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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.

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    1. Ben

      “In every stage of Oslo, from the first to the last, the directive was 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.”

      What this describes is a massive and deliberate exercise in duplicity by Israel. Toying with people’s lives. Noam Sheizaf is right that Oslo *is* the occupation. The irony is that the Right’s favorite epithet, “the Oslo criminals,” actually applies to the crime Israel perpetrated against the Palestinians with this massive exercise in fraud and bad faith.

      Reply to Comment
      • SkyHawk

        “Noam Sheizaf is right that Oslo *is* the occupation”.

        The goal of Oslo is for the Palestinian-Arabs to Rule Themselves and be Masters Of Their Own Destiny and Fate on the land they live.

        So, how “is Oslo the occupation”, Ben, when its goal was the direct opposite? Can you make coherent arguments of YOUR own (not your usual copy-and-paste-job) to support your absurd logic?

        Make arguments produced in your own mind, Ben.

        We are waiting …….

        Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Eureka shouts Benny…

        But when I told him a number of times that Ehud Barak’s 2000/2001 peace offer was more far reaching than Rabin’s Oso accord, he called me a liar.

        Benny is a hopeless case. He WANTS to believe that Israel is the baddie in this conflict so he laps up every bit of crazy propaganda which reinforces his preferred position while at the same time he blicks his ears, covers his eyes and yells at the top of his voice to try and drown out any evidence which threatens to bring his wobbly beliefs crashing down in a heap…

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Israel was an Oslo-baddie. LoL. Noam Sheizaf agrees and has made a persuasive case:


          As regards Barak’s mythical “far reaching peace offer,” Gershon Baskin:

          ““Israel has offered the Palestinians everything but they have turned down every offer and walked away.”
          Those making this statement go on to say that at Camp David prime minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the whole shop….

          The truth is that at Camp David Barak offered Arafat 89 percent of the West Bank with full Israeli control of Palestine’s external borders* – the Palestinians called it a sovereign cage. Barak’s proposal included two east-west corridors under full Israeli control, cutting the West Bank into three cantons. Barak did not offer the Palestinians a capital in east Jerusalem, but in Abu Dis, which is outside of Jerusalem, and perhaps some control of the outlying Palestinian neighborhoods. Israel would continue to control all of the main Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and the Old City. Barak demanded a place for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which is what led directly to the failure of Camp David. On the issue of refugees, a total of six hours of talks took place in two weeks, during which time Arafat said that there had to be a solution for the refugees and that he could not give up the right of return on behalf of the refugees.

          This was the essence of Barak’s “take it or leave it” proposal.

          There isn’t a Palestinian alive who could accept it.”


          *See the argument of Michael Omer-Man plus the comments of Yeah Right at Omer-Man’s article, “Gaza still occupied? New video aims to settle the debate.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            So let me see Baskin’s and Benny’s logic…

            Arafat gleefully went along with what Rabin offered in Oslo which wasn’t even statehood. As this article reiterates.

            But Ehud Barak who offered much much more. He offered Palestinian statehood. But according to Baskin and Benny, what he really offered was just a cage. And that warranted unleashing the Intifada.

            …yes, yes we know you’ll trot out your stock standard answer about the intifada. It was all Sharon’s fault because he, a Jewish leader, dared to visit Judaism’s holiest site. That warranted all the bloodshed that the “peace loving” Palestinian Arabs unleashed in protest.

            It would be funny (their stance) if it wouldn’t be so tragic. How does one get through to hateful souls such as Baskin and Benny?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Oh boo hoo Gershon Baskin hates us. What BS. Risible. Whenever you can’t refute something you retreat behind statements like “I just can’t understand why Benny and Gershon are so hateful.” Neither “hates” you. The real “terror” Israel is beset with, sunk as it is now so far into Bibi-ism* it cannot change itself (and you are a prime example of Bibi-ism, Gustav) is Netanyahu’s terror of his far right wing and the settlers. He concocts every “security” excuse he can because he knows if he withdraws from the territories one inch the settlers will stick a knife into his political heart. And pathological liar that he is, he believes his own lies in tactical support of the ideology. And thinks he has every right peddle those lies. Make no mistake about it, however, he a true believer in the underlying ideology. Netanyahu is his nasty father’s son through and through, a true believer in radical Jewish domination of the Arab untermenschen of Greater Israel.

            * Asher Shecter: “What is Bibi-ism? Netanyahu himself articulated it best this week, ironically enough when referencing the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination. “I am asked if will always live by the sword,” he said, and answered: “Yes.”
            Bibi-ism is the belief that there is no solution to the conflict, because the conflict is not about mundane things like lands and rights, but a mythical struggle between two abstract concepts: Western values and radical Islam. Israel is powerless to stop it, the same way Jews are powerless to stop anti-Semitism. They just have to learn to live with it. If Netanyahu has any political legacy, it is this.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Boo hoo to you too Benny. I made a point which you ignore coz you have no answer to it then you concentrate on side comment of mine. How very Benny-ish of you. Here is my point again…

            Rabin’s peace overture, the Oslo Accord, was an inferior offer to Barak’s peace offer which included Palestinian statehood not just autonomy. Do you agree or not? If you disagree then please justify.

            Yet, Arafat embraced Oslo or at least he pretended to because it pulled him out of the proverbial s&@t after he made the boo boo of siding with Sadam in the first gulf war which then left him isolated.

            But by the time he got Barak’s peace offer, he felt himself back in the box seat and he was bold enough to respond with a violent Intifada to Barak’s better offer. And please don’t trot out your stock standard BS excuse that the visit of a Jewish leader to Judaism’s holiest site warranted such an intifada.

            Ok I eagerly await your specific response to THIS point. Not an irrelevant quote from one of your many co-ideologues who are all driven by the same agenda as you.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Maria

      he was undoubtedly part of the more or less orchestrated plan to stall and blockade Palestinian’s struggle to autonomy and ultimate liberation from occupation!! let’s call them by what they accomplished not by what they didn’t…!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Jerry Blaz

      It may be true that Rabin did not advocate a second state on this side of the Jordan. However, in the 20 years since his assassination the unfinished business of the 1947 UN resolution, which called for two states in Western Palestine, remained incomplete, like an operation that has not been stitched up. Instead, this unfinished business has festered, and Israeli and Palestinian attitudes have festered like warring anti-bodies on this unstitched and open wound.

      Over the two decades of time, changes have occurred that now require removal of skin from that part of the body politic known as the occupation and to be used to cover the wound. One effort of this kind was the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza without any coordination with the Palestinians, and this has proven to be an ineffective method of resolving this infection of an unstable relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

      Autonomy is no longer an answer. A mutually-agreed upon peace treaty with the establishment of a Palestinian state may be the best solution, one in which the Palestinians and Israelis are both signators. Certainly, it is a solution that hasn’t been tried; it is not an easy solution but the time for easy solutions appear to be past.

      Changing this political relationship between Israel and the Palestinians must be tried; if it fails, we may be back to square one, but at least we will know if that is the solution, and if not, the Palestinians will face their renewed problems with this history of failure.

      Reply to Comment