A SOLDIER FOR PEACE - YITZHAK RABIN
NOVEMBER 6, 1995
Following excerpts of a tribute by former chief of staff, Shimon Sheves, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to Sol Linowitz about Yitzhak Rabin.
SHIMON SHEVES, Rabin's Former Chief of Staff: (speaking through interpreter) I cannot accept the fact that a despicable hand, a murderous hand, a destructive and hateful hand, has ended your life's work, has tapped your strength, your faith. You were a fighter and a wondrous military man, a statesman and a leader. You epitomized the concepts of--thorny and rough outside, soft and gentle inside. You're a man where a magical combination could integrate both vision and a marvelous ability to implement it with determination and unusual talent. Only the knowledge that your way was right was leading you. You were a father, a grandfather. I was with you till the time when you were as hopeful, so hopeful that everything would come out all right. We all felt the great love and the rare connection you had with Dalia, Yuval, Noa, Yonakon, Mickey, Rachel, everybody. If you only knew what kind of admiration they are demonstrating to you--this wonderful family and us, your friends, admired you, considered you the greatest giant of all, the strong man who leads the camp, waving the flag, and all of us following you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: We talk now with an American who has known Yitzhak Rabin since he was ambassador to Washington nearly 30 years ago. Sol Linowitz, then U.S. ambassador to the OAS, subsequently served as special Mideast negotiator for President Carter. Thank you for being with us. How did you come to know Yitzhak Rabin?
SOL LINOWITZ, Former U.S. Mideast Negotiator: Well, as you've just said, I was ambassador to the Organization of American States when Amb. Rabin was representing his country here. We met on some occasion, and I had known him from one or two visits to Israel prior to that. And out of that, developed our relationship.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was he like under his tough exterior?
SOL LINOWITZ: He was a man who was laconic, shy, introspective, very private, brusque, not at all the time you would have described as precisely what you want in an ambassador, but starting with that, he developed considerable skill in diplomacy. And it was interesting to watch him move into the role and show those credentials which were required.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did you become close friends with him?
SOL LINOWITZ: Yes, I would say, though there are many who knew him far better than I did, but it took time, and it took a lot of knowing, and you had to wait for the invitation to get to be personally in the relationship of a friend with him.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was he--what were his parents like? Did he talk about his background?
SOL LINOWITZ: He did, but very briefly. He--as I say, before he got into those things, you had to know him quite a while or feel that you knew him well enough so that you could inquire. He spoke a lot about his mother who had been in politics, herself, and he said he got his inspiration from her. His father was in the trade--was involved with trade unions. He'd lived in the United States, I guess, for 12 years and then gone back. I gather that he didn't feel that he was as close to his father as he was to his mother.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: His shyness or his honesty, his brusqueness was one reason that the Israelis could trust his talking about peace, wasn't it, because they can trust--they believed what he said? He was not a politician trying to make people believe what wasn't true.
SOL LINOWITZ: Well, he was a military man, of course, and that loomed very large in their thinking. When you're dealing with the security of a country, you want to be sure that the person who makes the decisions affecting security is someone who is knowledgeable and able to deal with them very authoritatively. Certainly, Yitzhak Rabin was such a man. And when he had to deal with issues of military significance, the Israeli people were willing to take his judgment. This was his business, and he knew how to handle it well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In fact, are we in danger of losing this, and all the talk about his, his prowess as a peace maker, are we in danger, forgetting that his great prowess was really as a military person and, in fact, that he took very tough measures in the Intifada, for example, the uprising in the West Bank and in Gaza, that he took extremely tough measures?
SOL LINOWITZ: Yes. He was a soldier, first of all, and I think we always have to remember that. He did other things in addition, and showed he had the capacity for moving into other areas, but he was a soldier. He lived by a soldier's code. And when he was confronted with a situation, a military situation, he acted the way a soldier would. A soldier faced with the Intifada might very well say we've got to put down violence with violence. That was a response that came from Yitzhak Rabin.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Were you surprised, knowing him as you did, when he made the transition from being a warrior to being very much a proponent of the peace process?
SOL LINOWITZ: Not really, because I'd seen some signs of that, but what did surprise me was the, the subtlety and the eloquence of his move when he made it. He mellowed and peace became very important to him. He talked about peace incessantly, believed that it was achievable, thought that he had found a negotiating partner in Arafat, much to his surprise, because he had never thought that he would be able to shake hands with Arafat, as he eventually did, and so it was not that great a surprise to find him recognizing that war was no longer the way to get answers to problems in the Middle East, but peace, and he was going to pursue peace with the same courage and avidity as he had pursued war when necessary.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did he ever talk to you about a handshake, about how difficult it was to make the rapprochement with Arafat?
SOL LINOWITZ: It was really--the way he said something--it was afterwards. Apparently, he felt it was going to be difficult for him, and he had prepared him for it, had assumed it would take place, but he was reluctant. And I'm quite sure from something he said that if the President hadn't moved them together, the handshake might never have taken place.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For him, peace was really about security, wasn't it?
SOL LINOWITZ: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, it was very much about making Israel more secure.
SOL LINOWITZ: Yes. As a matter of fact, what motivated him in everything he did was security. I can't say that I believe that he would have pursued peace with that kind of spirit if he weren't sure that the security of Israel was at stake, and feeling that it was at stake, then he wanted to do everything necessary to avoid a war. And to--in no measure to give up anything which might endanger the security of the country, so he was looking for security.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But there were other elements too. He spoke, especially just in September when he was here, he spoke about believing that what people fought for when they fought for a Jewish state was not to have a state in which other people were subjugated. There was something more to it than security, wasn't there?
SOL LINOWITZ: Yes. He was talking--he was using biblical references actually when he made those statements. What he was saying is that America is not--I mean, Israel is not a country which believes in keeping people either imprisoned or in hostages--as hostages and so forth. So his, his whole attitude was, let's be true to ourselves, and being true to ourselves means that you give people a chance to live in freedom, and you try to convert what is otherwise a very difficult situation to one with which they can live the lives that are fulfilling and rewarding.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did he ever talk to you about the dangers that he saw from the right wing militants within Israel?
SOL LINOWITZ: A good deal. In recent months, particularly, he was very concerned. He felt that that was the major--a major if not the major problem besetting the Middle East. He thought that the violence, the terrorism which he thought were rampant could hit at any time, and he was terribly sure that unless we gave that the first kind of priority, that the situation would get worse. And he used to say that frequently.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: He's a person who actually expressed his doubts, isn't he? I mean, the doubt you could see on his face when he--both times he was in Washington, it was quite evident, the doubt.
SOL LINOWITZ: You know, it's very interesting you say that, because he was someone whose, whose face you could read sometimes better than you could read his words, because he didn't talk about these things; he showed how he felt about these things. He would give you an estimate of a person by the look on his face, and, and therefore, he did make clear that he was concerned and had his doubts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think his legacy will be?
SOL LINOWITZ: I think everybody's right that's been looking at this. It'll be the peace process. It'll be the fact that he finally had moved to the position where people dare to hope that peace will come and that Israel will be able to live securely in the Middle East. He put enough of a stamp on it with his name so that forever after, if peace does come, it will be Yitzhak Rabin who brought it to pass.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
SOL LINOWITZ: Thank you.