Had he lived, Yitzhak Rabin would have been able to reach a peace deal within three years, because “the Palestinians trusted him,” former president Bill Clinton said in an interview aired Monday night. “They were absolutely convinced that he… would do what he promised to do.”
Rabin, said Clinton, had a sort of “psychological hold on the Palestinians,” and particularly on Yasser Arafat.” Rabin “was very tough,” said Clinton, and “in a funny way that’s the reason the Palestinians trusted him as well as the Israelis: Arafat was almost a little intimated by him because of his record as a military man and as a politician.”
The footage, 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 prime minister’s 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.”
The prime minister was shot in the back by far-right Jewish Israeli Yigal Amir as he was leaving a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. He was pronounced dead a short time later at the nearby Ichilov hospital. The plaza where he was shot, formerly known as Kings of Israel Square, is now called Rabin Square.
The former 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.”
Unstintingly complimentary and admiring of Rabin in the interview, Clinton said his bond with the prime minister deepened when they ate together after the September 1993 White house signing ceremony for the Oslo accords. Over the meal, Clinton recalled Rabin telling him he had agreed to the deal with PLO chief Yasser Arafat “because I think it’s the only way to ensure Israel’s security” and because Israel “can’t ever get to the point where we’re choosing between being a Jewish state and a democracy.” Also, said Clinton, Rabin was adamant that the Palestinians’ children also deserve a better future.”
He 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.”
Clinton said he was “absolutely” certain a full accord would have been reached within three years if Rabin had lived, “because the Palestinians trusted him.”
He praised Rabin’s commitment to Israel’s security and its future, and also his “extraordinary ability” to put himself in the shoes of those on the other side.”
Noting that Rabin was “tender and humane” in private, and “dignified and reserved” in public settings, Clinton said that when the prime minister began to speak, “it was almost as though a force came over him — he was one of the most powerfully eloquent people I ever knew” because he was plainly committed to creating a better future for the next generation. “You can’t make that up. You can’t fake that.”
He said his “Shalom Haver” words of eulogy for Rabin at the funeral “came closer to capturing how I felt about him than anything else.” He added that, “I miss him all the time; I really loved the man.”
Clinton will be speaking on Saturday night at a rally in Rabin’s memory at the Tel Aviv square where he was assassinated.