Ehud Barak may or may not be out of Israeli politics for good, but his recent resignation announcement reminded the Monitor of just how much the man had been willing to give up to Yasir Arafat at the tail end of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Barak – who shortly after Arafat spurned his offer was relieved of his job as prime minister by angry Israeli voters who turned to longtime political pariah Ariel Sharon – later took to claiming he never meant to give up all that territory; the whole thing, you see, was a clever ploy designed to discredit Arafat in the eyes of the world upon his inevitable rejection of such a generous deal.
Well, what else would you expect someone to say after his pliability at the negotiating table was met with an insulting rebuff from Arafat – who proceeded to launch the bloody Second Intifada – and an even more humiliating rejection by the Israeli electorate?
The repudiation was near total. Even Leah Rabin, widow of the assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, assailed Barak, whose policies she had supported up to that point.
“Yitzhak is certainly spinning in his grave,” Rabin told Yediot Aharanot in reference to Barak’s proposed concessions on Jerusalem. “Yitzhak would never have agreed to compromise on the Old City and the Temple Mount.”
And she wryly added, “I read that they [the Palestinians] are willing to give us sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter. I hear that maybe they will allow us to pray at the Western Wall. Tell me, is this believable?”
With the exception of a few wire service stories, the Rabin interview was met with a near total American media blackout. Nary a word was spoken on the subject on network newscasts, in the major and the not-so-major dailies and on the Sunday morning talk shows.
This wall of silence stood in stark contrast to the media excitement that greeted Rabin’s every critical utterance against Benjamin Netanyahu during his first go-round as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. In fact, from the time of her husband’s assassination in 1995 right up until her anti-Barak fusillade, Rabin was one of the most frequently quoted Israelis in the American media – a remarkable distinction for a woman who had never been elected or appointed to any government office.
But it was a different Leah Rabin who unburdened herself in the Yediot interview – and American media outlets suddenly weren’t interested.
“Yitzhak would never compromise on the Temple Mount, nor on the Old City,” she said. “This was taboo. He was born in Jerusalem. He fought in 1948 and saw the battle for the Old City. He saw it fall and its people go into captivity. How they left it divided. This was traumatic for him…. He did not overcome this trauma, and he never ceased being grateful that in 1967 he was the army chief of staff who liberated it.”
As Rabin reflected on the liberation of Jerusalem, she recalled an incident that left an enduring mark.
“I remember the day on which the paratroopers reached the Wall in the Six-Day War. We lived in Zahalah at the time. A Holocaust survivor lived across from me. Every few minutes she would knock on the door and ask, ‘Have we already reached the Wall? Has the army already reached the Wall?’ In the evening I left the house. The neighbor was standing at the corner. She took hold of my hand. ‘We were as dreamers,’ she said. ‘We were as dreamers.’ ”
At that point in the conversation Rabin began to weep. When her interviewer expressed surprise at the show of emotion from such a famously stoic woman, Rabin acknowledged her deep-seated feelings.
“Yes,” she said, “the moment was moving. ‘The Temple Mount is in our hands.’ Now they are trying to take it away from us? Occupied territory? Yitzhak always said we would not return all the occupied territories…. He would not give up the Old City and the Temple Mount.”