Clinton: Abbas ‘made clear’ he would accept peace terms

Former US president offers new insights at NY ceremony marking Rabin anniversary, recalls trust inspired by slain prime minister.

Bill Clinton kind of smiling 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Bill Clinton kind of smiling 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
NEW YORK – In a ceremony on Thursday at New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to mark the yahrzeit of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, President Bill Clinton called the day Rabin was shot one of the saddest of his life.
In Clinton’s remarks at the ceremony, which ranged from musings on the prospects for peace in the Middle East to his own personal memories of Rabin, the former president said he thought of Rabin “at the strangest moments,” including on the day of his daughter Chelsea’s marriage to Marc Mezvinsky this past July.
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Just before the wedding ceremony began, Clinton recalled, “I imagined having a conversation with Yitzhak about my about-to-be Jewish son-in-law, and him saying, ‘Well, you finally got something right.’” In his speech, Clinton alluded to an opinion piece he wrote that ran in Thursday’s New York Times, in which he said that if Rabin could speak to the world today, “he would ask us to remember him not by mourning what might have been, but by looking clearly at the opportunities and obstacles to peace and getting on with the work at hand.”
Clinton wrote in the Times that there was a “real chance to finish the work [Rabin] started.”
“Because of the terms accepted in late 2000 by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, supported in greater detail by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and approved by [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians, everyone knows what a final agreement would look like,” he continued.
In his talk at the Intrepid, Clinton elaborated on the point.
“I made an offer, which Barak accepted,” he said. “Arafat never did until we’d been gone a year and a half, at which point there was no government that would give it to him.”
After that, Clinton said, “the Israelis and the Palestinians went off to Switzerland.”
It was in that context, Clinton said, that “Abbas made it clear that it was more or less what he’d be prepared to accept.”
Alluding to the trust Rabin inspired, Clinton told a story of a signing ceremony between Arafat and Rabin confirming a transfer of parts of the West Bank. There were nine huge maps, Clinton said, “and every little crossroads was marked – this would be Israel, this would belong to the Palestinian Authority, and on and on and on.”
Clinton had to leave to take a phone call, he recounted, and returned only to find Rabin telling him, “We have a real problem. There’s a big dispute on page five, on a crossroads of immense significance – the map says it is ours, but Arafat says we agreed to give it to him.”
Clinton said he had told Rabin and Arafat, “This is your deal – you might as well start working together right now,” and left the room. Ten minutes later, he recounted, they had resolved it.
“Rabin said, Arafat was right about that – we did agree to give it to them, and the map was wrong,” Clinton recalled. “We’re going to sign the document, of course, and then I’ll give it to them.”
Arafat, Clinton said, “was so in thrall to him, and trusted him so much, he put his name on an internationally binding document giving up what Rabin agreed he should have gotten, because he knew [Rabin’s] word was good,” Clinton said. “Can you imagine anything like that happening today?” Besides being eminently trustworthy, Clinton said, he called Rabin “a person of the 21st century, for all of his old-fashioned habits.”
“He understood instinctively that the ties that bound the Israelis and Palestinians were both a microcosm and a metaphor for the way the world is in the 21st century. It is very difficult for us to escape one another,” Clinton said.
“History will bear Rabin out,” he declared regarding the former prime minister’s vision of peace in the Middle East. “The only question is whether it will bear him out by showing the terrible consequences of not following his path, or the bright future of doing so.”
Prior to Clinton’s remarks, Rabin’s daughter Dalia Rabin- Pelosoff delivered a tribute to her father.
“We very well know that the long journey my father embarked upon did not end that terrible night,” Rabin-Pelosoff said. “He left a legacy of integrity, purpose, determination and courage.”
Following their remarks, Clinton and Rabin-Pelosoff dropped a wreath into the Hudson River in remembrance of the late prime minister.
Clinton had also spoken warmly of Rabin during an off-the-record address to the Washington-based Middle East Institute Wednesday night, according to participants.
One participant in the event also said that the former president backed away from recent statements in which he said Russian immigrants posed an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem,” Clinton was quoted by Foreign Policy as telling reporters in September.
“They’ve just got there, it’s their country, they’ve made a commitment to the future there,” Clinton continued. “They can’t imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it.”
According to the participant at the MEI dinner, Clinton said his comments had been misunderstood and that he wasn’t trying to paint Russian immigrants as an obstacle to peace, but to explain their differing perspective from native Israelis since they came from such a large country and were concerned about any reduction in Israel’s size.
Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.