Israel’s prime minister was very clear in explaining his bottom lines — and his red lines — for the peace process.
“In the framework of the permanent solution,” he said, “we aspire to reach, first and foremost, the State of Israel as a Jewish state” and “alongside it, a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
He continued: “We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”
Furthermore, the prime minister insisted a final agreement would include the following provisions:
“A. First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty….
“B. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.
“C. Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line’ prior to the Six-Day War.
“D. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.”
Some might view this speech as “hardline.” Indeed, if not for the reference to Gush Katif — the southern Gaza settlement bloc evacuated by Ariel Sharon in 2005 — one could imagine that this speech might have been given by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the speech was actually delivered by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Yitzhak Rabin in the Knesset, one month before his November 1995 assassination. Rabin, the former prime minister now revered for his commitment to peace, held positions that are largely identical to those expressed by the current Israeli government, which the Obama administration and much of the world are now busy castigating.
No one today doubts Rabin’s commitment to peace, yet he saw very clearly the strategic, political and demographic dangers Israel faced and was prepared to go no further than Netanyahu is today in making concessions to the Palestinians on key issues. Netanyahu’s insistence on an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley echoes Rabin, as does his insistence on retaining settlement blocs and a united Jerusalem. Netanyahu is now actually more forthcoming than Rabin had been: The prime minister has accepted the idea of establishing a Palestinian state, whereas Rabin said that the Palestinians would get something “less than a state.”
Rabin also strongly objected to American pressure on Israel. It was reported (and widely repeated) that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren called the current tensions with the United States the worst crisis in relations between the two allies since 1975. Though Oren later denied making this statement, it’s worth recalling that the 1975 crisis occurred when Rabin was prime minister and resisted Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s effort to coerce him into making concessions to Egypt. Another important precedent set by Rabin was to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians — what became known as the Oslo Accords — without the knowledge or involvement of the United States.
Rabin gave his 1995 speech in order to urge Knesset members to ratify the so-called Oslo II agreement. He was speaking at a time of great optimism, when many Israelis believed that peace was at hand. Today, we live in a very different time. We have experienced the failure of Oslo, more than a decade of terrorist attacks against Israel, the fallout from the disengagement from Gaza and the unwillingness of the Palestinians to even sit at the bargaining table.
The Obama administration, those cheering its criticism of Israel and those who believe that America should impose a solution on the Jewish state should re-read Rabin’s words. And they should show Netanyahu’s reiterations of Rabin’s views the respect they deserve as the legitimate expression of the consensus view of what Israel can — and cannot — be expected to concede for peace.
Mitchell Bard is executive director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. He is the author of “Will Israel Survive?” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).