‘One of my most historic nights’: When Larry King hosted Rabin, Arafat, Hussein

Months before the Israeli PM was assassinated in 1995, the CNN star got the 3 leaders together for a joint interview. A transcript makes plain the optimism… and the friction

Larry King presenting his show on CNN. (CNN screenshot)
Larry King presenting his show on CNN. (CNN screenshot)

On June 8, 1995, Larry King interviewed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, PLO leader Yasser Afrafat and Jordan’s King Hussein together on the same CNN show, an experience he later called “one of the most historic nights I ever did.”

“As [former US secretary of state Henry] Kissinger told me later, I was doing world diplomacy on the air,” King, who died on Saturday at 87, would recall. “So I felt, here’s this little Jewish guy from Brooklyn, in the volatile Middle East, and I’m interviewing all three of them at the same time.”

The TV “summit,” broadcast five months before Rabin was assassinated, is not readily available online but survives in transcript form.

It found the three leaders in relatively upbeat moods, with Rabin telling his host there was “a great opportunity to move ahead with the peace process.”

Hussein pronounced himself “more optimistic than ever been before,” while Arafat was less effusive, declaring, “We are looking to have real and honest and quick implementation to what had been agreed upon.”

In the three-way interview, it is clear that there are frictions between Rabin and Arafat over the Oslo process, with Arafat saying at one point, “We can’t have an election freely under occupation or in the presence of the Israeli military forces,” after Rabin has carefully stressed that Israel agreed to a West Bank “redeployment” rather than “withdrawal.”

Then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin during an interview, May 18, 1989, at the Tel Aviv Ministry of Defence offices. (AP Phpto/Anat Givon)

They disagree too over Jerusalem, with Arafat demanding a solution for the Palestinians dealing with “all the land which had been occupied in the war of ’67, including East Jerusalem…” Rabin, for his part, notes, “I don’t want to create any misunderstanding…. I was born in Jerusalem. … For me, Jerusalem was united, will be under Israel sovereignty, will be the capital of Israel and the heart of the Jewish people.”

More broadly, Rabin says: “I would like Israel to be a Jewish state, and therefore not to annex over 2 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to Israel, which will make Israel a bi-national state, against the will of the Palestinians. I recognize that there is a Palestinian people, and next to Israel should be a Palestinian entity that I don’t want to define it now.”

Then-PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, Sept. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority, Hussein Hussein)

Toward the end of their conversation, King asks each of the three if they are in good health. Poignantly, Rabin replies: I am healthy. I wish all my colleagues to the peace process to be healthy. I admire King Hussein his courage in leading his country for a long time. I appreciate the Chairman Arafat for his courage to take the decision to enter into negotiations with us. And let’s hope that this will be the way that we will solve our problems, in the time that we have, and the time is in our hands, and the results are dependent on what we will do.”

Rabin also takes the opportunity to invite Syria’s President Hafez Assad to Jerusalem for peace talks. “I invite now President Assad to come to Jerusalem and to speak with me, with our parliament, with whomever he wants to speak in Israel and in the territories among the Palestinians.”

Jordan’s King Hussein, in March 1997 (AP Photo/Yousef Allan)

There would appear to be no video of the show on the internet, nor of the edition of King’s program on April 13, 2002, when the 1995 show was rebroadcast, with additional material, to mark the 10th anniversary of Larry King Live. However, there is a full transcript of that 2002 rebroadcast, albeit with some typographical errors.

Introducing the 2002 rebroadcast, King recalls the sense at the time that Israel and the Palestinians were “on the verge of peace.”

But concluding it, he notes: “Sadly, two of the three participants in this program are no longer with us. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995, shot while attending a peace rally. Jordan’s King Hussein died of cancer in February 1999. And Yasser Arafat is currently surrounded by Israeli forces in the West Bank. June 1995 seems like a long, long time ago.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, second from left, holds his head in his hand during a Mideast accord signing ceremony, Thursday, Sept. 28, 1995 in the East Room of the White House. From left are: King Hussein of Jordan, Rabin, US President Clinton, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)
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