Former United States president Bill Clinton arrived in Israel on Thursday ahead of a scheduled speech at a Tel Aviv rally marking the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The rally on Saturday night, at the square that now bears Rabin’s name, will cap a week of commemorative events in Israel, which have included a state ceremony at Mount Herzl and a special Knesset session.
Rabin was slain on November 5, 1995, by Jewish extremist Yigal Amir at the same square that will host Saturday’s rally.
In his eulogy for Rabin at the state funeral in Jerusalem following the assassination, Clinton memorably ended with the words “Shalom, chaver,” or “Goodbye, friend.”
In a 2013 Channel 2 interview broadcast for the first time Monday night, Clinton said that had Rabin lived, the Israeli leader would have been able to reach a peace deal within three years, because “the Palestinians trusted him.” The interview, which was filmed on Clinton’s last trip to Israel in June 2013, was broadcast for the first time to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the assassination.
Clinton, highly emotional throughout the interview, said that he “really loved the man” and that he had expected they would both “live 20 more years, and I would come here [to Israel] and see him every chance I could.
“They [the Palestinians] didn’t think he was a pushover in negotiations,” Clinton recalled. “They knew that they would have to bargain hard for as much of the West Bank as they could get, for the details on how long the Israeli security forces would be along the Jordan River — they knew all those issues would have to be negotiated. But whatever the deal was, they were absolutely convinced he was 100 percent certain to do whatever he promised to do.”
Clinton remembered a dispute over one of the maps associated with the Oslo accords, relating to a road in the Jericho area. Rabin agreed to a change that was not on the maps, said Clinton, and Arafat accepted Rabin’s verbal commitment to the change, saying Rabin’s word was “worth more than any written contract.” That level of trust, said the president, “is inconceivable today.” Arafat “just knew that Rabin’s word was good.”
The former US president recalled the moments after he heard that his friend had been shot. “I ran upstairs to see my wife,” Clinton recounted. “We literally just sat there and held each other for, like, 20 minutes.”
He added: “My first thoughts were not even for the peace process, they were just for my friend.” He said he thought “of how many of us wished that we could have stopped it; jumped in the way.”
JTA contributed to this report.