United Nations is an Egyptian. No, that’s big. And that is because… this is the kind of course that Mubarak set. It falls far short of what we wanted in terms of peace between us and Egypt. And that was why, in that respect that Shamir… we realized that this was Mubarak’s way far back. But Shamir felt the need to apprise the ???, Something is wrong here. We make peace, we are neighbors and we expect that Egypt to play a positive role. But Egypt doesn’t even want to meet with Shamir, ten years on. 

KWS: Lastly, let me ask you a question about Shamir.  How does he make decisions? Politically?

YB: Slow. Deliberate. A lot of consultation. He doesn’t…

KWS: Consultation.

YB: Yes. He doesn’t intimate what he had in mind further down the rode on that decision, at the outset.  He just throws out a word or two and tries to draw you in to open up and to press your view on that particular issue. And then he digests. He does a lot of digesting at home, in the evening, late into the night until he makes a decision. And he prefers even that to be not something very elaborate. He himself is, in this perspective, the opposite of Begin. He wants it down and to find for himself an intricate formulation that would be presented as a decision, a top level decision. He would tell me if I proposed something which was already in the works, he’d say, “give me… commit it to writing, write it down.” And then once he sees it in writing, he has a better feel for what it means, what it could lead to, what are the dangers and the pitfalls. And then when he gives his final endorsement, of course it is never the first draft. Say, its a letter to the American president or Secretary of State, which is policy related, he wants Eli and I to work on it together. We always do it together and sometimes Dor (???) would have his input. And he would think over it. He is capable of fast action as well, but if it is something that there is time, then he prefers to take his time. And finally, he will prefer to make this decision, to put it into practice without any fanfare. It can become some kind of a tentative action because maybe he feels that if it is a wrong decision, let’s not put too much about prestige into it. It will be seen if it is a working idea and then…

KWS: You wouldn’t call him bold.

YB: No.

KWS: But you would call him courageous.

YB: Yes. I have seen that. I have seen some expressions of his courage. But not bold, you are right. And I like the distinction.

KWS: And he is not impetuous.  He is thoughtful.

YB: He’s thoughtful.

KWS: Will he rely upon his advisors for their opinion or will he a lot of times just do things himself?

YB: He would, in most places, want their opinion, rely on their opinion, but he is capable of throwing an opinion that he doesn’t like right on the spot overboard? And he won’t hesitate. Not that he is very careful not to hurt your feelings. If he thinks it is a stupid idea, he says it is a stupid idea.

KWS: In the States, one got the feeling that you and Eli had a very, very large influence over him.

YB: It’s true. In a sense that we kind of fulfilled the role of the extrovert part that was missing in him. In other words, you understand… it isn’t that he was a tabula rasa and we piled thoughts and ideas on something that was…

KWS: Empty.

YB: Empty of substance, no. There was a lot of substance there. But he preferred to keep it undercover and to elicit input and then to give the green light. But that is agreeable, acceptable to my way of thinking. Go ahead, carry it.

KWS: But not driven or sparked by ideology like Begin was.

YB: No, he didn’t like that. He has his ideology, but he never liked to dramatically give an expression, you know.

KWS: Well, he is not a public speaker.

YB: No, not even in writing.

KWS: He is not a man for flourish.

YB: Yeah, he is not a man for flourish, not at all…

KWS: Whereas Begin certainly was.

YB: And he doesn’t like philosophizing. There were many times I would write in a draft for speeches for our top military school, the academy, high level offices. And he won’t give them a lesson on tactics, that is not for him to do. But (he’ll give them) something like a very wide perspective or outlook on Israel’s strategic outlook. I’ll ask to add something abstract. He wouldn’t digest it. He’s very down to earth, very applicable, very operative, very substantive.

KWS: But whenever we had our meetings with him, we’d come back from Damascus… Carter sometimes thought he was just curt. I said, “Mr. President, that’s just the way he is. He just doesn’t waste a lot.

YB: Yes, right.  Many who thought he was really being curt and even not very hospitable, but that’s…

KWS: And maybe not even attentive.

YB: No, he’s very careful, he’s a very good listener.  He’s capable of listening, which not many people do.

KWS: If I get a chance to interview him, what is it I should probe with him? That would be sort of unique and special, that would give me an insight?

YB: I think, what were the goals that he….he had set for himself some goals at the outset and what were those that he feels that he missed? That he couldn’t accomplish. Because I think he has a sense of satisfaction that he accomplished quite a lot, but that there were a few more things that he attached importance to, but were denied to him because of the stupidity of the right wing, in his party, and not so much his party. The right wing beyond.

KWS: Did he ever find himself in need of having to be as good as or received as well as his predecessor?

YB: Never.

KWS: He wasn’t necessarily driven by this sense of history.

YB: No.

KWS: Maybe Begin was because he was always in Ben-Gurion’s shadow.

YB: No, Shamir in that respect, he very cleverly, he paid dues to the memory of Begin because Begin’s memory and prestige were overspilled way after he left the premiership, and it overshadowed Shamir to an extent. Shamir handled it very cleverly. He didn’t confront it, he didn’t try to subdue it. To an extent, he rode on it just a little and then he just let it…

KWS: Die off.

YB: Die off. The test was the elections in ’88 because that was really the first election where Shamir was at the head of the list because it was no longer Begin. And he did quite well.

KWS: Someone who was at Madrid, an American, told me that they had never seen Shamir as happy or as ebullient as he was at Madrid. He was just very, very glad to be there. A wonderful moment for him.

YB: Yes. To some extent, I think he relished the spotlight, of being in the center. In spite of his being an introvert and all of that, he would enjoy, and especially against the background of so much mud that was thrown at him again and again by the media here and in Europe and in the United States.

KWS: You mean to be there with Bush and Gorbachev.

YB: Be there, yes, that was part of it. It was a moment to relish. And I think that was behind this.

KWS: Aaron told me that, Aaron Miller. Aaron said he’d never seen him quite like that before.

YB: Yes. I’m not, I wasn’t struck with… so much of a change, but he liked being…

KWS: Who knows him as well as you, Eli?

YB: Yes, and Dan.

KWS: Does he think a lot of Dan?

YB: Yes, he likes him and he Dan  is very quick in the uptake. He’s very intelligent, knowledgeable, very humane, too much to my liking. Maybe not to yours.

KWS: In September of ’90, he came to me at the Washington Institute Conference at the Wye Plantation. And he said, “I never thought I’d say this to you, but after dealing with Baker, I wish we had Carter back.”

YB: (Laugh)

KWS: He said, “now remember I said it, and I mean it.”

YB: He usually means what he says.

KWS: What was your position over the last five years?  What was your official title?

YB: Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office.

KWS: And you still had that position when you were doing the bilaterals?

YB: Yes.

KWS: Is there something you wished you had accomplished that you didn’t?

YB: Good question. Learn to use a computer!

KWS: Sorry?

YB: To learn to use a computer, I am joking. I mean I had all of this at my disposal and I kept postponing and telling myself. Now I’ve got myself a teacher and I am sitting and learning how to use a computer.

KWS: You can learn it in a day.

YB: I had to. I didn’t know which to buy. If the lap-top is good enough or…

KWS: Buy a lap-top.

YB: But you have one at home, as well as in your office…

KWS: Yes, the big one. But you have a big disk and a little disk and you take the little one out.  It’s just a matter of remembering which one you updated last. You don’t want to work on the text that you did three months ago.

YB: Yes. To answer your question, I think it goes to what Shamir would probably tell you that he had in mind. I think that people in Israel, the majority of the people, are much closer to the Likud policy than to the Likud personalities. They have an in-built distrust of the intentions of the Arabs. They believe that you have to be tough and strong. They believe in a free economy, which is much closer to the Likud platform than the Labour party platform. I am not a Labour party member or a Likud member. I never was of any party. But I feel closer to Likud because Labour still has some of the–and I saw them at closed quarters–-some of the…

KWS: Residue.

YB: Residue of socialism ala Israel which is… it has some elements of duplicity, of double meaning, because socialism you think is very liberal and very humane. It should be, but not necessarily so the Israeli brand of socialism. Not necessarily so. And I think Likud could’ve done a better showing of and carried out its policy with a better team and leadership. And that’s… and I would’ve better functioned in this kind of–

KWS: Do you think you misgaged the importance of the conference on the electorate? George Bush misgaged the importance of a foreign affairs victory on the American electorate. He didn’t understand that there were other pressing issues. Do you think that the Likud overstated or overvalued the success it had achieved in ’91 and ’92 with the peace talks, thinking it could translate into electoral success?

YB: Yes. To some extent, yes. And it is not so much overestimated as it did not succeed to convey to the electorate the importance of its achievement in substance.

KWS: So, it did not deliver a coherent message?

YB: It did not deliver a coherent message.

KWS: Or maybe it didn’t deliver a message. I don’t know if it was coherent or not.

YB: No, it wasn’t a strong coherent message. But at the same time I agree to an extent that the domestic issues, surprisingly so, apparently did play a role in the decisions of the electorate.  Domestic. In other words, similar to the U.S., but not…

KWS: No, no, but the point of it is… I was here in August and the sense that I got… I was on a drive between Tel Aviv and Raanana. I had an hour and a half drive that should normally take 20 minutes because the roads were clogged. And I understood then why Shamir lost, because he built the roads in the wrong place. I mean it. I am not being ideological when I say it.

YB: Yes.

KWS: I think Israelis felt that they wanted their lives bettered and their lives were not bettered. You know, I don’t know if Rabin asked the question, is your life better off today than you were four years ago? But that is in essence the question that many Israelis asked. And it is exactly the question Americans asked when they went to the polls.

YB: Except that Israelis were better off today than they were four years ago. In every, by every indication.

KWS: Every standard of measurement?

YB: Every standard of measurement. Check. Try to check if you can.

KWS: Because young couples would tell me, the education system is terrible, infrastructure needs are going to shot.

YB: No. The pathetic part of it is that even on domestic issues, we could have done a pretty good job. There again, the message was not…

KWS: Was not communicated.

YB: And that is why… you will hear from Shamir now. I am not just talking from Shamir.  You’ll hear if you go to…

KWS: Who ran the campaign?

YB: It was a mess. It was the Moshe Nissim, Ron Amilow (???). And I think they delivered the technical aspect of the campaign to some firm that was no good in the first place.  I forget the name.

KWS: I mean, the point of it is…

YB: You’d be surprised how this is important. I am telling you and this is an American.

KWS: Bush said right now. He said, “if we had an articulated message…if there had been someone in charge.” Even Quayle said it. He said, “there was no coherence to our message.  Nothing. We tried to build it on, you can’t like this guy because he womanized and he didn’t fight in Vietnam.” And that wasn’t sufficient for the American people.

YB: That’s true. But there was more than that, you agree I’m sure. Because the man in the suit could see that there was something wrong. To answer what you just said, that his situation could… not his own personal situation, but the situation…

KWS: Or a relative. Everyone knew someone who, in the last four years, the economy had hurt.

YB: But that is not what we had here. Not at all. Not at all.

KWS: No, but maybe there were people here who were tired of discomfort.

YB: That you have all the time.

KWS: No, but maybe…

YB: In great proportions.

KWS: Maybe this was the first time it articulated itself in sufficient proportions to make a difference. 

YB: Most people tell you, in Likud and outside, that one major factor was the bickering and the in-fighting in the Likud.

KWS: Oh, there is no question.

YB: Lack of leadership. I would add and I am not sure how many will agree with me, it was this: the coherent message was not there. They could not portray to the people just the facts, their achievements, what they were trying to do. I told Shamir once: “Say it. You could say once a week, we failed a little bit on this point, but however, we succeeded on…” He refused, he was afraid to say that and that I think it is a mistake. If you feel that there was something that you wanted to do and you didn’t do it, say it! People will only appreciate you for it. It gives you more credibility.

KWS: Let me ask you a question. Ben-Elisar. I am going to interview him tomorrow.  He was Golda’s secretary. 

YB: No.

KWS: For a while, he was Golda’s secretary.

YB: When was that?

KWS: In ’73, ’74.

YB: Are you sure we are talking about Ben-Elisar?  I was in the Prime Minister’s Office in ’73-’74.  I never saw him there. 

KWS: Well, that’s how it was reported to me.

YB: No, better check. Maybe not exactly.

KWS: Besides ambassador to Egypt, what other aspect of the peace process or Arab-Israeli diplomacy would he have… I mean, I know he was at Mena House.

YB: Yes, that part you know. But then, once he left the government and he went to the Knesset, his contribution to what you’re trying is that he has a vantage point from the outside which is… there is this vantage that he had been inside and therefore, his capacity to see and to judge and to analyze is that much more enhanced. And he was involved here and there with some travel, some missions, but not….

KWS: What were you doing in ’73 and ’74 in the Prime Minister’s office?

YB: I was a minor assistant to who was then the Director General, but I saw this…

KWS: Mordechai Gazit?

YB: Yes. I was his assistant on the process. I saw all the protocols over the talks with Kissinger and I helped him prepare papers and all that, because I had served in Washington and he liked the way I was reporting prior to 1973.

KWS: I interviewed him.  He has a memory like–

YB: Yes, yes.

KWS: Like a German, he’s a German. I mean, He is Austrian. He really is extraordinary. 

YB: It’s his character. He was a giant in that respect, but he has a character which made it difficult for him to function in a bureaucracy.

KWS: Yes, he made that quite clear. He even indicated to me that he never really had Golda’s affection, and he really longed for it.

YB: Yes, he didn’t have anybody’s affection. And he longed for any kind of affection, which is a pity. He’s a good man.

KWS: Yeah. And his brother is something else. His brother got a mind.

YB: Very different.

KWS: Yes, but he’s got a mind. You know, you don’t know it until you have interviewed people on all sides, you don’t know how well endowed you guys are in terms of competent leaders. I am not just talking about people at the top. You just have no idea how in terms of numbers, the quality of people, left and right. It’s extraordinary.

YB: Have you done any comparison, not only with Americans, but with other societies?

KWS: No, I’m not just talking about the Americans, I’m talking about…

YB: Human beings.

KWS: I’m talking about the Palestinians, I’m talking about the Egyptians, I’m talking about the Syrians, I’m talking about the Jordanians. I mean, there aren’t six people in Jordan that could equal Shlomo, Mordechai, Khabi, Yariv, Ben-Elisar, Rubinstein. There’s…

YB: Some of them are aware of this and they have a kind of a complex with this, which they shouldn’t have, because they have some other things by the way. They have a sense of, of the power of sovereignty and of the power, if you wish, of Arabism and of Islam, which we don’t have. And sometimes, you know, it gives them this sustenance and this capacity to stand up and…

KWS: But they’re driven by an imbibed external formula. They’re driven by survival.

YB: By survival, yes.

KWS: And they are equally powerful at given times. I am amazed looking over, historically over time, how the absolute positions of Begin and Shamir ended up being the accepted norm for the diplomatic behavior. That is the legacy that both Shamir and Begin left. 

YB: Of the behavior of the Israeli diplomacy?

KWS: Their commitment to their absolute positions about what they would do and what they would not do in the negotiating process and their resoluteness.

YB: You’re touching something very interesting, because it was only today and yesterday, because, after just not that much experience…. You know, Labour, especially Peres…

KWS: Let me put it to you differently.

YB: Yes.

KWS: The settlements policy drove the peace process.

YB: On whose side, on whose part?

KWS: On everyone else’s.

YB: In general?

KWS: On everyone else’s side.

YB: That’s true. But yes.

KWS: And it wasn’t intended that way.

YB: No, of course.

KWS: I mean, it’s…

YB: But it is partly because of Bush, who raised it to…

KWS: No, no, no.

YB: No, no, but also ideologically and substantively on the part of Israel.

KWS: You’re right.

YB: And the reaction of the Arabs and it became a major cause-celebre which, as you say, drove… it was a dynamo, it was a kind of.

KWS: Yes, because they realized that if this continued they would have nothing left.

YB: But I thought you were referring to another aspect, dimension. And that is that after three or four months of experience of this present government in which there was an attempt made at the outset more by Peres and less by Rabin to break away from the legacy of 16 years of Likud, and to chart a new course and to make it deliberately different because… and therefore, since it was different it should be also successful. And already now, there is a feeling that it won’t and can’t work. That is my gut feeling and I sense it. There are some things that were done by… that are included in this legacy which you cannot ditch. They’re too good to be ditched. You can’t afford to ditch them.

KWS: Carter tried to ditch the interim, step-by-step for comprehensive and he couldn’t do it. I think administrations that come into office are new…

YB: They always want to do this.

KWS: They always feel that they can somehow break a part of the anchor apart or some of the legacy that is left over.

YB: Right, yes.

KWS: And then over time, there is a dawn, a new dawn that comes and says, “you know maybe it is in our best interest to not try and cut all this thing out.” Maybe we ought to sort of keep it…

YB: Let me just give it another name sometimes. If they find it…

KWS: It’s old wine sometimes, old wine in new bottles.

YB: Right, yes.

KWS: It is indeed. But this is what we did. I don’t know if you’ve seen this.

YB: What’s that?

KWS: Sam Lewis…

{End of tape two}