Eitan Haber, Yitzhak Rabin’s closest aide, on the 20 years since that White House handshake, why the process failed, and his sense of forgiveness for Netanyahu, who has ‘gone much further’ toward the Palestinians than Rabin ever did
Exactly 20 years after a clearly hesitant Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat to start the Oslo peace process, and almost 18 years after Rabin was gunned down by an Israeli Jewish right-wing extremist, Eitan Haber, Rabin’s closest aide, says he personally never believed Arafat was a partner and isn’t sure that Rabin did either. And yet, Haber insists, Rabin thought he could reach a permanent accord with Arafat because he, Rabin, would lead the effort, and he, Rabin, could attain the goal.
Haber issues a series of such complicated observations during an interview marking Oslo’s 20th anniversary. He also says that Israel benefited immensely from the Oslo process, even though it did not lead to the hoped-for end-of-conflict accord. He says the second intifada started because of then opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000, not because of Arafat. But “to anyone who would say the opposite, I would say, he is also correct.”
He says he anticipates US Secretary of State John Kerry, if the current peace talks lead nowhere, “striking the table” and issuing America’s “take it or leave it” terms for an agreement… and that if Kerry does so, both sides would be “better off taking it and not leaving it.”
Perhaps most interestingly, he displays a highly empathetic, even forgiving, attitude to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who as opposition leader relentlessly critiqued Rabin for rehabilitating Arafat, helping to create a domestic climate of bitter hostility to Rabin. “Netanyahu opposed Rabin when he didn’t know anything,” says Haber.
And what is it that the Likud leader didn’t know 20 years ago, that he does know as prime minister today? That only when you make it to the Prime Minister’s Office, says Haber, do you understand the extent to which Israel “is dependent on America. For absolutely everything — in the realms of diplomacy, security, even economically… Slowly your tone changes, because you understand that without the spare parts [from the US], your entire air force is grounded. And when you have no air force you have no defenses. You can barely do anything without America. Her diplomatic support, defensive support, economic support. We are in America’s little pocket.”
Haber, who first met Rabin when working as a journalist in the IDF, is a regular columnist at Yedioth Ahronoth, with a variety of other business interests. His features have not changed much over the past 20 years — or more pertinently the past 18, since that terrible night, November 4, 1995, when he emerged from Ichilov Hospital to tell Israel and the world, “The government of Israel announces in dismay, in great sadness, and in deep sorrow, the death of prime minister and minister of defense Yitzhak Rabin, who was murdered by an assassin, tonight in …read more