Eitan Haber ties Martin Indyk to first Oslo violation of Arafat
In an article marking 20 years to the Oslo Agreement, Eitan Haber, who served at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's bureau chief, ties Martin Indyk, who is now serving as the U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian
Negotiations, to the very first violation of understandings carried out by Yasser Arafat.
He describes events immediately before the White House Lawn signing ceremony for the Oslo Agreement:
"We spent the last days of the day and night with Martin Indyk and his assistant, Bob Satloff, in an attempt to get down to the smallest detail, to the unexpected possibilities…
What will we do if Arafat insists on carrying his perpetual gun with him? 'No chance, we will disarm him.' And what if despite it all he shows up in a uniform and wearing symbols?
'But he promised.' "
When Yasser Arafat showed up at the White House in uniform and wearing symbols to test the determination of Rabin and Clinton, there were two possible outcomes: either he would end up borrowing a White House staffer's jacket or he would establish that he really didn't have to honor his word.
Is that an "urban legend"?
From the Middle East Quarterly, March 1994
MEQ: I saw you on September 13. You seemed quite elated.
Indyk: Well, it was quite an exciting time, an amazing time—indeed, the most amazing day of my life.
There was this amazing moment ten minutes before Arafat was supposed to arrive. Arafat was supposed to arrive at the White House first, with Rabin following a few minutes later. Dennis Ross and I were standing outside the Oval Office, waiting to enter and brief President Clinton, President Bush, and President Carter, who were later to go over to the Blue Room to meet Arafat and Rabin. Dennis and I were on separate telephones shouting—Dennis and I were on separate telephones shouting—Dennis at the Palestinians and
myself at the Israelis—because both were threatening not to come. The Israelis got wind that Arafat was wearing a uniform and said that was unacceptable. The Palestinians were upset because the text of the agreement did not mention the PLO, only "the Palestinian Delegation."
So, ten minutes beforehand, the Palestinians insisted that the Israelis agree to a change in the text; and the Israelis insisted on a change in Arafat's clothing. There we were, the two of us standing there shouting at these guys over the phone, telling them not to throw it all away. I think the thought was running through both of our minds—that the whole thing was going to fall apart at the last moment with thousands of people waiting outside, and I was going to be blamed.
So we tried to find out what Arafat was wearing. Somebody with him told us he was wearing a safari suit. I passed that on, explaining to the Israelis that Arafat really wasn't wearing a uniform, he was wearing a safari suit.
MEQ: Did you see the label? Banana Republic?
Indyk: No, no. (Laughter). It was pretty much a uniform, actually. In the end, of course, they all turned up. I think they all probably intended to turn up, and this was just a sign of last-minute nervousness on their part.
But it took a few years off both of our lives.