Yitzhak Benhorin
October 22, 2010 - 12:00am

Aaron David Miller, who served as an advisor on Mideast peace to six US secretaries of state in the 1990s, worked extensively with slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Now, on the 15th anniversary of his assassination, Miller says he believes Rabin could have changed history if he had been allowed to live.

"If I had the power to turn back the clock and alter the course of history I would change two things," he told Ynet. "The two things that altered the course of history were the murder of Yitzhak Rabin and the defeat in November 1992 of Bush and the end of Jim Baker's career as secretary of state."

Miller added, "If I could change these two things, you and I would be having a different conversation. All of the despair and exasperation, the hopelessness that now seems to characterize the Arab-Israeli peace process would have been gone and we would have had one agreement: Either between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or Israel and Syria."

If Rabin had lived, he, Bush, and Baker "would have been able to persuade, induce, pressure, but ultimately attract Arafat on one hand or Assad on the other to an agreement".

The Jewish 62-year old served as the State Department's Middle East advisor from 1978-2003, and in the '90s was Dennis Ross's special envoy to the peace talks. He is thus familiar with statesmen and policies involved in the process in the past few decades.

One of Miller's first memories from Yitzhak Rabin is from a Passover eve feast he attended in Israel in 1974, where he also discovered the prime minister's unique, no-nonsense character.

"I'll never forget, the first conversation I had with Rabin was at a Passover Seder in 1974," he recounted. "I remember Rabin asked me what I thought about Sadat and the Egyptian initiative, and I went into this long analysis, but he waved me off and said, 'With all due respect, you don't live here. Don't tell me what it's like to live in my neighborhood.' So this was not a man who suffered fools."

The cautious engineer
Later, Miller grew to know Rabin better. "I remember a conversation in Washington in 1993," he said. "Rabin used to love to gather his analysts and the American analysts – Dennis, Sam Lewis, myself, and Dan Kurtzer. Rabin loved to have conversations, not with his counterparts, but with analysts."

"Rabin argued essentially that it would be impossible for the government of Israel to make peace with un-empowered West Bankers, and impossible for Israel to make peace using the Jordanian option. They tried, and it's not going to work. Rabin said it was important to make peace because of the Iranian threat and Islamic fundamentalism emerging," Miller said.

"Sam Lewis (US ambassador to Israel at the time of the peace agreement with Egypt) asked him flat out, 'Mr. Prime Minister, if the West Bankers are not options, and the king of Jordan is not an option, though he may have the incentive, because they’re to weak, then who do you negotiate with?' And he puffed on his cigarette and Sam said, 'That only leaves the PLO.'

"And it was so fundamentally clear to everyone in that room from Rabin's body language that this is where he was headed," he recounted.

Though people tend to idealize assassinated leaders, Miller says he truly believes Rabin had all of the tools necessary to sign a peace deal with either Syria or the Palestinians, but not both.

"Both would have been a bridge too far, and Rabin understood that. He was, as Amos Oz described him, the cautious engineer. Part of the key to his success was that he was short on sentimentality and long on analysis," Miller said.

Clinton and Rabin: Too close?
Rabin may have had a special relationship with former President Bill Clinton, who succeeded George Bush in 1992, but Miller does not believe this relationship helped promote the peace talks going on at the time.

"It was a remarkable relationship," he said. "Clinton wrote in his memoirs: I loved Rabin as I had loved no man. But what American president says something like that?"

Miller added, "If you ask me, this was a problem more on our side than on Israel's side. Rabin used to say – you have to push me. I need to be pushed. He never admitted it publicly, but that's what he used to say. And the reality was that we got too close to Israel's interests and sensitivities… You need a degree of balance."

The process required a secretary of state who could be as tough as Baker, Miller said. "Rabin was tougher than Clinton, and Clinton needed to be as tough as Baker, not just on the Israelis, but on the Palestinians too," he explained.

But Miller also says a deal with Syria appealed to Rabin more than a deal with the Palestinians. "It was much simpler to do, and the chances of getting that deal were very high," he said.

Between Rabin and Assad, he explained, "We saw a dress rehearsal, a first act in the play. There was a real opportunity between Israel and Syria, but once Rabin had satisfied himself that Assad would not take the 'pocket offer' then he cast his lot with the Palestinian partner, which then made the chance of an agreement with the Syrians virtually impossible."

Miller also believes Rabin's replacements made mistakes the former would not have made. "Rabin would never have gone to Camp David, because he would have known that the idea of a conflict-ending agreement in July of 200 between an Israeli prime minister and Yasser Arafat, on the core issues, was unattainable," he said.

"That summit should never have been set up as a make or break moment," Miller added, because Ehud Barak and the US "had no strategy, and we didn't know what we were doing".


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