This week Israel marked the 17th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. At various events, there were speakers who recalled their personal relationship with the late prime minister in order to determine what his legacy was.
But Rabin actually detailed how he envisioned the future borders of the State of Israel, in his last Knesset address, which was delivered exactly one month before he was killed. Looking back and reading the speech is an eerie exercise, for although he had no idea what would happen to him in a few weeks, he nonetheless appeared to be leaving a political will to the citizens of Israel.
The actual date of Rabin’s speech was Oct. 5, 1995. The prime minister was presenting the Oslo II Interim Agreement for ratification by the Knesset. The first Oslo Agreement that was signed on the White House lawn on Sept. 13, 1993. It was followed by the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in 1994. The Oslo II Interim Agreement applied to all the cities and major villages in the rest of the West Bank.
Oslo was only an interim agreement. But to get it approved, Rabin felt he had to lay out his ultimate vision of where he saw his negotiations with the Palestinians leading. Rabin firmly declared: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the June, 4 1967 lines.” He never stipulated that Israel would have to pay for territory it would ultimately retain with “land swaps.”
He also spoke about Israel retaining the settlement blocs, modeling them on Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. Of course he did not know that ten years later, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would dismantle Gush Katif along with all the settlements in Gaza. Nevertheless the idea of settlement blocs was very much part of his thinking: “Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line,’ prior to the Six-Day War.”
One of the striking features of Rabin’s map was what he said about the Jordan Valley: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” By saying the “broadest meaning of that term,” he understood that Israel’s defense line had to include the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge, which rose from an area near the Dead Sea which was 400 meters below sea level to hill tops that in one case reached a height of over 800 meters.
This steep 1200 foot topographical barrier was Rabin’s defense line. What needs to be recalled is that Rabin outlined these Israeli security needs even though his government had signed the Oslo Agreement two years earlier and even added the peace treaty with Jordan a year later. Seventeen years before the Arab Spring, what Rabin implicitly understood is that political conditions in the Arab world can change and that Israeli security cannot be based on a snapshot of the situation in 1995.
When Rabin began detailing his map he began with what meant most to him: “First and foremost a united Jerusalem … as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty.” In 1994, he concluded the “Washington Declaration” with King Hussein, which stated that Israel “respects the present role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the Muslim Holy Shrines in Jerusalem.” It added that “when negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.”
There are many who debate what exactly Rabin’s legacy was. There are people who can point to private conversations they had with him to back their version of what he stood for. But Rabin’s last Knesset speech cannot be ignored as the most authoritative source of how he envisioned Israel’s future borders. The principles outlined in his plan, moreover, have not lost their relevance for Israel 17 years later.