Leah Rabin: “We have to trust the idea of peace.”
“Arafat is a sincere partner, he has become our friend.”
“Israel, enough with the arrogance.”
Leah Rabin was the widow of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. She died in November 2000 aged 72. This interview was conducted in May 1999:-
Leah Rabin is a small woman, with jet-black hair, an aquiline nose and expressive eyes. Her charisma is revealed by her fast, intelligent, terribly present glance. When her husband Yitzhak Rabin died she became used to travelling the world alone, speaking about Israel, about peace, about her husband, about women.
How did your husband Yitzhak Rabin live?
For three years and a half my husband didn’t have a single free day. With one exception: on Sabbath he slept up to eight o’clock. The other days he was up by seven fifteen. Then he played tennis, and the rest of the morning he had meetings. There were so many people that came and went in our house, and they kept coming and going during the afternoon too.
Were you both together frequently, your husband and you?
When he was at home, yes. But from Sunday morning to Friday morning, I waited for him at home and he mostly kept to his office.
And now that he’s no longer with us, what do you do?
Above all, I’m invited to many places, either to commemorate him, or to speak about Israel or the troubles of contemporary women. Not a long time ago I was in Germany, where they dedicated a plaza to his memory. Recently I have also been in Israel a lot, because I’m collecting funds for the Memorial Center at Tel Aviv, which will be a museum and educational center dedicated to my husband. In order to collect these funds, I was also at the White House recently, meeting with the Clintons. I must say that we are very good friends with the Clintons. Bill is a great friend, and he also was great friends with my husband.
Mrs. Rabin, as a friend of the Clintons as a couple, what do you think about the Lewinsky affair?
It’s unfair. I dislike Attorney General Starr as a human being. Something like this would never have happened in Europe. When President Mitterrand came to Israel, I think that now I’m allowed to say it, he had two women with him, that stayed in different rooms in the hotel. In a certain sense, you can say that Clinton is a victim of the press and of our modern times. I would like to say that I am a big admirer of Hillary, and I know that it wasn’t easy, doing what she did. She’s a very strong woman, very intelligent, among the most intelligent I’ve met.
Do you still work in politics, Mrs. Rabin?
Certainly. I support General Barak. My goals are known. Unfortunately, when my husband was alive, I had a greater sense of what was real, what was true. Now I feel that I have lost some of that sense of reality and purpose, I feel a great void.
Do you have connections with Netanyahu?
None at all, I never see him.
Who, of your husband’s friends, do you see?
I’m surrounded by friends. I see them all the time. I take care of the house as if he were still there. I consider it his house, and when people go meet me, they must find the same atmosphere that reigned when he was alive. For certain parties and anniversaries, people come and I receive them as if my husband were there. Moreover, I live my life seeking for his approval. I only do things that I feel I would have done with him by my side. In a sense, it’s a way of keeping my dialogue with him alive.
So you frequent Arafat?
Every once in a while. Recently I was invited to an interview with him.
Do you consider him a friend?
Yes, very much. My husband considered him a sincere partner and esteemed him greatly. Shaking the hand of someone who used to be your enemy means that he’s no longer that, that you no longer hold him in suspicion.
And King Hussein?
We used to adore him. He irradiated warmth and sincerity. My husband had meetings with him, secret meetings, even before the formal peace negotiations began. My husband was always happy when he had seen him, and he told me so when he got home.
Do you think that one day there will be peace in Israel?
I hope so. We have a great need of it. The situation is no longer the same. Netanyahu argues that we’re in control of the situation, but that’s not true. The situation, as I have said, has changed. You cannot speak like Netanyahu, in a prepotent, brusque manner, if you really want peace. He is not tolerant and this is not good in any way; you need tolerance.
How is the situation today?
Not good. Think about the fact that my husband had reduced unemployment from a 12 to a 6 percent, and now it has already escalated to an 8 percent. Many small businesses are closing in Israel. There are fewer tourists, the emotions of the world regarding Israel have changed. It seems that no one believes firmly in peace any more. It seems that Israel can only trust itself, and this is a bad mistake.
What do you think about the Queen of Jordan that paid a visit to the prisoners of Kosovo?
She did well. She’s a very nice, very humble woman, and she made me think of Princess Diana. She made me think of her because of the grace with which she moves.
Did you know Princess Diana well?
When I saw her I told her that she was the one person that I wanted to meet. It was her lawyer, a Jewish man, that arranged for our meeting. When I went to her palace, with all the bodyguards that accompanied me, she was waiting at the door of her house, and she greeted the bodyguards with extreme kindness.
How is your family doing?
My daughter has always been the closest to me. Now we’re in a difficult moment, because she joined a political party that is different from her father’s, and this doesn’t make things easy between us.
And your granddaughter, Noa?
She’s studying, but I must say that between my generation and that of my children there’s not such a great difference, whereas between my daughter and my granddaughter the difference is enormous. I cannot understand the motives of the most young. They are spoiled, they think that everything is owed to them. It is a generation that has grown too detached from World War II and from our wars of independence.
Do you know the Pope?
Yes. He’s a very intelligent man. He is a very modern Pope. When we went to meet him, after my husband’s death, he said something of the utmost importance about Jerusalem: “Jerusalem has a double meaning. It is the capital of Israel, and also the capital of three faiths.”
May 16, 1999