How Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin viewed the 1993 Oslo Accords – A collection in his own words

Ken Stein,  September 13, 2023 

In September 2023, thirty years after the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, there is occasion to review Prime Minister Rabin’s understanding of  them. The collection here, was assembled years ago from Daily Reports- Near East and South Asia, 1993-1995. Two short items about  Rabin’s views are also found or linked here.. Rabin provided a summary of his views of the Accords in a Knesset speech in October 1995. Some of Rabin’s reasons for signing the Accords are also provided in Yehuda Avner’s The Prime Ministers.  

On October 5, 1995, at a special Knesset session, Rabin provided a summation of his view of the agreements signed with the PLO – the Oslo Accords-(1993-1995). Rabin said the Accords were “a significant breakthrough in the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and in an effort to end decades of terror and blood, we see the permanent solution in the framework of the State of Israel that will retain most of the territory of the land of Israel as it was under the British Mandate and alongside it a Palestinian entity that will be home to most of the Palestinian inhabitant who live in the Gaza Strip and in the area of the West Bank. We want this entity to be less than a state that will manage independently the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel at the time of the permanent solution will be beyond the lines that existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the lines of June 4, 1967.”  Quoted from Itamar Rabinovich’s, Yitzhak Rabin Solder, Leader, Statesman, Yale, 2017, pp. 212-213.

A note about this collection of Rabin’s remarks. This collection is not exhaustive; it is a sampling from one source, yet nonetheless, it is instructive and representative in understanding  the evolution of his thinking.   While teaching and researching modern Middle Eastern history and politics, I read the Daily Report – Near East and South Asia. It was published daily except weekends by the Department of Commerce. Daily Reports were published for seven different regions of the world for the use of policy makers and others. The Daily Reports are commonly known to researchers and readers as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service or FBIS

The Daily Reports include speeches, interviews, parliamentary debates, analyses provided by politicians, diplomats, clergy, scholars, and analysts of major contemporary issues of the day. For the Near East and South Asia version, he items were translated from the original languages – mostly Persian, Turkish, Hebrew Arabic, south Asian languages  but occasionally from a European or Asian language where a Middle Eastern leader might have given an interview or presentation; the English translations were assembled in Washington. They appear in soft cover delivered by mail, and later in the 1990s the Daily Reports were put on-line. I started reading them in July 1977, just as I started teaching at Emory College,  and I continued doing so into the late 1990s.  When I saw important significant passages, I noted them and they were typed and saved by month and year. For each entry, the original source is included. I often used particularly interesting original source items for teaching. Citations and links to the PLO-Israeli mutual recognition, the Oslo Accords themselves, and Rabin’s remarks to Yehuda Avner on why he signed the Accords also appear at the end of this collection. 

Ken Stein, September 13, 2023

How Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin viewed the 1993 Oslo Accords – 

A collection in his own words

Ken Stein,  September 13, 2023 

From the Daily Reports- Middle East and South Asia, 1993-1995

September 1993 – Rabin on his interpretation of agreements with PLO and their meaning… “For the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, two agreements between us and the Palestinians have been achieved. It is generally believed that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the hub of the Arab Israeli conflict, but even if that is not so, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has undoubtedly had a negative impact — either as a pretext or in fact — on the chances for peace between us and all the Arab nations and countries.

The mutual Israel-PLO recognition agreement signed last Friday [September 10], which conformed with our terms — two years ago, I would not have believed that these terms were attainable — and the declaration of principles signed in Washington on Monday give grounds to the hope that in a gradual, bi phased process, we can… [pauses] These agreements speak of the implementation of interim arrangements, which, according to the letter of invitation to the Madrid conference, should lead to Palestinian self-government in the territories while preserving the unity of Jerusalem under our sovereignty; keeping the settlements intact; preserving our right and duty to ensure the security of settlements and safeguard the lives of all Israelis staying in the territories; and naturally, our responsibility for external security.  If all these are gradually implemented, starting in Gaza and Jericho — Jericho is a very minor issue, Gaza will be the main test — if we are indeed successful, as I know we can be, I think we will usher in a new era.

I would like to explain if I may.  With regard to threats to the State of Israel, I have always discerned two levels.  One level is the threat to the State of Israel’s very existence. Although this threat has greatly diminished, owing to various international circumstances as well as the peace with Egypt, it is the most serious.  It is embodied in the armies of Arab countries and possibly in the armies of Arab countries and possibly the armies of Muslim countries in the future.  Most of the defense budget is invested in building an IDF that will be able to meet that threat and eliminate it, if we are forced to contend with it.

The second level is the threat to the personal security of the State of Israel’s inhabitants.  Palestinian and Hizballah terror have never threatened the existence of the State of Israel, and they never will.  It is a worrying, painful, and sometimes lethal threat which IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens sometimes face, and it must be addressed, but it does not endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.

As far as Israel is concerned, the test will be their ability to maintain public order and prevent terrorist attacks by extremist elements who seek to undermine the whole process, mainly by Hamas and the Palestinian rejectionist fronts.  This will be their test, and as far as we are concerned, its results will decide whether we proceed onwards.  From this aspect, the marks they receive for implementing the first stages in Gaza — and I reiterate that in this matter Jericho has only marginal impact — will constitute their test, before the agreement is fully implemented in Judaea and Samaria.  I make a strong distinction between these two areas, both about the historic and religious attachment of the Jewish people to Judaea and Samaria as compared to the Gaza Strip, as well as considering the region’s importance in security terms, which is several times more significant than that of the Gaza Strip.

This agreement does not yet mean peace. It signifies the PLO’s, as the most important Palestinian element, and Israel’s acceptance of each other.  It is still not a peace treaty. It is the first stage in the establishment of self-rule for the Palestinians without Israel making any commitments regarding its future demands when the negotiations for the permanent solution begin.”  Text from Tel Aviv DAVAR in Hebrew, 29 September 1993, p. 13; taken from FBIS, 30 September 1993, p. 23.

September 1993 — Rabin on … “If you are talking about their five conditions, I do not need the Likud to fulfill them. I am opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan and to “the right to return.”  The “agreement of principles” we signed makes no mention whatsoever of “the right to return,” and that is no mere coincidence. As for Jerusalem’s unity, an agreement has been reached with an Arab partner, although it is only an interim arrangement in which it agrees that Jerusalem will be under Israeli rule during the duration of the arrangement and that the Palestinian body that will administer the territories during this period will have no influence over Jerusalem. As for responsibility for the security of the Israeli settlers in the territories, Israel remains in charge of external security in the territories. The last item is strengthening settlements. The fact is that we made an agreement that does not stipulate the uprooting of even one settlement. These five positions are included in Labor’s election platform.  I am not dealing with coalitions at the moment, other than to keep the current one, because I do not believe that in its present position the Likud is prepared to regard the PLO as a partner and to accept the “agreement of principles.”  Therefore, in the foreseeable future and as long as we have not begun implementing the agreement, I see no reason to set up a “national unity” government. As for the more distant future, I suggest that we do not rule out any possibility a priori.

As a combination between two states, Israel and Jordan, and a Palestinian entity that is less than a state. Such a combination requires the agreement of both Jordan and the Palestinians. We will have to see how the integration between the two states and the Palestinian entity that is less than a state but is part of this combination will work.” Text from Tel Aviv DAVAR in Hebrew, 29 September 1993, p. 13; taken from FBIS, 30 September 1993, p. 23.

November 1993  –Rabin on why support of the PLO is important… “Israel and the PLO must negotiate more rapidly and create conditions where the PLO is in total control of Palestinians’ lives. We now need help from abroad to finance economic projects, not PLO embassies throughout the world not doing what they should be.  The Palestinians, and there are around 1 million of them in the Gaza sector, for instance, could receive new homes, a water supply system, production capacities, and help for the education system. So we too gain from support for the PLO.” .”  Text from Moscow KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA in Russian, 11 November 1993, p. 7; taken from FBIS, 15 November 1993, p. 49.

January 1995 –Rabin commitment to DOP… “I want to make it unequivocally clear that Israel signed the Oslo agreement with a view to keep to the letter and spirit of the agreement. We are committed to implementing it within the framework of the negotiations and consultations with the PA. We should not forget that we are dealing with an agreement of principles. We have implemented the first phase (Jericho-Gaza first), and we are now at the beginning of negotiations to implement the second phase of this agreement of principles.” Text from Paris AL-WATAN AL-‘ARABI in Arabic, 6 January 1995, pp. 15-19; taken from FBIS-NESA, 9 January 1995, p. 35.

April 1995 – Rabin on lack of understanding by Israeli public on matters relating to Hamas… “I think that many people in Israel do not understand the serious nature of the extremist Islamic terrorists, the measure of insanity inherent in their beliefs, their willingness to bear casualties, pain, and hardship; the compartmentalized nature of their operation, their ability to withstand interrogation, the difficulties of intelligence infiltration. We have not been familiar with such a network in Lebanon.” Text from Tel Aviv MA’ARIV (Pesach supplement) in Hebrew, 14 April 1995, pp. 2-4; taken from FBIS-NESA, 17 April 1995, p. 36.

April 1995 – Rabin on “slowing of talks with Palestinians”, slows down either S-I talks or degree of opening with rest of Arab world… “I am against stopping the negotiations and procrastination, because an Israeli decision calling for halting the talks would give various elements an excuse to stop other negotiations. By continuing the negotiations, we must preserve the openness toward Israel in parts of the Arab world.” Text from Tel Aviv MA’ARIV (Pesach supplement) in Hebrew, 14 April 1995, pp. 2-4; taken from FBIS-NESA, 17 April 1995, p. 37.

April 1995 – Rabin, if negotiations are halted, all Palestinians will unite into one terrorist organization… “We have also not yet succeeded in hermetically preventing terrorism in the territories under our control. I hope there will not be any attacks, but I am not certain that there will not be any. There is a fanatical, extreme Islamic element prepared to die to carry out attacks.  Its support among Palestinians is not insignificant. There is a readiness to confront, to suffer, to die, for what they believe in. If we are not capable of dealing with it and realizing that it is painful, then we will not achieve anything, because the alternative to the peace process is its suspension. If that happens, all the Palestinian forces will unite for an enormous effort at terrorist attacks.” Text from Tel Aviv HA’ARETZ in Hebrew, 14 April 1995, p. B3; taken from FBIS-NESA, 17 April 1995, p. 39.

April 1995 – Rabin explaining America’s role in negotiations… “The talks take place in the presence of Americans, and I very much appreciate the Americans for not trying to twist arms and not trying to present a take-it-leave-it [last word in English] proposal. They try to persuade. What is acceptable to us we accept, and what is not, they do not try to be the ones to decide on.” Text from Tel Aviv HA’ARETZ in Hebrew, 14 April 1995, p. B3; taken from FBIS-NESA, 17 April 1995, p. 40.

April 1995 – Rabin on dual threats from Iran and from ignorance and parity in future!”Nevertheless, if America is interested in peace, stability, and security in the Middle East, it is still the dominant external factor that can make an impact.  Today, there are two elements that threaten peace, security, and stability in the Middle East: Fanatical Islam, the ugly wave I call Khomeynism without Khomeyni, behind which stands Iran. Iran to me is currently a bigger danger than Iraq because of the Gulf war and the sanctions being imposed on Iraq.  Iran is behind the Islamic wave that is blanketing North Africa, from Sudan to Algeria — a wave that operates against us among the Palestinians and Lebanese and that opposes peace in Jordan. The other danger is poverty and ignorance.” Text from Tel Aviv HA’ARETZ in Hebrew, 14 April 1995, p. B3; taken from FBIS-NESA, 17 April 1995, p. 40.

May 1995  – Rabin gives stats on terror and its newness… “Frankly speaking, we know that fighting the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror is fundamentally different from anything we have encountered up until April 1993, when the first suicide attack took place. Since 1 January 1994, 105 Israelis have been killed, murdered; 67 of them in suicide attacks. Some two-thirds of all the Israeli fatalities were murdered in suicide attacks. Allow me to add: The cruel and loathsome attacks in Hadera. ‘Afula, and Tel Aviv were prepared in, perpetrated from, and performed by residents of Judaea and Samaria — which is under our rule.” Text from Jerusalem Kol Israel in Hebrew, 29 April 1995; taken from FBIS-NESA, 1 May 1995, p. 30.

May 1995 – Rabin on why he entered negotiations in Oslo… “I entered the process with a clear mind because the alternative was to either find another Palestinian partner, with all its limitations, or to leave the situation intact, in which the extremist Islamic elements would increase their power and seize control over the Palestinians in the territories, which would leave us without any chance for a political solution.  I will add and forgive me for saying this: The fundamentalist murderers will not go to heaven, but the reality of mixed populations in which Palestinians from the territories come to Israel and Israelis live in the territories over a widespread area. This reality provides thousands of Israeli targets for terror acts daily. We have, at least, isolated Gaza from Israel, which is not yet a solution for the Israelis in the Gaza area. This is why we beef up our forces on the one hand while closing the area on the other, all-in order to provide the Israelis traveling in the territories with security.” Text from Jerusalem Kol Yisrael in Hebrew, 29 April 1995; taken from FBIS-NESA, 1 May 1995, pp. 30-31.

May 1995 – Rabin on how US should act (not its own ideas) in managing negotiations between Syria and US, and his call for US foreign aid to ME states! “So far, agreements were reached through direct contacts. The United States helped. In the case of Syria, we do not have the same format of bilateral negotiations we had with Egypt, the PLO, and Jordan. In the case of Syrian, everything is done in the presence of the Americans. So far, the Americans have been very polite. I think it will be very bad if the United States formulates stands of its own that are unacceptable to both sides. I stress both sides, not just us. I think that by defining stands of their own, they would be making a mistake.

I am convinced that Middle East stability, calm, and peace will not be achieved unless the United States conducts its policy from a position of military strength and unless it grants foreign aid. I am not talking about the scope of aid granted by President Carter in a bid to achieve peace between Egypt and Israel.

The United States played a relatively minor role in the peace with Jordan. I think it was insufficient. If the United States wants to have an impact — and this is in its interest — it should extend aid. The process will not advance without economic progress.” Text from Tel Aviv YEDI’OT AHARONOT (YOM HA’ATZMA’UT supplement) in Hebrew, 3 May 1995, pp. 6-7; taken from FBIS-NESA, 3 May 1995, pp. 37-38.

May 1995 – Rabin on Israel facing two threats – Arab aggression and terrors, the former is diminished, the latter threatens the peace process! “Israel is faced with two security threats. One is the threat of military attack by Arab countries; this threat has diminished, although it has not vanished altogether. The second is terror, which has never been and is not a threat to our existence. Yet today terror threatens the Israeli Government’s peace strategy. Were I to be asked today what impedes the further implementation of the Oslo agreement, I would say: Terror is the main obstacle.” Text from Tel Aviv YEDI’OT AHARONOT (YOM HA’ATZMA’UT supplement) in Hebrew, 3 May 1995, pp. 6-7; taken from FBIS-NESA, 3 May 1995, p. 38.

May 1995 — Rabin on negotiating with Syria… “The negotiations with Syria have run into difficulties. The demand posed by Syria signify its intention to exact a higher price from Israel in exchange for peace than the other two countries with which we have already signed peace treaties. We intend to pursue the negotiations and preclude any situation in which Israel, by way of legislation or through some other formal procedure, casts itself as the party that caused the end of the negotiations. At the same time, we shall adamantly uphold our position, which is to attain peace with Syria, while realizing that this necessitates a compromise, which may include a territorial compromise and a readiness in principle to effect a certain withdrawal for the sake of peace.” Text from Jerusalem Israel Television Channel 3 Network in Hebrew, 15 May 1995; taken from FBIS-NESA, 16 May 1995, p. 37.

May 1995  – Rabin on issues at stake with Syria… “I wish to add: There are four components on which agreement must be reached or else it will be impossible to secure a peace treaty. The first is the peace border:  There is no agreement between Israel and Syria on this issue. The second is the duration of the withdrawal — that is, the number of years that will be required to execute the withdrawal to that same peace border on which we have not agreed yet. The third component is, naturally, our demand — similar to the demand we made in the negotiations with Egypt, which will naturally be adapted in scale to the Golan Heights — that a very symbolic withdrawal be accompanied by at least a three-year test of normalization. When I say normalization, I mean embassies and borders open to persons and goods. In other words, normalization must be tested for a period of several years to ascertain that peace is being realized in no uncertain terms. The fourth issue is the introduction of security arrangements that will indeed provide security in a reality of peace.

Each of these issues incorporates many additional issues, such as demilitarization, thinning out of forces, early warnings, and the method of supervising the military appendix of the peace agreement in a way similar to the multinational forces’ observation of the agreement in the Sinai. We have not yet reached agreement on any of these issues. Nevertheless, the important thing is the very resumption of the negotiations. Much work of still needed, however, and there is a need to bridge wide gaps between the Israeli and Syrian stands. This will require patience and perseverance, as well as insistence on those things in which we believe. Jerusalem QOL Yisrael in Hebrew, 25 May 1995; taken from FBIS-NESA, 25 May 1995, p. 31.

August 1995 – Rabin on need for strong Israeli military… “The prime minister went on to say that no Arab leader would ever have sat down at the negotiating table with Israel had the IDF not been powerful. He added: ‘Nor will an agreement have any meaning in the future without the backing of military might. Just as a check is covered by the banks, so is the peace agreement covered by the IDF’s might. Therefore, there can be no graver mistake than to reach the conclusion that we no longer need to cultivate the IDF’s might and first and foremost, its human backbone which ensures that the means at the army’s disposal are fully used possible,’ Rabin stressed.” Text from Tel Aviv DAVAR in Hebrew, 31 August 1995, p. 4; taken from FBIS-NESA, 1 September 1995, pp. 38-39.

September 1995 — Rabin on realism about Golan’s connection to peace with Israel… “Rabin attacked the opponents of peace with Syria. ‘Whoever says that peace is possible with the entire Golan or almost the entire Golan remaining with us is simply lying.  There is no such thing. To say that the Golan is more important than peace is legitimate, but to say that peace is possible with the entire Golan is a blatant lie.’ Rabin reiterated that if Israel reaches a peace accord that calls for a significant withdrawal, ‘I am prepared to bring the peace treaty and its price to the government, and the people will decide in a national referendum. If the majority is opposed, there will not be peace. If the majority is in favor, there will be peace.'” Text from Tel Aviv HA’ARETZ in Hebrew, 3 September 1995, p. A5; taken from FBIS-NESA, 5 September 1995, p. 55.

September 1995 – Rabin on attitude and cost toward settlers… “Not at all, not at all. Moreover, what were your first questions about? On the issue of personal security, and not about the ideological conflict between Greater Israel and my position, the position of the Labor Party.

At the moment I am being accused of forsaking the lives of the settlers. Once it was said that the settlers were an addition to security. Where is the security? Our problem today is to provide security for the settlers, and I am not talking about border settlements.

I consider them people who fulfill their political ideology. They believe in Greater Israel and moving to settlements. Their pronouncement that the settlements are an addition to security is unfounded — and I am not talking about settlements along the confrontation lines. The latter are a totally different story than Psagot, a tiny suburb of al-Birah and Ramallah, with 800 versus 50,000 people; Brakha and Yitzhar versus Nabulus; or 450 Jews within Hebron’s population of 150,000 — these are not settlements.” Text from Jerusalem Israel Television Channel 1 Network in Hebrew, 6 September 1995; taken from FBIS-NESA, 7 September 1995, pp. 50-51.

September 1995 – Rabin warns Arafat to seize opportunity to control terrorism or peace process is in jeopardy!… “…if the PLO does not act firmly enough against terrorism, we may reach a situation in which we will have to suspend the political negotiations with the Palestinian Authority [PA], with all the domestic and international ramifications such a step would entail, even regarding the future of our relations with the Arab countries. [Rabin made these remarks during a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.]” Text from Tel Aviv HA’ARETZ in Hebrew, 20 September 1995, p. A6; taken from FBIS-NESA, 20 September 1995, p. 47.

Israel-PLO Mutual Recognition Letters

September 9, 1993

Four days before signing the Oslo Accords, the PLO and Israel recognize each other. Israel’s Rabin worries about the growth of Hamas influence, thus elevates the PLO through international recognition.

Israel State Archives collection, Louise Fischer (ed.) Secret negotiations with the PLO and the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington, January-September 1993

January – September 1993

Using sources from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a firsthand account of the negotiations is provided through the eyes of one of the negotiators, Dr. Yair Hirschfeld, supported by 31 declassified documents and communications from Palestinian, Israeli, and Norwegian representatives; the item was assembled by Israel State Archives researchers.

Oslo Accords (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self- Government Agreements)

September 13, 1993

Negotiated through the Norwegians, the Accords call for limited Palestinian rule in some of the territories; it did not call for a Palestinian state or an end to settlements.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Reasons for Signing the Oslo Accords

November 1, 1995

(November 1, 1995) On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993, an agreement between Israel and the PLO that spelled out potential Palestinian self-rule, scholars and diplomats who worked back then have written dozens of articles, published interviews, and participated in video documentaries praising and criticizing […]