Virtual Meeting

Lessons From History Series: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin—25 Years Later

Thursday, October 29, 2020
Speakers

Distinguished Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (2013–2014); Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel (1995–1997; 2000–2001); @Martin_Indyk

Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Former Deputy Prime Minister (2004–2005) and Former Foreign Minister (2002–2004), Jordan; Former Jordanian Ambassador to the United States (1997–2002); Former Jordanian Ambassador to Israel (1995–1996)

Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern History, Tel Aviv University; Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and Chief Negotiator with Syria (1992–1996)

Presider

International Correspondent, NPR

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, only two years after he shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House South Lawn following the signing of the Oslo Accords. Panelists discuss his legacy, achievements, and the ramifications of his assassination on the Middle East peace process twenty-five years later.

AMOS: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here and I will introduce our distinguished panel. I'm going to begin with Martin Indyk, who is a distinguished fellow at CFR. He's a former U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Marwan Muasher—vice president for studies [at the] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Jordan. He's in Jordan now. And Itamar Rabinovich—he is a professor emeritus of Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and a chief negotiator with Syria. I want to start with this, gentleman. A century ago, peace was snuffed out by an assassin's bullet—that is how we usually think about Yitzhak Rabin. His murder stunned the world, changed the course of history. We all remember where we were the moment we learned that he had died. I want to begin with his legacy, we'll get to his life, but let's begin with his legacy. Itamar, can you give us a sense of what we still take away from his message before he died?

RABINOVICH: Yes, there was a time during which the [Yitzhak] Rabin Center thought to commemorate Rabin mainly through Oslo, and then they moved away from this. It is not popular with part of the Israeli public, and they also realized that long term the most important part of the legacy is his leadership. This was obvious then and even more obvious now if you look around the international scene and look at the level of leadership that we have around the world—Rabin stands out. He had a vision. He was not interested in the second term, in just being in power. He was interested in implementing his vision. He had the courage to take unpopular measures. He had the ability to sweep people with him. And he was direct and credible.

What made him popular with the Israeli public, he was not charismatic, he had authority and he had credibility. These were his two strongest claims to leadership among the Israeli public. And you could see that also in his relationship with world leaders, particularly President Clinton, who very much admired Rabin for many qualities but also for the fact that he always said what he had on his mind. He was credible and very much appreciated by people who need to deal with another leader. So, if you look at the sum total of these qualities and you compare them to the available leadership around the world today, Rabin stands out. And I think that long term, he will be remembered primarily for his leadership.

AMOS: Marwan, first of all, where were you when you heard that he had been assassinated? And how is he seen now in the Arab world?

MUASHER: Well, I was actually with him in that square where they had the peace rally. I was seated next to him. I left the event probably a minute or two before he did, going down that, you know, the stairs that he went down from. So I was there, together with the Egyptian ambassador, at the time. And I think Martin, you also were there. But Rabin is, of course, looked at in the Arab world. First, as Martin said, during the first intifada he was seen as a brutal suppressor of the intifada. But he also came to be seen as someone who understood that he has to come to terms with the Palestinians. And I think that the first intifada made a big effect on him, where he understood that he has to negotiate with the Palestinians themselves.

And he took measures to do that and even though Rabin never talked about a Palestinian state, nobody did that at the time of his assassination in '95, not the Americans, nobody did, but he clearly was moving in that direction. The last speech he gave before the Knesset, he talked clearly about the Palestinians ruling themselves. He said, you know, it's self-rule plus less than a state, but more than self-rule. In my view, and I think you know his legal advisor at the time, Joel Singer, had an article yesterday in which he argued that Rabin was preparing his own public for the time when a Palestinian state would be established.

And I think that's his main legacy that he understood that this needed to be done. After he left, I mean, we are today looking at an Israeli government twenty-five years later that is not interested in a two-state solution, that says so publicly, and that instead is talking about annexing large parts of the West Bank. We are a long way from where we were in 1995 when Rabin was assassinated.

AMOS: Martin, can you talk a little bit about where you were and does the idea of Palestinian state on the Israeli side die with him?

INDYK: Thank you, Deborah. So I was not there, Marwan, explicitly because Rabin had asked me to stay away. He did not want to associate the United States with this rally. It's quite interesting that he wanted the Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors there, but he wanted the U.S. ambassador to stay away. So I was at home, and I got the call from Eitan Haber, his chief of staff, who unfortunately just passed away a couple of weeks ago, and Eitan called me and he just said, Rabin's been shot. Meet me at Ichilov [Hospital]. And as a result, I was only able to get to the hospital after Rabin had died.

As for his legacy, for me, but his courage, his ability to read the map and his courage to act on the conclusions were the most compelling part of his legacy. As Marwan says and Itamar also, there was a conviction on his part that he had to deal with the Palestinians. And now there's some argument about even the right in Israel tries to corrupt his legacy and say that he, you know, was not committed to a Palestinian state. And Marwan has expressed that.

But for me, the moment that I will never forget was the speech that he made, that few people refer to, after he signed the Oslo II Accords a month before he was assassinated. The Oslo II Accord, just to remind people, was the agreement in which Israel handed over 40 percent of the West Bank—the 40 percent of the Palestinian Authority now controls and 90 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank live in those territories. And that was signed in Washington a month before he was assassinated. He spoke there afterwards, in the presence of Arafat and King Hussein and President Mubarak of Egypt, as well of course, President Clinton.

And he said, turning to Yasser Arafat, he said what we want, what I see is my vision is of Palestinians in an independent entity living alongside a Jewish state of Israel and under their self-rule, they will rule themselves independently. And we will separate from them, not because of hatred, but because of respect. And that was Rabin's vision. And it's that concept of living side by side in peace, separated into two separate entities out of respect, was, I think, the most important legacy and the thing that has been lost now in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

AMOS: Just recently, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was giving a speech on the Arab-Israeli peace process, which he didn't mention Rabin at all. In fact, he was confronted by Rabin's daughter to admonish him that he'd left it out. Let me start with you, Itamar, is that a signal of something, is that simply a mistake, or should we read that as how the Trump administration sees the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin?

RABINOVICH: To begin with, I don't know. You know, it may have been a speech written by someone, it's not exactly Mr. Mnuchin's forte in foreign policy. But it may also be indicative of the attitude of the Trump administration and the close relationship between the Trump administration, the Trump circle, and Netanyahu. Today we had a very awkward incident in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset, in the memorial for Rabin when Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke and he spoke more about himself than about Rabin, trying to belittle Rabin's contribution, denigrating Oslo, and so forth and so forth. So I suspect that there may be a connection there between the omission of Mnuchin and the commission of Netanyahu.

AMOS: Marwan, do you see it the same way? Is there something to be said about the Trump administration not mentioning Rabin? Is it more than just Netanyahu or do they see the peace process in a different way?

MUASHER: Well, this is a Trump administration, Deborah, that clearly is against a credible two-state solution. They have sided with the Israeli government under Mr. Netanyahu. They have put forward a plan that only caters to the, you know, to Israel's needs. And by agreeing to annexing more than 30 percent of the West Bank, what they are really doing is killing the two-state solution, the very solution that I think Rabin, you know, and King Hussein and others, worked to achieve.

Today, everybody agrees that annexing the West Bank is going to kill a credible two-state solution. And as Itamar said, whether it is intentional or not, there is no question that the Trump plan attempts to kill the peace process as we know it and have Israel have the cake and eat it, too. It's not going to work in my view. But this is clearly an administration that is not serious about a credible two-state solution that gives hope to both Israelis and Palestinians.

AMOS: Let me just do one more follow up, Marwan, before I get to you, Martin, and that is you're in Jordan. So how does that work for Jordan where you have a majority Palestinian population? How does the slow death of any idea about a two-state solution work for Jordan?

MUASHER: Jordan's main reason why it went to Madrid, you know, to Oslo, is exactly to effect a two-state solution to end occupation of, you know, a Palestinian occupied territory, establish a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil as the only way to avoid solving the conflict at Jordan's expense, either through mass transfer of Palestinians into Jordan or through asking Jordan to manage the affairs of Palestinians in areas that Israel does not want to keep. When we signed the peace treaty with Israel, King Hussein and Rabin had a clear understanding that this is what the treaty will do. It will end once and for all the notion that Jordan is Palestine.

Today, Jordan is not, you know, clear that this remains of Israel's objective. If Israel does not want a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, and it clearly does not want it today, and if Israel also does not want a Palestinian majority in areas under its control that is in Israel's proper, the West Bank in Gaza and East Jerusalem, then to Jordan the only logical alternative for Israel is to try to solve the conflict at Jordan's expense. That explains the bad relations between Israel and Jordan today. And as long as Jordan feels that Israel is not serious about the Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, the relationship I think is not going to improve.

AMOS: Martin, I don't mean to put too much on Steve Mnuchin's comments, but it does in some way represent the administration's thinking. Will it matter, I mean, we are a week away from an election. You know, will we see a big shift if the election changes who's in the White House?

INDYK: So let me, if I might just make a comment about Mnuchin's omission. I don't think that he wrote that speech. He doesn't know anything about the Arab-Israeli conflict and its history. But that speech is consistent with the Trump administration's determined efforts over the last four years to do away with the basic principles, resolutions, plans, and parameters that represent the historical groundwork for the resolution, not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the overall Arab-Israeli conflict. I'm talking not just about the Oslo Accords, I'm talking about UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is the basic underpinning of the whole American-led peace process since 1967 in the Six-Day War. I'm talking about the Arab Peace Initiative, which Marwan had such an important role in devising, which called for a resolution of all of these issues based on Resolution 242. In return the Arab world would make peace with Israel.

All of those basic frameworks for negotiating between the Arabs in Israel that led to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and the Oslo Accords have been written out of the Trump administration's approach to resolving the conflict—purposely. Jason Greenblatt, who used to be the Middle East envoy, working with Jared Kushner, went to the UN Security Council to speak there and tell them that UN Security Council Resolution 242 was outdated, outmoded, and no longer relevant. And this is a resolution not only that Israel accepted, but worked greatly to Israel's benefit. But from their point of view, everything that came before Trump, failed—was all a failed effort—and therefore, should be wiped away in favor of this new approach that was somehow going to resolve the conflict. Of course, they did promote normalization in the end between the UAE and Bahrain and Sudan and Israel to their credit. But these were countries that were not in conflict with Israel. And so it doesn't do anything to end the Arab-Israeli conflict in itself. That will require a resolution to the Palestinian conflict.

Now, what happens a week from now? Well, it depends, of course, who wins. If Vice President Biden wins, I think you will see a reversion to strong support for the two-state solution, not just because he believes that that is the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but because the Democratic Party is different today. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has elevated promotion of a two-state solution into a kind of critical issue for them.

Having said that, however, the second thing is that I do not believe that if Biden becomes president that he will make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority. And I say that simply because he's got the pandemic, he's got China, he's got the economy. He's got so many other—climate change, of course—priority issues. And he knows because the people around him worked with me when I was envoy back in 2013-14, that with Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] as the Palestinian president, the chances of actually moving forward to some final resolution or conflict are between zero and none. And therefore, I think that he will restore relations with the Palestinians, but I wouldn't expect him to take an initiative until there's a change of leadership on both sides and a greater chance of moving forward.

AMOS: Correct that it's not a peace treaty with the Gulf states because they weren't at war.

RABINOVICH: Deborah, may I say something?

AMOS: Please.

RABINOVICH: Itamar here. Actually, yes, contrary to what was said or understood before, the assassination of Rabin did not end the notion of a two-state solution in Israel. There were subsequent efforts to move the peace process forward with the Palestinians. Under Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak and under Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert, it's only since 2009 when Netanyahu came back to power and formed essentially a right-wing government that the Israeli government doesn't support a two-state solution, including the episode that Martin referred to before, the awkward negotiations with the Palestinians. But the main damage, the main disaster that happened in Israel with the assassination of Rabin, in my view, was more domestic than external. It affected the nature of Israeli politics and led to the kind of right-wing preeminence. And by the way, some of the voices, some of the people who incited against Rabin are still there and free speech.

AMOS: Let me ask you this, Itamar, and follow up on the opening with the UAE and Gulf states. How would Rubin have seen that? I mean, there's some things missing from that agreement. And certainly any sort of notion of negotiating with the Palestinians is out of that agreement. How would he have seen that? As a victory? As a half measure? What do you think?

RABINOVICH: No, he would have seen it as very positive, but he would not have confused it with the peace process. Actually, if you go back to the peace process of the 1990s, when Oslo was signed and the Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed, we had economic conferences—in Casablanca, in Amman, in Qatar—and you had diplomatic delegations by other countries in Israel. You had the Moroccan legation, you had the Mauritanian legation, so what we see now is not all that novel, it all happened in some way in the '90s under Rabin. And Rabin was very happy with this because the sense of normalization was very important in instilling in the Israeli public the sense that things have changed, and one can move forward even when making concessions. But he would not confused it and the main thing, he would definitely not have called it peaceful peace.

AMOS: Marwan, how did the opening with the UAE play in Jordan? I've read lots of press accounts, but I certainly am interested in your view from the ground.

MUASHER: As I said before, Deborah, any development from Jordan's perspective that does not contribute to ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil is not something to be celebrated. Yes, these are bilateral agreements, and you know, every country is free to do bilateral agreements. But they should not be celebrated as contributing to the peace process. If there is a contribution to the peace process, in my view, it is a negative one because Mr. Netanyahu is selling these agreements to the Israeli public as normalization with the Arab world as not having to deal with the Palestinians since he can have agreements with the Arab world without having to give up anything in return.

And in so doing, that gives the false impression that peace can come to that part of the world when there is no agreement with the Palestinians. I mean, let me just state the simple fact. It's not the UAE nationals or the Bahraini nationals that are living amongst Israelis, it's the Palestinians. And unless you come to terms with what is soon to become a Palestinian majority in areas under Israel's control, unless you come to terms with that, peace is not going to come to the Middle East. Jordan, you know, on one hand, has good relations, excellent relationships with Bahrain and the UAE.

And on the other hand, it understands well that the consequences of these agreements might work to its disadvantage and that explains Jordan's muted response, if you will. It was a very bland response. It did not celebrate the agreement; it did not condemn them. But the real reason and the real factor here is, as I said, Jordan looks with great concern of the death of the two-state solution and what repercussions that will have on its own security.

AMOS: Martin, let me ask you, so this is moving quickly. It's possible that the Saudis will sign on. And I just wondered if you thought that because these relations are opening, because there may be flights, because, you know, Israelis will be happy to be flying through Dubai, that it does somehow, you know, put the Palestinians on the back burner. I mean, the UAE says, well, we've put off annexation, not forever, but for a while. How do you think this plays against the ideas that Rabin had about how to settle this conflict?

INDYK: Well, as Itamar said, Rabin was all in favor of normalization. And was certainly pushing it as hard as he could, and he had considerable success with it. But it was a normalization that was lubricated by the moves that he made on the Palestinian front. What we have now is normalization in the absence of any progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And that is a product of several factors. One, I think is important to recognize is that the Arab states essentially have been waiting for eighteen years for the Palestinians and Israelis to do something. The Arab Peace Initiative, as Marwan knows, goes back to 2002. And they now have other problems, in particular, the UAE and Bahrain are concerned about Iran and Turkey. And they have a common interest with Israel in dealing with that threat. And so they're putting their own national interests above the Arab interest, if you like, in the Palestinian interest.

So I think that the first thing that should happen, and may happen, is that the Palestinians themselves need to come to terms with the dramatic change in their circumstances. And they need to reassess and need to have a process of reassessment to figure out how they can turn normalization from something that was being held back to something that's being used to advance their interests. And that actually happened with the UAE. The UAE's deal was no annexation for normalization. It was very clear cut and Israelis understand that.

And the Saudis, if they come, the Palestinians should be talking to the Saudis now about what their conditions will be. And there are a whole range of things that the Saudis could insist upon, that Israel could do, justified in terms of concessions to the Saudis rather than to the Palestinians. But nevertheless, stopping demolition, stopping settlement expansion, allowing Palestinians to build in areas that are under Israeli control, etcetera. All of those things could change the dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians. At the same time, as Israelis feel that they can breathe more, that they're no longer under siege, that they are accepted by their neighbors, and I do believe, you've lived there Deborah, you know, that that will have an impact on Israelis.

The sense of a greater security that can lead under new leadership in Israel to a greater sense of generosity towards the Palestinians and why that's so essential. And that's coming back to Rabin's legacy, what he understood, is Israel holds all the cards. Israel holds the territory. Israel by respecting the Palestinians, giving them an ability to rule themselves in freedom and independence, is the way to resolve this conflict.

AMOS: We have 166 participants in this call, and so I'm going to open it up for them to ask questions. And I'm going to turn it over to my colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations to choose who is our first question.

STAFF: We'll take the first question from Robert Lifton.

Q: Hi, it's good to see you all again. I'd like to talk about one legacy of the assassination and that is the assassination itself. Shortly before Arafat's failed meaning with Ehud Barak, we had a luncheon with him in which he made clear his personal physical fear of giving up a right of return. And the basis of that, I wrote a letter to my constituents saying that I thought the meeting with a with Ehud Barak would fail, which indeed it did. At a meeting with Hafez al-Assad, he told us a story about how Anwar Sadat came to him to join with him, but that he thought it was too dangerous, actually putting his finger to his head indicating being shot in the head and suggested that he was at fear of assassination, too, if he made a deal with Israel without solving all of the right of return issues for the Palestinians. I wonder if you think any of this kind of thing influences people, like Abbas or any of the Palestinian leadership, or anybody else in this process?

AMOS: Your mics are open, any one of you can answer.

RABINOVICH: Yes, I think—hi, Robert, this is Itamar. I guess I think, let's put it this way, leaders in the Middle East and in other places when they make such concessions have to think about potential assassination. Yitzhak Shamir's nickname, our former prime minister, was "Michael," in the underground, after Michael Collins, the Irish leader who was assassinated. Leaders do or politicians do think about that, but it doesn't have to be the prevailing consideration.

People mistakenly think that Sadat was killed because he made peace with Israel—that is wrong. He was killed because to the jihadis, he was seen as a pagan ruler in Egypt. Making peace with Israel didn't help but was not the reason. King Abdullah was killed because of his relationship with Israel. But on the whole, given the level of violence, and in our region, the number of leaders who were killed because of making peace with the enemy is quite small.

AMOS: Anyone else? Okay, let's go on to another question.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Ron Shelp.

Q: Yes, thank you. I'm an author and a frustrated documentary filmmaker. Just out of curiosity, if President Rabin had lived, what do you think the odds are that a two-state solution could have come about? And that's for any of you to answer or all of you.

INDYK: Well, I'll jump in. But I know everybody has a view on this. It's the big question, the big counterfactual. And of course, it's all conjecture. I think that, first of all, Rabin would have had to win the election that was looming, I think, it within twelve months. And that bar was by no means a certainty, because the terrorist attacks that were accompanying his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, these were terrorist attacks coming from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, these Islamist terrorist organizations that were opposing the peace process, that those terrorist attacks were really harming the cause of peace.

And Netanyahu, of course, after the assassination when he ran against Peres, and defeated him, made a big deal in his campaign, of course, of the terrorist attacks. So I think that's the first question that would have to be resolved, but it's not impossible that Rabin would have won. The number of people that came out to rally in support of him on the night that he was assassinated was truly surprising to him. And to me, too, at the time. And so there was clearly still a strong sentiment for peace. He would have had to get Arafat to crack down on the terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. Arafat was reluctant to do so. But he had started to move in that direction.

And here I think is the critical thing, Rabin and Arafat had built a relationship of trust. And Arafat came to believe that Rabin had his interests in mind in a way that I don't think he felt any other Israeli leader that came after Rabin, with the possible exception of Peres, but Peres was only around as prime minister for about seven months. But certainly not Netanyahu, and certainly not Barak. He thought they were out to screw him. And he didn't have a lot of incentive, therefore, to do their bidding.

With Rabin, it was very different and that speech that I described, that Rabin made in Arafat's presence, followed a speech that Arafat made, which was also very different to his usual calls for justice and Palestinian rights to the point where Rabin actually said, you know, “Mr. Chairman, we Jews are famous for only one sport and that's speechmaking. It seems to be that you must be a little Jewish.” And that, I thought, captured the nature of the relationship that had developed between them. And that I think was critical to whether if Rabin had been reelected, he would have been able to get Arafat to do what he needed to do.

Finally, Rabin had a special status amongst Israelis because he was "Mr. Security," precisely because he been such a hawk, such a warrior, such a war hero. They believed in him. And I think that he, much more than any of the leaders that came after him, was capable of convincing the Israeli public of the calculated risks, is what he called them, they would have to take in order to resolve this conflict once and for all. So bottom line is, we can’t, of course, know, but I think it's plausible that Rabin would have been able to achieve something that none of his successes have been able to do.

AMOS: Itamar or—

MUASHER: I'd have to agree with Martin. I mean, yes, Rabin faced a difficult three election challenge in 1996. But I think that, you know, I mean, Peres came within point 5 percent of winning the election, and Rabin would have probably would have won the election. Let's remember that the Oslo process was supposed to end in May 1999. If Rabin had survived and won the election it would have been well within his second term. And I think that there is a good chance, a very good chance, that it would have ended with a resolution.

The problem with the Oslo process, of course, one of the main problems is settlement activity. When Oslo was signed in 1993, Oslo I, the number of settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem was two hundred fifty thousand. They were still manageable in 1999, but today, they are close to seven hundred thousand people. Today, the demographics alone make it very difficult for a two-state solution to emerge. But in 1999, it would have been possible.

AMOS: Itamar?

RABINOVICH: Yes. And let me take advantage of the fact that Marwan Muasher is with us and bringing the Jordanian angle. Martin made reference before to Rabin's speech and Arafat's speech at the Corcoran Museum after the signing of Oslo II. Rabin did speak there of a Palestinian independent entity, but he also spoke about, in not very clear terms, about the need to have some formulation—Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian—that could have facilitated the solution of the problem. And because if you bring a third partner in, you increase the pie, you make it easier.

But you also you can consider Jordan's interest. Jordan has a very significant and very justified interest in the future of a Palestinian entity. And any entity that would have emerged as a result of Rabin's negotiation with Arafat, in his own eyes could not have threatened Jordan in any way. So it never happened. The trilateral—Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian—is not very active now. But at the time on Rabin's mind, maybe not in a fully-fledged way, but this as in a nebulous way, was an important consideration.

INDYK: I think there's one other thing, Deborah, I want to add if I could, that Rabin has stood for. His approach was very much a step-by-step approach, a gradualist approach. He called it "phase by phase." The Oslo Accords did not define what the outcome would be. It never mentioned a Palestinian state, or Jerusalem, or refugees, or as Marwan knows, settlements. It didn't define the outcome because he knew that the outcome that he was at that point ready to support, Arafat could not accept.

And the outcome that Arafat wanted, he could not accept. So for him, it was about a process of coming to terms of learning to live with each other, of trying to build trust in each other in a way that would make these issues easier to deal with in the end. So I actually think that if he had survived, they wouldn't have made the final deal in the timeframe of Oslo in the five years. He would have put it off and Arafat would have agreed to it, too, because Arafat wasn't ready for those compromises that Robert Lifton referred to that would have been, for him, life threatening or at least he thought.

So, I think that, you know, to redefine the question in a way, it's not that they would necessarily have been a final agreement between Rabin and Arafat had he lived, but that there would have been a meaningful process moving towards a final agreement that would have, I think, had much greater chance of resolving the conflict of a time, than the efforts that his successors, particularly Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, when they tried to get a final agreement and could not do so.

AMOS: Thank you. And who knows, maybe the UAE would have come in back then. Can we have the next question, please?

STAFF: Sure. And as a reminder, to ask a question, please click on the “raise hand” icon on your Zoom window. We'll take the next question from Hani Findakly.

Q: Hello?

AMOS: Hello, Hani.

Q: Yes. Hi. Hello, Marwan. Hello, Martin. Nice to see you here virtually. As you know, I’m not focused so much on the parochial political issues, but I am focused on the economic issues. And I wanted to get your reaction to what I see over the medium and long term. The Arab population today is about four hundred million people. My own prediction is that they will double in the next 30 to 40 years and they will double again, there will be about a billion and a half Arabs, give or take, by the end of the century. And there's a huge social, political, and obviously economic implication, there's going to have to be a need to pay somewhere in the range of about $600 to $800 billion over the course of the next 70-80 years.

And there is nothing, no government today, that is capable and has plans and has ideas about how to go about doing that. We talk about the countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, today, Apple computers will release its earnings report. Last year it earned two hundred sixty billion U.S. dollars. That's the revenue for the company. It's roughly equal to about eight times the entire earnings from oil of the country like the UAE. And it's about three times, four times the size of earnings that Arabia has of oil. So looking over the long term, what do you see given the whole new changing dynamics for the Arab world and the way governments and society is going to deal with this issue and how this Palestinian-Israeli conflict fit within that context.

AMOS: That's some interesting data. Marwan, you want to take this?

MUASHER: Well, the Arab world today—Hani, first, it's good to hear your voice, it's been a while. The Arab world is undergoing a huge transformation in political and economic terms, societal terms as well. They oil era is over, Hani, as you know. It started in 2014 with the decline in oil prices below a hundred dollars a barrel. It was deepened with COVID-19 and basically collapsed of the rentier period in the Arab world. They Arab world lost the traditional tools it used to have to keep social peace. The economic tools of, you know, brought about by oil, and the fear of security, which was broken in 2011 by people going to the street and protesting against the lack of good governance.

Unfortunately, as you said, most Arab governments today, if they understand that the old tools are gone, are not ready to employ new tools that, you know, move towards inclusive decision-making, that has a new education system that emphasizes critical thinking, and prepares people for the complexities of today's world that has a new economic system that moves away from the rentierism and more towards productive economies. All of these are issues that require a fundamental shift in the mindset of most governments, if not all, in the Arab world. And unfortunately, such a mindset is not there.

The Arab world, maybe with the exception of Tunisia, has not yet been able to understand that the world has changed. And the tools of the twentieth century cannot work for the challenges of the twenty-first century. So we are in this interim period where the old Arab order has died. But a new order is having great difficulty being born because the status quo forces in the Arab world, basically most Arab governments, remain resilient to any change that would have them share their power, not lose it, but share their power with the populace. There remains a great resilience to that. And I'm afraid that this resistance to change is not going to bode well for the future.

AMOS: Itamar?

RABINOVICH: Deborah, should I comment? Okay. In fact, in the normalization with the Emirates, and to some extent with Bahrain, there is an element of that. I think, you know, without Israel of course is, at the end of the day, a small country but it has highly developed technology, electronic, computers, biomed, and so forth. And I think that the Emiratis see a potential of using the relationship in Israel, you know, to expand and develop their own economy and we see in a surprising volume of business already taking shape in both directions—delegations from Israel going there and delegations from the Emirates coming to Israel trying to buy assets in Israel and so forth. And I think this helps to explain the breakthrough, but of course, Israel can do so much. I mean, larger actors than Israel—the United States, European Union and so forth—should be bought as to a transformation.

But, you know, the Arab world should look at the Asia—look at the Asian tigers. Look at where Egypt was in the early 1950s and where Korea was after the Korean War and where Korea is today and where Egypt is today. Many of these countries in Asia—Muslim countries—they've done very well. But this is something that has to come from within the Arab world. The Arab Human Development Report that was published by the UN early in this decade is an indication that there are people in the Arab world who are aware of it are capable of identifying the problem and of drawing a map. And so Israelis or Americans or Europeans can be partners, but I think, as Marwan suggested himself, the impetus should come from within.

AMOS: Martin, I wondered if how much we should account for instability in the big Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt—because of the economy and because of the leadership in both of those places. You know, so far, the Saudis are on a path to revamping their economy. But, you know, the political decisions made by the leadership there put some of that at risk. Is that more of a problem than peace with the Palestinians?

INDYK: Definitely, I think the Saudis under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, very much see their priorities as focused on development and modernization of their society. So, unfortunately, he also engaged in all manner of adventures abroad that’s distracting them from that. But I do think that that is a very big experiment dragging Saudi society into the twenty-first century, very necessary for all the reasons that Hani laid out and highly consequential. Because if Mohammed bin Salman succeeds at that, it will have a profound impact or kind of ripple effect across the Arab world. And if he fails, it'll also be profoundly negative.

And so I just wish that he would focus on this challenge and leave all these other egregious actions on his path behind. Having said that, I think, you know, we can we can talk about the challenges of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and you’re right because they're the biggest, the most consequential, but we've got failed states in Libya, in Syria, a failing state in Lebanon, and a struggling state in Iraq, a terrible war in Yemen that's causing great humanitarian crisis. Now all of those problems are going to have to be dealt with as well. And there, you know, unfortunately, it’s going in the wrong direction. And so I think that there will continue to be huge, huge problems in the region that don't lend themselves to easy fixes and that don’t depend on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That is a problem for Israel and the Palestinians, primarily, and really, for Israel. And Israel has such a huge potential to participate in the development of the Middle East, and has so much to offer, but is unable to resolve the problem it has with the Palestinians. It's always going to be handicapped, not so much politically anymore, but in terms of, you know, the problem that the failure to solve that will present to Israel's own society and its stability over time.

AMOS: We have time for one more question. I'm going to ask my colleagues to give us one more and then we will wrap up this wonderful hour.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Judith Miller.

Q: Hi, so good to see you all. I guess, you know, such interesting points, but here's my question about the Rabin legacy. You talked about how tough he was, Martin, how “Mr. Security”—Itamar, you did the same thing. But when I went last year to see Yigal Amir's shrine, gravesite, it suddenly reminds one of how Israel itself has changed dramatically. And is the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin, in what would Yitzhak Rabin have made of the power today of the settlers’ movement? And is anything in that legacy possibly relevant today to the modern Israeli state we know? And finally, how would Yitzhak Rabin have handled the Iranian challenge both nuclear and its regional ambitions? What would he have done given “Mr. Security's” outlook?

AMOS: Thanks for the last one. But let's start with Itamar and see if we can wrap up on time after that question. Thank you.

RABINOVICH: Okay, let me do two briefly. One is with regard to the settlers. Twenty years before the assassination in the mid-1970s when Henry Kissinger was coming to Israel to negotiate the agreements of that period and the settlers were demonstrating against him in a very vile language, Rabin denounced them as a cancer in the body of the nation. And he was very powerful in that regard. And he identified early on the potential dangers that a fanatical movement had.

Second with regard to Iran, I think Rabin was a very smart analyst. He knew Israel's capabilities and the limits of Israel's capabilities. Iran, you know, is too much for Israel alone. He would have understood that the solution to the problem needs to be international, that Israeli alone cannot cope with the potential of this hundred million people nation with the science and money in research and everything that Iran has. And he would have tried to, I think, foster an international approach, not a unilateral Israeli effort to solve the issue of the Iranian nuclear.

AMOS: Marwan?

MUASHER: I will say one thing. If Rabin was alive today, he would look with great horror at the death of the two-state solution. The death of the two-state solution, and I maintain that it is that, is going to change the focus of the conflict from the shape of a solution to a rights-based approach. If the Palestinians cannot have a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, the next best thing they will ask for is equal political rights within the area that they live in.

And the international community is not going to be able to indefinitely say to the Palestinians, no to a state and no to equal rights. That means yes to apartheid. And no country in the world, including the United States, can tolerate, you know, condone apartheid indefinitely. That is what Rabin would have worked against. He understood the need for separation. He understood the need for Palestinians to rule themselves because the alternative is not going to be good for the state of Israel.

AMOS: Martin, you get one minute but the last word.

INDYK: Marwan and Itamar said it all very well. I think, but unlike Marwan, I don't believe that two-state solution is dead or rather, given that it's the Holy Land, that it's dead but not buried and will soon be resurrected because none of the other solutions, including the one that he referred to, are solutions. They are just recipes for continuation of the conflict. So Rabin's legacy of peace with the Palestinians is something that will have to happen sooner or later. And it will be based on precisely, as Marwan just said, on separation into two independent entities—an Israeli state, Jewish state, living alongside a Palestinian, he said entity, a Palestinian state, that in which the Palestinians rule themselves and Israel will have separated from them, not out of hatred, but out of respect. It's not too late to redeem that legacy, and I believe it will be redeemed. That's not in our time, but sooner or later.

AMOS: Martin, thank you very much for ending with essentially what Rabin been would say if he was with us twenty-five years later. Thank you, Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you everybody who joined us. Thank you, gentlemen. It was illuminating and it's lovely to see all of you.

RABINOVICH: Thank you.

AMOS: Nevertheless.

INDYK: Thank you.                

(END.)

Top Stories on CFR

Human Rights

The United States can only promote human rights abroad if it begins from a position of humility, acknowledging that the struggle to make America a more perfect union is ongoing.

Middle East and North Africa

The kafala system regulates the lives of tens of millions of migrant laborers in the Middle East, but growing outrage over human rights abuses, racism, and gender discrimination has fueled calls for reform.

Europe and Eurasia

Azerbaijan’s success in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh means Putin’s peace deal is likely to last. It also rules out further diplomacy.