JERUSALEM (Aug. 31)
The pursuit of peace sometimes creates strange bedfellows.
Israel has found itself in recent weeks dealing directly with its former implacable enemy, the Palestine Liberation Organization.
And this week, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin found himself congratulating his longtime Labor Party rival, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, on his success in hammering out the historic agreement with the Palestinians.
Political pundits here found the rapprochement between Rabin and Peres almost as amazing as the thaw between Israel and the PLO.
Ever since the establishment of the Labor government a year ago, the “experts” have been counting the days until the Rabin-Peres time bomb would explode.
But something happened to both men’s thinking.
From the start, Peres has accepted the seniority of Rabin, who had trounced him in the spring 1992 Labor Party primary. For over a year now, he has had to live with the political reality that it is Rabin who now calls the shots.
But as the lack of progress in the formal peace talks became clear to him, Peres began seeking alternative ways to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
Rabin, in turn, gave him the green light, realizing that 1993 might end with no progress in the talks — which was contrary to all the political promises he had made.
Rabin did not believe much could be done, but he realized he should give Peres the chance.
And Peres pursued the challenge. One could not hear a word of criticism against Rabin from him, and Peres instructed his aides to stress at every chance the full cooperation that existed between the prime minister and him.
TALKING WITH THE MESSENGERS
Peres kept talking about the need to pursue the peace process, no matter what difficulties lay ahead. And he radiated optimism, even when the peace process seemed to be in deep trouble.
It was Peres who carefully built up the “Gaza-Jericho First” plan at a time when Rabin believed that the real option was Damascus-first — an agreement with Syria.
It was likewise Peres who eventually convinced Rabin to strike a deal with the PLO before it was too late.
Eventually, it was Peres who returned from the alternative route — several rounds of secret negotiations with the PLO in Oslo, Norway — and delivered a peace agreement.
And Rabin bought the agreement. He understood a truth that he admitted this week for the first time: that during the official bilateral negotiations in Washington, the Israelis had been talking with the messengers, rather than with those who wrote the messages.
After years of rivalry, Rabin and Peres understood, at a historic crossroad, that they needed to work together if they wanted to achieve anything.
And when the two men joined ranks, they had the entire Cabinet behind them, which in turn provided them with a good chance for rallying wide public support.