Yitzhak Rabin never supported Palestinian statehood

For 20 years the Israeli Left has utilized selective memory to reinvent the late prime minister. In reality, Rabin only wanted to grant the Palestinians limited autonomy, a goal he achieved through the Oslo Accords.

By Yakir Adelman

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Casablanca, October 30, 1994. (GPO/Saar Yaakov)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in Casablanca, October 30, 1994. (GPO/Saar Yaakov)

Ahead of the 1992 elections in Israel there was a televised debate between Yitzhak Rabin and incumbent prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. At the end of the debate Shamir was allowed to ask his opponent a question of his choice: “Do you really want a Palestinian state within the land of Israel?” Rabin answered decisively: “I oppose a Palestinian state between us and the Jordan [river]. At the same time, I don’t not want 1.7 million Palestinians to become citizens of Israel.” Rabin added that he voted in favor of the “autonomy plan” that Menachem Begin proposed as prime minister in 1978.

Once you watch the video of the debate (Hebrew) it’s possible to start questioning whether Rabin’s policies have since been revised and altered retroactively, if only because all of the historical evidence says as much: Rabin opposed a Palestinian state until the day he died. The Oslo Accords were not meant to result in Palestinian statehood, it was more of a repackaging of Menachem Begin’s old idea of autonomy. When Begin came into power in 1977, he came up with a diplomatic plan according to which the State of Israel would continue to control the West Bank without actually ruling the Palestinian population that lives there. The Palestinian people were slated for autonomy, an autonomous “Palestinian authority” of sorts that was never meant to become a state.

The idea of autonomy was born shortly after the Six Day War, when a team of ministers discussed the matter of the newly occupied territories. It was the “ministerial council for security affairs,” a secret forum that met on the 18th and 19th of of June, 1967, led by Prime Minister Levy Eshkol and others, including Menachem Begin. The council decided that the occupied territories of Sinai and the Golan Heights would be held for the time being, but that they would be used as bargaining chips to make peace with Egypt and Syria down the road. Peace with Egypt actually happened, and attempts to reach a peace deal with Syria were made in earnest.

Regarding the West Bank, however, the council decided that the captured territory would not be used as a bargaining chip for peace or the focus of negotiations. The council communicated the following message to then-foreign minister Abba Eban: “The government did not conclude the discussion on the matter the West Bank, and if [the foreign minister] is asked about it in Washington, he should say that the government discussed the matter of the West Bank in its entirety.” Despite that communique, he was ordered to tell the Americans that Israel would be willing to cede other occupied territories.

The idea of “Palestinian autonomy” came up a number of times in the protocols of the council, but nobody ever really defined it clearly. Menachem Begin is the one who transformed the abstract idea into a real plan and brought it to the Knesset in 1978. Rabin, as previously mentioned, voted in favor. Later, in the Camp David peace talks, the autonomy plan would become a central issue in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The Egyptians and Americans wanted the autonomy plan to be an interim stage that would eventually lead to Palestinian statehood, but Begin refused to accept that. He was able to convince them to decouple the two issues, and that the autonomy plan would be implemented later. The peace deal with Egypt was signed; the Palestinian autonomy plan disintegrated in the Israeli political system.

The man who took up the cause of autonomy, 14 years later, was Yitzhak Rabin. He had planned to implement Palestinian autonomy but Shimon Peres beat him to it with the Oslo Accords. In every stage of Oslo, from the first to the last, the directive ws to resurrect Palestinian autonomy in the spirit of the Menachem Begin plan. A Palestinian state was never mentioned, and it wasn’t supposed to be mentioned. Rabin wanted to to retain control of the West Bank together with Jordan, and that is one of the central reasons that Israel reached a peace agreement with Amman — to align two sovereign entities that could oversee the territory, the residents of which would have no independence or sovereignty.

That was Rabin’s plan. He saw the Oslo Accords as a permanent arrangement, not an interim agreement, which he expressed through his adamant opposition to Palestinian statehood. In our era, in which sovereign statehood ensures full civil rights, it should have been absolutely clear that the Palestinian people would have rejected and resisted an interim agreement and demanded the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The Israeli Left, meanwhile, has invented a populist version of Yitzhak Rabin that never existed. Since Rabin’s assassination the Israel Left has shoved those facts and details under the rug in order to manufacture its own messiah. Yitzhak Rabin’s widespread use of the word “peace”  will always enable the Israeli Left to present him as a supporter of Palestinian statehood, despite the fact that he always opposed it. You will never hear a leader of one of Israel’s left-wing parties admitting at a peace rally that Rabin opposed Palestinian statehood. The myth must be protected so that the Left can be trusted, even if in reality the basis of its mythology is unfounded.

Israeli society is marking 20 years since the terrible murder of Yitzhak Rabin. This year, just like the 19 that preceded it, the Israeli Left will gather in the Tel Aviv city square named after Rabin to perpetuate and re-sell its dogma to the masses. It is time to put an end to the dishonesty and lies. We must push back and admit the truth, because honesty is the only way to achieve true change. If the Israeli Left wants change, that is the path it must choose.

Yakir Edelman lives in Tel Aviv and is a student of philosophy and history at the Open University. This article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.