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Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin – the odd couple


Who should get the glory for the Oslo Accords?
Uri Avnery Social activist
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So I'll continue now with the story about Rabin. After Rabin came to the conclusion that there was no point boycotting the PLO – if they wanted to reach an agreement they must do it with the PLO – Beilin told him about the story that was unfolding in Oslo. I think he had even notified Peres who was Foreign Minister at the time as well as Rabin, and to this day it is still unclear who actually deserves the glory for Oslo: Beilin, Peres or Rabin. The truth is that it became important only once Rabin accepted responsibility. There was a German field marshal in World War I named [Paul] von Hindenburg who later became President of the Republic. He was the commander of the German army on the Russian front, and there was a huge battle, the Battle of Tannenberg, which the Germans won and which was, in fact, the decisive victory on the Eastern front. In Germany, at the time it was commonly known that his Chief of Staff, General Hoffmann, was actually the person who had come up with the ingenious plan that led to the German victory. Once, a journalist came to von Hindenburg and sarcastically asked him: 'Is it true, Field Marshal, that it was not really you who won the Battle of Tannenberg but rather General Hoffmann?' Von Hindenburg replied: 'That is very true, but had we lost, it would have been I who had lost'.

So I'm returning to the matter of Oslo. Oslo was Rabin's victory because it was Rabin who took responsibility and made the decision. One day I got a phone call: 'Shimon Peres wants to talk to you'. Shimon Peres? With me? Okay. I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Shimon Peres was Foreign Minister at the time, and still I knew nothing about Oslo. No, wait, now I'm a little bit confused − was it on the eve of the Oslo Accords or the next day? I think that it was on the eve of the Oslo Accords. I had to wait a few minutes for a Japanese delegation to leave, and then I went in to see the Foreign Minister wondering all the time what it was that he wanted. I had not talked with Shimon Peres except to say hello since we first met in 1953, when we both decided that we did not like each other. I was trying to figure out what he might want. Then he lectured me for an hour about how important it was to make peace with the Palestinians. I was sitting there, trying keep my face expressionless as though I was being convinced by him that we should make peace with the Palestinians. It was so crazy that it is hard to describe. At the end I said to him: 'I agree with you completely, that's a great idea, we need to enter into negotiations with them and make peace'. Then he said: 'Yes, but we have a problem with Rabin. He's the head of government and he is not in favour of this'. He was sort of hinting to me that I might also be able to contribute if I could convince Rabin about the Palestinian issue, and then we parted. What did he really want? I realised only later that he wanted to take credit for the Oslo affair which he had initiated and only at the last minute convinced Rabin to support it.

אז הסיפור של רבין, אני ממשיך. אחרי שהוא הגיע למסקנה שאין טעם להחרים את אש"ף ואם רוצים להגיע להסדר צריכים להגיע להסדר עם אש"ף, ואז ביילין הודיע לו על הסיפור שקורה באוסלו, אני חושב שהוא הודיע גם לפרס שהיה שר החוץ וגם לרבין, ועד היום יש את הריב מי בעצם הזוכה הגדול בתהילה של אוסלו – ביילין, פרס או רבין. האמת היא שזה הפך לחשוב, ברגע שרבין קיבל על עצמו את האחריות. היה מרשל גרמני במלחמת העולם הראשונה בשם פון הינדנבורג, שאח"כ היה נשיא המדינה, הוא היה מצביא של הצבא גרמני בחזית הרוסית, והיה קרב ענק בשם טננברג שהגרמנים ניצחו, ולמעשה זה היה הניצחון המכריע בחזית המזרחית. ובגרמניה נפוץ אז שראש המטה שלו, גנרל הופמן, הוא בעצם שעשה את התכנית הגאונית שהביאה לניצחון הגרמני. אז פעם בא עיתונאי לפון הינדנבורג, רצה לעקוץ אותו ושואל אותו: "האם זה נכון אדוני המרשל שבעצם לא אתה ניצחת בטננברג כי אם גנרל הופמן?" אז הינדנבורג אמר: "זה נכון מאוד, אבל אילו היינו מפסידים אני הייתי מפסיד”. אז אני חוזר לעניין של אוסלו. אוסלו זה היה של רבין, מפני שרבין קיבל את האחריות והוא קיבל את ההחלטה.  יום אחד מטלפן לי צבי אלפלג: "שמעון פרס רוצה לדבר אתך". שמעון פרס? אתי? או קיי. נסעתי למשרד החוץ, שמעון פרס היה אז שר החוץ, ועדיין לא ידעתי כלום על אוסלו. לא, רגע, עכשיו אני קצת מתבלבל, זה היה ערב אוסלו או למחרת אוסלו? אני חושב שזה ערב אוסלו. ואני מחכה כמה דקות שיוצאת משלחת יפנית, נכנס אל שר החוץ ואני כל הזמן תמה מה הוא רוצה? אני לא דיברתי עם שמעון פרס חוץ מלהגיד שלום מאז פגישתנו הראשונה ב-1953 כשהחלטנו שנינו שאנחנו לא אוהבים אחד את השני. ואני שברתי את הראש, מה הוא רוצה? ואז הוא נותן לי הרצאה, שעה – כמה חשוב לעשות שלום עם הפלסטינים. ואני יושב, לא מעוות את הפנים, וכאילו אני משתכנע ממנו שצריכים לעשות שלום עם הפלסטינים. זה כל כך מטורף היה שקשה לתאר. ובסוף אני אומר לו: "אני מסכים אתך לגמרי, זה רעיון מצויין, אנחנו צריכים לפתוח במו"מ אתם ולעשות שלום". ואז הוא אומר: "כן, אבל יש לנו בעייה עם רבין, רבין הוא ראש ממשלה והוא לא נוטה לזה". וכאילו רומז לי שאני גם יכול לתרום בזה שאני יכול לשכנע את רבין בעניין הפלסטיני, וכך נפרדנו. מה הוא רצה באמת? שאני הבנתי רק בדיעבד? לנכס לעצמו את עניין אוסלו, שהוא היוזם וברגע האחרון שכנע את רבין.‏


Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Battle of Tannenberg, Oslo Accords, Yitzhak Rabin, Yossi Beilin, Simon Peres

Duration: 4 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017