Rabin formally opposed a Palestinian state more than a year after White House handshake, letter from 1994 shows

Asked what prime minister really intended, top aide Haber gives mixed response, says bitterly, ‘Perhaps you should ask the assassin’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Journalist Eitan Haber next to a photograph of his former boss, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Shalom Bartal, Wikimedia Commons)
Journalist Eitan Haber next to a photograph of his former boss, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (photo credit: CC-BY-SA, Shalom Bartal, Wikimedia Commons)

More than a year after his hesitant handshake on the White House lawn with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in September 1993, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin remained formally opposed to a Palestinian state, a December 1994 letter signed by his top aide makes plain.

The brief missive, dated December 25, 1994, and made available to The Times of Israel on Monday, states: “Concerning your letter to the prime minister with regard to a Palestinian state I am replying: The prime minister is of the opinion that there is no room for a Palestinian state.”

The letter is cited in a Monday blogpost on The Times of Israel by Yair Shamir, son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and a high-ranking Yisrael Beytenu candidate in next month’s elections.

The letter, signed by Rabin’s adviser and bureau chief Eitan Haber, was sent to a private citizen, Shmuel Fischer, who says he inquired about the government’s intentions regarding a Palestinian state in the aftermath of Rabin’s signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Fischer also received, in 1994, a letter from Uri Savir, a former aide to then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, in which Savir states that it was the current government’s policy to “reject the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The letter, signed by Eitan Haber
The letter to Shmuel Fischer, signed by Rabin’s bureau chief Eitan Haber

During his second term as prime minister, Rabin sought a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and advocated territorial compromises to achieve a peace agreement. In 1993, he co-signed the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, better known as the Oslo Accords, which aimed to regulate an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a temporary Palestinian Authority that would have autonomy until a permanent settlement was implemented.

According to the accords’ first article, their primary aim was “to establish a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority… for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement.”

The Oslo Accords do not mention Palestinian statehood, and Rabin himself, while ceaselessly speaking of the need for a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians, did not publicly call for a “Palestinian state.”

Fischer, a writer living in Petah Tikva, told The Times of Israel that he had written the letter to Rabin “simply to inquire what the government’s intentions were vis-à-vis a Palestinian state — yes or no.”

Haber, a longtime associate of Rabin and veteran journalist who today writes for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, said Monday he did not remember sending the letter to Fischer in Rabin’s name. “But at that time there were days on which we wrote 400 letters a day… It’s really possible that we sent such a letter, but I don’t remember. How could I remember?”

Haber said it was “difficult for me to believe that in ’94 we wrote this. But it’s possible. I really don’t [know]. I don’t want to tell you yes or no.”

While he couldn’t say with certitude whether Rabin truly believed in the creation of a Palestinian state, Haber said at one point Monday that he was sure that Rabin was ready to agree to such a state toward the end of the five-year interim period. Confusingly, Haber added, however, “It’s possible that he would have agreed, or maybe not. They assassinated him because of things like that, so I can’t know. Perhaps you should ask the assassin.”

Rabin, who together with Peres and Yasser Arafat received the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, was assassinated by right-wing extremist Yigal Amir on November 4, 1995, at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv. Haber made the government’s official announcement of Rabin’s death that night.

Two officials familiar with Rabin’s thinking, who asked to remain anonymous, said Monday he intentionally avoided uttering the words “Palestinian state,” as the wider public was not yet ready for an idea that was still taboo at the time. Rabin hoped, they argued, that in the five-year interim period after the signing of Oslo Accords the public would slowly overcome the psychological barrier that prevented them from being able to accept a Palestinian state as they got used to seeing a Palestinian autonomous parliament and government existing next to the state of Israel.

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