A close look at Yitzchak Rabin's policies
A close look at Yitzchak Rabin's policies

Jacques Neriah: "Bein Rabin L’Arafat: Yoman Medini 1993-1994 (Between Rabin and Arafat: Political Diary 1993-1994)" (Jerusalem, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2016) 399 pages

Jacques Neriah was the political advisor of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin from August 1992 to June 1994. During part of that period, he maintained a diary, which has now been published. Neriah was not involved in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that took place in Oslo. Yet the book gives new insights into many issues during that period, including events and politics, as well as the personality of Rabin. For instance, during those two years, Rabin never asked Neriah how he or his children were; nor did he ever tell Neriah anything about his own family.

While Rabin knew about the negotiations with the Palestinians in Oslo, at the beginning he didn’t give them much chance. It was only one month before signature that he took a serious interest in them. He asked indirectly  for clarifications from Mahmoud Abbas about the procedures to be followed. As Rabin did not know Arabic, Neriah translated many texts for him. One of these included the answer received from Abbas. It assured Rabin that negotiations with the Palestinians would take place in two stages.

The American government at the time wished to push for an agreement with Syrian President Hafez Assad -- the father of the current Syrian President Bashir Assad. Assad showed interest, but indicated that full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan was required. America put pressure on Rabin to follow the Syrian peace negotiations route. Rabin, however, was well aware that simultaneously negotiating with the Palestinian Arabs and with Syria was impossible in Israel’s political reality at the time. He told the Americans that any withdrawal from the Golan would have be ratified by a referendum among the Israeli people. Today we can be happy that the Golan is under Israel’s control, rather than that of ISIS.

What motivated Rabin in his negotiations with the Palestinian Arabs was that he did not want Israel to add large numbers of Arabs to its population.  He thought that a final agreement with the Palestinians could be reached without the establishment of a Palestinian state. Ehud Barak, at the time Israel’s Chief of Staff, had many objections concerning Israel’s security in the wake of a possible agreement with the Palestinians. Even though Rabin saw security as a top priority, he overruled Barak’s concerns.

The book is full of revelations. One can only mention a few here. In December 1993 Neriah was sent to Morocco to meet then King Hassan II and get his support for Israel’s peace negotiations with the Palestinians. One subject discussed there was the issue of international forces. The Moroccan king said that he had been pressured to allow an international force to be placed in the Sahara. He strongly refused this request, saying that the responsibility of defending Morocco’s borders was his alone. Hassan was also highly critical of the Palestinian aims to turn Jerusalem into the capital of a Palestinian State. He stressed that Jerusalem was an issue of the Islamic world at large, and not just of the Palestinian Arabs. 

The Egyptians did not have a high opinion of Arafat. Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouni, told Neriah that the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had said to Arafat that if he continued to take increasingly extreme positions in his negotiations with Israel, he would lose everything. Mubarak told Arafat that he should listen carefully to Rabin because he would not find a better partner for negotiations. He would be well advised to take what Israel was willing to give him and keep his mouth shut. Mubarak’s adviser, Osama Al-Baz even called Arafat a “convenience store owner from a small village.”

In Rabin’s view the Europeans were solely motivated by their economic interests. Rabin believed that Europe was two-faced.
Neriah remarks that the West supplied Iran and Iraq with technologies that could be used for military purposes. Russia, however, never enabled the civil technologies it transferred to Muslim countries to be applied for military purposes.

Some Israelis and Europeans think that if only Rabin had been in power instead of Netanyahu, European-Israeli relations would have been much easier. However, Neriah writes, “Rabin was disgusted by the European institutions which used to condemn Israel automatically and even discriminate against it in comparison to their attitude towards Arab countries. His staff members knew in advance that every European issue which would be raised for discussion would receive a critical reaction from him.” 

Neriah explains that Rabin especially had a very negative opinion of the French. France was the first European country whose foreign minister received Arafat, and it had supplied the nuclear reactor to Iraq, which the Begin government destroyed. He viewed Russia with similar suspicion. Like Europe, the Russians were far too involved in the region, and much too inclined towards the Arabs, to play a balanced role in regional politics.

In Rabin’s view the Europeans were solely motivated by their economic interests. Rabin believed that Europe was two-faced. Europe was willing to close its eyes when a business deal was at stake. This could be with a government which suppressed human rights, or even one that tried to obtain weapons for mass destruction. At the same time, Europe preached morality to Israel about its attitudes toward the Palestinians.

Neriah also mentions the well-known problems of the Israeli political reality. One of these is that various Israeli politicians – at that time from the Labor Party – talked to the Palestinian Arabs without Rabin’s authorization. They made promises to convince Rabin to accept any concessions they made, if the Palestinians agreed to them. Finally, Neriah was sent to Arafat to tell him that whatever Rabin had not personally agreed to was worthless. This trip made Peres furious with Neriah, yet Peres was one of those who conducted talks with the Palestinians without Rabin’s agreement.

Another aspect of the Israeli reality is that while an Israeli delegation was in the United States, many of its members complained about not being invited to specific dinners, meetings, and so on. This led to a lot of intrigue.  

Regarding American Jewry, Rabin was suspicious of AIPAC.  Yet, he was very open about his intentions with the heads of the Conference of American Presidents of Jewish Organizations.

From the book, which has a foreword by retired ambassador Freddy Eytan,  it also becomes plain, that the apparent closeness between Peres and Rabin, in the years before the latter was murdered, was a myth created by Peres. Nothing in the book indicates that their relationship was

...closeness between Peres and Rabin, in the years before the latter was murdered, was a myth created by Peres.
particularly friendly in Rabin’s last years.

Rabin emerges from the book as a strong analyst with the ability to make decisions. It confirms that he was a person of integrity. Yet, as known, politics was not his strong side. This was true concerning the situation in his own party as well as in dealing with the United States’ political scene. There he focused on relations with President Clinton and his administration, but neglected Congress.

These are just a few of the many nuggets this book contains. Translations in foreign languages could do much good. They could help people understand how inflexible the current positions of the Palestinians are, which US President Barack Obama has made such an effort to look away from.