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InterviewCommemorating 19 years since Rabin's assassination

‘Bilateralism has failed, time to bring in the Arab world,’ says Rabin’s son

Abbas alone cannot sign a deal on the thorny issues, says Yuval Rabin, insisting his father always had a regional approach to peace

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Yuval Rabin visits the memorial to his father, slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Tel Aviv, October 22, 2014. (Flash90)
Yuval Rabin visits the memorial to his father, slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Tel Aviv, October 22, 2014. (Flash90)

Efforts to broker a bilateral peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians have failed and should be replaced by a multilateral approach based on the Arab Peace Initiative, the son of slain Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin told The Times of Israel Thursday in an interview just before the 19th anniversary of his father’s assassination.

High tech entrepreneur Yuval Rabin, 59, chairs the Israeli Peace Initiative, a grassroots organization launched in 2011 to prompt Israeli leaders to put forward a comprehensive counter-bid to the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 and endorsed by the Arab League five years later. Israeli Peace Initiative signatories include former Shin Bet chief and current Science Minister Yaakov Peri, former UN ambassador Danny Gillerman, and former Mossad director Danny Yatom.

The initiative, which calls on Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for negotiations while presenting its own vision on disputed issues, has received relatively little media coverage in Israel and around the world. But it will be relaunched at the main ceremony commemorating Rabin’s assassination, slated to take place Saturday in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square at 7:30 p.m.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. On the far right, current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: courtesy GPO)
Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the historic signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993 (photo credit: courtesy GPO)

“The bilateral track failed, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Rabin told The Times of Israel. Both Israel and the PLO, its official negotiating partner, are to blame for the breakdown of the trust that existed at the start of his father’s tenure in 1992, he said.

“The Palestinian Authority will need to reach extremely difficult decisions. They can’t compromise on Jerusalem or the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] without wide pan-Arab backing,” Rabin said. Arabs will not only need to vouch for the Palestinians but also bankroll the agreements, rendering them indispensable to the process.

‘The ultimate goal was never to reach peace only with the Palestinians, but rather with the entire Arab world’

“We’ve tried negotiating directly with [the Palestinians] and the Americans plenty of times before and have realized that it won’t come to fruition,” he asserted.

The current diplomatic stagnation goes against his father’s belief in Israel’s need to remain proactive, Rabin said. The Arab Peace Initiative, commonly viewed by Israelis as a “take it or leave it” package deal, can be used as a springboard for further talks.

“I believe Israel gave up on diplomatic initiative for the better part of the 19 years since my father’s assassination,” Rabin said. “Our absence leaves a vacuum which will inevitably be filled by the initiatives of others, and by things we cannot predict, such as intifadas and other [violent] activities.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry (center) looks out over a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative in Paris, France, on January 12, 2014 (photo credit: US State Department official)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (center) looks out over a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative in Paris, France, on January 12, 2014 (photo credit: US State Department official)

Israel’s cooperation with Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia over the course of the summer in negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas to end Operation Protective Edge was not effectively utilized for a broader diplomatic drive, he said.

“Once again we hunker down and stick to our guns instead of leveraging this opportunity, which would allow us to stop this cycle of military operations every year or two,” he said. “I don’t know how many more operations like Protective Edge the Israeli economy can take.”

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have recently spoken of the need to develop regional alliances with Arab states, Rabin noted. The point of the Israeli Peace Initiative is to exert public pressure on them to stand by their word.

The Oslo Accords, Rabin said, were meant to replicate the Camp David peace accords signed with Egypt 15 years earlier. Like in Camp David, negotiations with the Palestinians were meant to last five years leading to a permanent status agreement.

Late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak meets with the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the presidential palace in Alexandria, Egypt. September 19, 1993 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Israeli prime minister Yitzhak meets with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the presidential palace in Alexandria, Egypt. September 19, 1993 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

On the Israeli right, people often highlight the fact that Rabin never spoke of a fully sovereign Palestinian state, nor of complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. But Yuval Rabin insinuates that had it come to fruition, Oslo would have likely led to similar Israeli concessions as in Camp David, where it withdrew from the entire Sinai Peninsula in return for full diplomatic relations with Egypt.

“As far as I know, my father never publicly stated how far he’s willing to go and how much he’s willing to give up because you don’t state those things in advance during negotiations,” Rabin said.

While a comprehensive peace proposal with the entire Islamic world didn’t exist in Rabin’s time, he always maintained a regional vision, involving leaders such as Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Hussein in the negotiations.

“The ultimate goal was never to reach peace only with the Palestinians, but rather with the entire Arab world,” Rabin said. “However, there was never an illusion that understandings can be reached in the short term with the entire Islamic world.”

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