Jerusalem Report

A pity we didn’t listen

The former South African president wanted good ties with Israel, dependent on freedom for the Palestinians.

Ehud Barak and Nelson Mandela at the prime minister’s offices in Jerusalem, 1999
Photo by: REUTERS
In the summer of 1992, a few months after Yitzhak Rabin’s election victory, I was appointed ambassador to South Africa. Just four days after my arrival the phone rang at six o’clock in the morning. It was Nelson Mandela himself on the line. Nearly three years out of prison, he was preparing for office in the long run-up to South Africa’s first fully democratic election. “I hear Israel is changing its policy,” he said. “Let’s talk.”

In that same week the Rabin government had abrogated the law prohibiting meetings with PLO officials and, after months of secret negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles.



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