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Two weeks ago, President Rabin came to lunch at TIME during his visit to New York City for the U.N.’s 50th anniversary. He had frequently met with TIME editors, but on what was to be our last encounter, his mood seemed especially reflective. Some of his comments:

On why peace talks began when they did: In 1977 very few of us believed that in our life we’d see a real possibility of peace. It started with President Sadat of Egypt. Allow me to say that I don’t believe President Sadat–or any Arab leader with whom we have been engaged in peace–woke up one morning and discovered the justice of the right of the Zionist movement to establish a Jewish state. He came to the conclusion after trying wars, violence, boycott. I believe President Sadat realized that he could never get back the Sinai by force. There was no altruistic or philosophic change of their minds.

When we decided to explore [peace] with Arafat, frankly, he was in poor shape. As a result of the crisis in the gulf, he lost $400 million to $500 million of revenue. He was isolated even in the Arab world.

On the Jewish settlers: Today there are 450 Israelis in the municipality of Hebron and 120,000 Palestinians. I have to keep three battalions to protect them. I believe, with all due respect, that values–Jewish and universal values–have to guide our policy. I can’t call Hebron a Jewish city. It was, but to impose on 120,000 Palestinians the fact that there are 450 Jews there and for that reason to have military rule? I don’t feel the justification for that. If you ask whether the Israelis believe that the settlements in the densely populated area have any security value, the majority will say no. What kind of assets are they? Instead of fighting terrorism, I have to keep forces to protect them.

On terror: If you ask me what is the obstacle to the implementation [of the peace plan], it is terror. Arafat stopped the terrorism by the p.l.o. No Israeli has been killed by them since the end of 1992. Terror is carried out mainly by the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with the clear purpose of undermining the peace process. We face a unique kind of terrorism–the suicidal terror mission. There is no deterrent to a person who goes with high explosives in his car or in his bag and explodes himself. We find remnants of his body. Sometimes you can’t identify him. Is the peace process reversible? It might be. But only if terror will succeed.

On the rights of non-Jewish Israelis: For me what is most important is to have a Jewish state in which at least 80% of its population is Jewish. [But] the non-Jewish citizens–the Palestinians, Muslims, Christians–should entertain all a person’s civilian political rights, because I believe that racism and Judaism by essence are in contradiction. The Palestinians in their schools, government-paid schools, are entitled–be they Muslims or Christians–to have their religion, to have their culture, their language, their heritage. I believe that they can be loyal Israeli citizens while maintaining their special identity.

On his personal commitment: It’s true that the last time I had a vote [on the Oslo accord] in the Knesset, I had a majority of one, 61 against 59. I said then and I said it publicly, As long as I have a majority of one, I will continue.

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