From 1992 to 1994, I served as political adviser to the late Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In that capacity, I was sent to brief the King of Morocco, Hassan II, on Israel’s positions on the peace talks in 1993 with PLO leader Yasser Arafat, after a bitter crisis over security responsibilities in the Judea, Samaria and Gaza territories.
In view of the renewal of relations between Israel and Morocco, it is important to recall the 1993 encounter with the king, and to take note of his attitude towards Arafat and the Palestinian issue. The following appears in the book, Between Rabin and Arafat, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs in 2016.
On Dec. 15, 1993, while Rabin was touring Gaza, Military Secretary Danny Yatom called me from the front and informed me that I was supposed to travel the next day with Knesset member Rafi Edry to Morocco–and possibly to Tunis–in order to enlist the support of the King of Morocco and the president of Tunisia in the Israeli position in the negotiations with the PLO.
The meeting with the king took place on Dec. 18, 1993 at his Rabat palace. The king received us cordially in his grand chamber, and the conversation lasted about an hour– that is, 20 minutes beyond its allotted time. The meeting was also attended by General Qadiri and Morocco’s foreign minister, Abd al-Latif Filali. The conversation flowed, mostly in French and a bit of Arabic.
MK Edry opened the conversation by giving the king Rabin’s blessing and explaining that we had been dispatched to update His Majesty on the latest developments in negotiations with the PLO. He noted that the Israeli prime minister regularly briefs world leaders, especially U.S. President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, French President Francois Mitterrand and him.
King Hassan II said, “Let me tell you first all I know. I met yesterday [Dec. 17, 1993] with Mahmoud Abbas and told him that I was going to meet MK Edri and Dr. Neriah tomorrow. Abbas expressed warm words about Neriah and said he was a serious interlocutor. In truth, the Palestinians are frustrated with Arafat’s positions. Mahmoud Abbas said to me: ‘The Israelis are right, and we are wrong. Arafat tries to speak from a position that holds that this is a ‘Palestinian state,’ while we, those close to him, explicitly tell him that this is only a transitional phase. The main problem, as far as I can tell, is the crossings, and in this matter, you could say that the Israelis are right. Whoever controls the crossings controls security. Whoever enters through a crossing, it is as if crossing in Tel Aviv.’”
The king said that Abbas had told him that he had been staying aloof for some time, and that he had told Arafat that he would be willing to go to Oslo to negotiate with the Israelis only if Arafat gave him full authority. The king related that a day earlier, Abbas told him that he had received permission from Arafat, and he asked the king for a special plane for his mission.
“I agreed to give him a plane as far as Frankfurt or Paris,” King Hassan told us. “I want to help the Palestinians, but I don’t want to take a negotiating position. … We’ll see what happens. Arafat is a tyrant to all of them and does not allow any progress. It seems that the man became a megalomaniac with a severe mental disorder. He yells all the time. He alienated all his loyalists. Hanan Ashrawi, Faisal Husseini, Haidar ’Abd al-Shafi and Mahmoud Abbas. He is now surrounded by young people who are no counterweight to his views.
“Mahmoud Abbas told me that Arafat’s wife Suha employs Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi and an Israeli economic personality as economic advisers. How can this be done when the Americans have delivered a warning about Khashoggi and demanded that any contact with him be terminated? Mahmoud Abbas told me that if Suha wanted to conduct business, that she should not deal with the economic affairs of the territories. Arafat supports her and claims that she is responsible for economic issues.”
The king said that the disagreement between the PLO and Israel was all based on a misinterpretation of the Agreement of Principles—an interpretation of one person and not of the PLO—and therefore the reference to Arafat should be separated from the reference to the PLO, and we should not mistake it.”
The king asked for our opinion on this. I explained at length our position, Arafat’s attempt to ignore the Oslo agreements, our concern for security and our fundamental approach, which is completely different with respect to external security. I told him that if Arafat had accepted our position, the other things would have been easy to resolve. Arafat is trying to establish a Palestinian state, and we have already told him that this is currently out of the question. The border with Jordan and the lines with Egypt must be according to the DOP (Declaration of Principles) for which we have responsibility, as well as responsibility for the crossings.
We are prepared for compromises that will enable a merging to maintain Palestinian dignity and meet Israel’s demands, but not at the expense of state security. I have extended Arafat’s claims and positions on the Jericho area. I told the king about the conversations I had with Arafat in Tunis and reported that Arafat was presenting himself as vice president of the Islamic Conference.
The king dismissed Arafat’s status at the Islamic Conference and related that he had advised Abbas not to enter into the Jerusalem issue. This should be the last issue in the negotiations, and it must be resolved given the feelings of both sides and not just a political decision.
The king was angry at Arafat’s declaration that Jerusalem would be the Palestinian and Israeli capital at the same time. He said that he turned on Abbas: “Why are you taking ownership of Jerusalem? And what about the Islamic countries in the world? The matter of Jerusalem must be within the consensus of the entire Islamic nation.”
I made it clear to the king that if Arafat did not “climb down from the tree” on external security, it was doubtful that Rabin would agree to a compromise, and the Palestinians could miss the train again. When I said that Arafat wanted us to put an international force on the border, the king responded: “What the hell? The U.N. asked me to station troops in the Sahara, and I strongly refused. That’s my security. It’s entrusted to me, not the United Nations.” The king noted that I enjoyed the Palestinians’ trust, and that he, too, was sympathetic towards me.
The king questioned why his Jordanian counterpart, King Hussein, does not agree to a peace treaty with Israel [a treaty was signed in Oct. 1994], and what the chances are of the planned meeting between Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad. I replied that King Hussein was hesitant because he feared Syria, and his internal situation was problematic.
As for Syria, we are on hold for the meeting in Geneva. If Clinton comes back with Assad’s commitment to peace as we understand it–namely, open borders, diplomatic relations, etc., then Rabin will have to make an overall assessment of the situation and face decisions that I’m not clear about.
Finally, the king sought to convey to Rabin the following messages:
- Arafat must be separated from the PLO.
- The meeting between Rabin and Arafat should not be held at its scheduled time. Let the matter simmer and create pressure on Arafat without breaking the dishes.
- King Hassan II is prepared to dispatch a messenger to Arafat to “shake his ears,” if we wish.
- The king fully supports our position.
At the end of the meeting, we went to General Qadiri’s house, where we were told that we had a meeting planned with Abu Marwan, the PLO representative in Morocco. We couldn’t say no.
While we’re waiting for Abu Marwan, who walks in? Abbas! Our conversation took place without Qadiri, probably according to the king’s instructions. He apparently sought to establish direct contact between us and PLO representatives, without any mediation on his part.
Abbas said that he was not going to Oslo, even though the king had made a plane available to him, because he did not receive the mandate he had asked of Arafat, and also because he learned that Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres had canceled his trip to Oslo. He preferred to stay in Morocco until Dec. 21 instead, and Abu Alaa, Yasser ’Abd Rabbo and Nabil Shaath left for Oslo. In his opinion, a breakthrough should not be expected in Oslo, because there had been no change in attitudes, so it will be tantamount to “treading water.”
I took the opportunity to ask Abbas how he sees things. He said that Arafat was wrong in interpreting the Declaration of Principles, and that he had no doubt that external security was for Israel’s control. As for the crossings, these are arrangements open for coordination.
“It is clear that those who enter the crossings will be able to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This is about your safety as it concerns our safety,” said Abbas.
I said that if Arafat had agreed to the issue of external security, he would have found out how willing we were to reach a solution that would maintain Palestinian dignity and meet Israel’s security needs. Abbas said that the main problem was the crossings. He said that a solution should be found that would protect the Palestinians’ dignity so that they could welcome their Palestinian brethren from the outside.
He said that, of course, Israel would have the veto over who entered, and this could be done in a covert way or another, but the last right of word on security must be given to Israel. “Let’s not kid ourselves. We have not signed for a Palestinian state but for self-government during a transition period, and in two years–maximum–we will discuss the final status. It can be decided that if things work out well, we will re-discuss security issues in another six to nine months.”
I felt the conversation was friendly and had flowed, and I brought up again the difficult encounter between Arafat and Rabin in Cairo. I repeated the Israeli prime minister’s position and asked what had been agreed in Oslo on the Jericho area issue.
Abbas answered without evasion: “On the subject of the ‘Jericho Area,’ we agreed that a compromise must be found between your perception and our position (‘Jericho District’), because we understood that there are problems there of communities, land, security, etc. “It’s not the square kilometers that is important–but it’s important that it look more than you gave. After the early transfer of powers, we can expand our government’s powers to the rest of the West Bank anyway.”
I asked if he had ever heard of Arafat’s concept of “from the Damia Bridge to the Abdullah Bridge [two crossing points on the Jordan River],” with a “window” to the Dead Sea and the Qarantal Monastery on the Mount of Temptation in the west. Abbas dismissed the matter, as though the proposal never existed.
I asked about the Jerusalem-Jericho road: Did the issue come up? My interlocutor replied that there never was such a thing. Maybe it was said in a conversation with Peres’s deputy, Uri Savir, but what counts is what is written. Even on the subject of settlements, they didn’t talk much about it.
I asked how he thought the gap could be bridged, and Abbas replied that he did not believe in the effort currently being invested in the Oslo talks. He said that Abu Alaa (who is familiar with the agreement and thinks like him) should meet with one of us (“one-on-one”) behind closed doors for two or three days, and then there is no doubt that a solution will be found for the crossings, and that is the main thing. The meeting can be arranged in Morocco or anywhere else, away from the spotlights of the press.
He himself will act behind the scenes and assist, and only then will it be right to turn to Arafat. He expressed his opinion that it was not a good idea to initiate another meeting between Rabin and Arafat in the meantime. Since their encounter, a comfortable situation was created because, under the guise of a crisis, and after a while, it will be possible to say: “This is what we wanted.”
On the subject of prisoners and deportees, Abbas said that Israel must help create a good atmosphere. If you release 100 prisoners every week, this will contribute greatly to mutual trust and a comfortable general atmosphere unrelated to the negotiations.
Before we separated, I promised that as soon as I returned, I would report on our meeting to Rabin. If he decides yes, it will certainly be possible to enjoy the warm hospitality of the king of Morocco again. We parted amicably with the promise that I would contact him within a day or two.
Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly a foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the deputy head for assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.