Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin this week expressed frustration with Palestinian negotiators at the peace talks in Washington and used frank language to indicate Israel’s desire to detach from the Gaza Strip.
At the same time, he urged Israelis to “cut loose from illusions (fostered by) the religion of Greater Israel” in the interest of seeking peace.
Rabin accused the Palestinians of focusing on “the symptoms rather than on the problem itself” during the past two weeks of negotiations in Washington.
“I hope the Palestinians keep in mind that we are in control of the territory,” Rabin told visiting leaders of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy here Wednesday.
He warned that without progress in the talks, Israel would make no further goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians.
Coinciding with the present round of negotiations, the government is releasing 800 jailed Palestinians. It has lifted deportation orders against 11 Palestinian activists and removed roadblocks in several West Bank cities to ease daily life in the territories.
Rabin told members of the Washington research group that he wished “Gaza would sink into the sea. But since that is not going to happen,” he said, “a solution must be found to the problem of the Gaza Strip.”
The remark raised some eyebrows in Jerusalem’s political community for the gruffness of its tone and drew a sharp response from the Palestinian negotiators in Washington.
“This is exactly the type of mentality we had hoped to transcend,” Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said at a briefing Thursday. “The comment is racist and indicative of a very alarming mind-set inconsistent with the peace process.”
Had a Palestinian made such a comment about Israel, she said, “there would have been an international outcry.”
But Ashrawi welcomed Rabin’s remark urging a separation from the “Greater Israel” ideology, which he made at a separate appearance Wednesday.
Speaking at an award ceremony commemorating Palmach leader Yitzhak Sadeh, the prime minister said, “The strength of a nation is measured not by the territory it holds, but by its confidence and its ability to develop its society, its economy and its security.”
The sense of disappointment that has been evident on the Israeli side of the negotiations with the Palestinians came through clearly in Rabin’s remarks to the policy institute.
Israeli officials feel their conciliatory gestures have not been reciprocated and that the Palestinians in Washington have clung largely to rhetoric rather than enter into substantive discussions on an autonomy plan for Palestinian self-rule.
But despite the difficulties, Rabin said he believed the parties would reach agreement within nine months to a year.
Israel has gone to Washington with new and different positions in the peace process, he said, detailing his government’s pointed assertion that Resolution 242 applies to the Israeli-Syrian dimension of the conflict, a position the previous government was loathe to take.
“But the process is not a short one, and it requires much patience,” the premier said. “It is important not to become agitated by tactical moves made by various parties or by exercises in public relations.
“I believe that despite the difficulties, a settlement will be found,” he said.
Rabin spoke of a “window of opportunity” of some two to five years’ duration, resulting from the collapse of Soviet communism and the strategic changes in the global power balance.
But he referred offhandedly to President Bush’s “new world order” as a “new world disorder,” listing regional conflicts in various continents.
The prime minister said his government had dramatically improved Israel’s international standing and – alluding to Bush’s support for loan guarantees – had created “conditions that will alleviate the economic situation in Israel.”