Letters reveal Malaysian premier's true thoughts on Rabin, Netanayhu, and Barak
The letters, made public as Malaysia's ruling party and opposition accuse each other of supporting Israel, reveal that Rabin was respected, Netanyahu was not trusted and Barak was expected to bring about change.
The Malaysian government published on Wednesday a collection of letters sent by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad to three Israeli prime ministers during the 1990s.
The letters were published as Malaysia's ruling party and the opposition have recently been accusing each other of supporting diplomatic ties with Israel.
Mahathir Bin Mohamad, who served as Malaysia's prime minister in the 1990s, is the former head of the ruling party. In preparation for the upcoming elections, the ruling party launched an attack on the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, claiming that he supports establishing ties with Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians.
Ibrahim then dispelled the allegations by revealing the letters, and accused the ruling party of hypocrisy.
The three letters that were published on Wednesday were sent in response to letters from Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak to Mahathir Bin Mohamad. The letters provide a look into diplomatic efforts to promote dialogue between Israel and Malaysia, which have thus far failed to bear fruit.
The first letter was sent to former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in December 1993, about two and a half months after Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed the Oslo Accords.
Mahathir, who sent the letter to the "Israeli Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem," greeted Rabin, expressed support in the Oslo Accords, and even offered to donate money to the new Palestinian Authority.
"Malaysia as a matter of general principle is prepared to develop relations with Israel at the appropriate time," he wrote. "In the meantime, we would like to see tangible progress in the implementation of the peace agreement." At the end of the letter, Mahathir added in handwriting, "I look forward to normal relations with Israel."
A little more than three years later, in March 1997, Mahathir sent a similar letter to then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Two months prior, Netanyahu sent a letter to Mahathir, updating him on the situation in the region. As opposed to the cordial letter he sent Rabin, this time Mahathir evoked more unpleasant tones in his letter to Netanyahu.
Mahathir called on Netanyahu to allow international mediation between Israel and the Palestinians and used as an example the international arbitration that took place between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore regarding the maritime border. He also compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to efforts to instill coexistence between the native residents of Malaysia and the immigrants.
"The important point I would like to stress is not to take what already belongs to others even though historically they may be yours," he wrote. "Lately, Israel has been pulling down Arab dwellings in order to erect houses for Israelis. The
whole world, including your ally, the United States, condemns this. But Israel has gone ahead."
Mahathir harshly criticized Netanyahu and blamed him for the diplomatic freeze at the time.
"What you are doing now is against the spirit and the letter of the peace process agreed to by your predecessor," he wrote. "How can we trust Israel if a change in the government negates solemnly given undertakings by a Government of Israel... To have peace you have to make sacrifices. The Palestinians no longer demand the elimination of Israel… We are ready to have economic and technological cooperation with Israel but we cannot do so yet because you have not honoured commitments made by a legitimate Government of Israel."
The third letter was sent in June of 1999, several weeks after Ehud Barak's victory in the elections. This time, the letter was sent to the bureau in Tel Aviv. As opposed to the letter to Netanyahu, the missive to Barak was a little more positive, but after the cordial greetings, Mahathir proceeded to convey harsh diplomatic messages.
"We believe that if the peace process is to be salvaged, sincere and effective steps must be taken to honour commitments," he wrote. "it is crucial for Israel to be more accommodating… It is therefore timely that Israel respond positively… The alternative, I am afraid, would be a permanent state of conflict and regional instability extending into the next century… Any country that forcibly takes over land and properties of others, or demolishes dwellings belonging to others in order to set up its own settlements cannot be said to be sincere in wanting peace."
Mahathir concluded his letter to Barak and wrote, "The world looks forward to Israel under your leadership, to push forward the peace process with true determination. It is my sincere hope that the attainment of a comprehensive settlement in the region would allow Malaysia to realistically envisage a positive move towards the establishment of normal relations with Israel."
The Malaysian government explained Wednesday why it had published the letters. "I wish to state that as a matter of policy, Malaysia has consistently over the years publicly supported the struggle of the Palestinian people… for the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state," the Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said in a statement.
"The contents of these letters reflects Malaysia's strong and principled stance against Israel's illegal actions and atrocities that had undermined the peace process."
He said that former prime minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad had never expressed support for Israel or readiness to establish diplomatic relations with it.
"Malaysia's readiness to consider establishing relations with Israel is also contingent upon Israel's implementation of all the requirements as stated in the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including Palestine's submission to become a full member of the UN on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif (East Jerusalem) as its capital."