SPECIAL REPORT: Rabin is a symbol for what might have been

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SPECIAL REPORT: Rabin is a symbol for what might have been

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

Here, in extracts from a new BICOM book to mark the 20th anniversary of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, leading Israelis recall the late prime minister’s achievements and legacy

President Clinton presides over ceremonies marking the signing of the 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House lawn with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, right. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
President Clinton presides over ceremonies marking the signing of the 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House lawn with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, right. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel:

Kobi Gideon/GPO/Israel Sun  31-10-2015 Please credit Kobi Gideon/GPO ONLY President Rivlin & Bill Clinton Clinton: Rabin's death worst day in 8 years as president Ceremony commemorating 20 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin begins in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square; Clinton charges Israelis with continuing Rabin's legacy. Organizers claimed 100,000 were in attendence at a rally and memorial ceremony Saturday night in Tel Aviv, marking the 20-year anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The memorial was held at Rabin Square – named after the slain prime minister in wake of his murder in 1995 – where former US president Bill Clinton gave a speech from behind bullet-proof glass, charging the Israeli people to carry on Rabin's legacy by finding a path to peace. ?? ????? ???? ?????? ??? (???) ??? ???? ????? ???? ??? ??? ????? ??????? ????? 20 ??? ???? ??? ?????? ???? ???? . ????? ?????? ??? ???? ???"? ???? ????? ?????, ??? ???????, ????: "????? ???? ??? ????? ??? ????? ??????. ??? ???? ?? ???? ??? ???? ?? ?????. ??? ???? ?? ????? ???? ?? ???? ??? ???? ????? ????? ?????. ??? ?????? ????? ?? ???? ?????? ?? ???? ?? ????. ????? ????, ???? ????? ?? ?? ???????". ????? ??????
Kobi Gideon/GPO/Israel Sun 31-10-2015President Rivlin & Bill Clinton   

“Rabin was not murdered because of the man he was or because of the beliefs and ideas he held. The assassin regarded him as a national symbol and shot him wishing to undermine the decision-making abilities of the Israeli democratic government.  That murder was not only a traumatic experience that must not be forgotten, but also a decisive national breaking point.
That terrible night affected me by making me realise that the threat of violent conflict was not vague and distant. That murder denoted for me, and for all of Israel, a huge traffic sign that cried out in warning, albeit in hindsight, that we were doing things wrong. In the years following the murder I realised how closely we must touch upon those carcinogenic lesions that threaten to metastasise through the body of Israeli democracy, if we wish to remove them.”
Tzipi Livni
Tzipi Livni

Tzipi Livni, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Leader of the Opposition until 2012

“The vast majority of Israelis support the idea of two states for two peoples – which is not exactly Oslo, but this is what the Oslo agreements are based on. It changed completely the way we do things; it took some years because the right tried to avoid this decision, and as you know they also said that Oslo was criminal. But now it’s more than centrist, it’s accepted by the centre right as well.
“People understand that this is the only solution which guarantees the security of Israel. Only a minority prefer to stick to the Land of Israel even by giving up the values of Israel or the nature of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, but this minority has quite a large political influence. It’s not about Oslo itself as an agreement, but about understanding that this is where we need to go: that reaching an agreement with the Palestinians serves the interests of Israel and is the only way to avoid Israel becoming a bi-national state or an Arab state.
“The choice is between bad options. I don’t suggest that just by signing an agreement with the Palestinians we would live happily ever after. It’s a tough neighbourhood, not a fairy-tale. But in choosing between bad options I prefer this option. It’s risky, but this is a calculated risk and the other option would lead to a situation in which Israel would not be what my parents dreamt for me, and I for my children – a Jewish, democratic state. A bi-national state would be bloody. It’s not something that would survive. Therefore, achieving an agreement with the Palestinians does not mean getting married to them, it’s more divorcing them. I believe that Rabin understood this and I don’t see any other idea out of the box that can serve the interests of Israel better than this.”

 Omer Bar-Lev,  Israeli Labour Party politician

Omer Bar-Lev MK, Member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union
Omer Bar-Lev MK

Yitzhak Rabin’s outstanding contributions were in his last year’s as prime minister. He made the very important and difficult decision to reach a compromise with the Palestinians and sign a peace agreement with Jordan.

These were both events in which I was personally involved. I was in the IDF at that time and part of the Israeli military team that negotiated the first agreement with the Palestinians after the Oslo Accords – the Gaza-Jericho Agreement – and was also part of the Israeli military team that negotiated the military aspects of the peace agreement with Jordan. I was very much involved in the details and the tactics.

Of course the details of the agreement are very important, but in the end these are all tactics and the big strategic decision Rabin made – to come to an agreement – was because of his military background and time as IDF Chief of Staff.

It meant giving up some of our long-held beliefs and putting them aside because the peace and the security of Israel are more important. He understood that, in the end, peace is the most important and essential part in the security of the country and the only way to achieve it is to negotiate and – even to compromise – with your enemies.

I believe that he did it – apart from his personal belief that as a human being every one of us wants peace – from Israel’s security point of view and this is what led him and our strategic decisions. Rabin understood peace is part of the security of Israel because there is no complete security as long as you have enemies trying to destroy you.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gestures as he speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 14, 1994. The giant star of David is part of a 4x5.5 meter Israeli flag made from 350,000 plastic Lego bricks which was completed on the occasion of Israel's 46th Independence Day. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin gestures as he speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 14, 1994. The giant star of David is part of a 4×5.5 meter Israeli flag made from 350,000 plastic Lego bricks which was completed on the occasion of Israel’s 46th Independence Day. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Michael Herzog, retired IDF general

Rabin was a commander of a brigade in the Haganah during the war of independence, which played an essential role in securing the road to Jerusalem and ultimately allowed Israel to keep its capital in Jerusalem. He then had a long military career before becoming the Chief of Staff of the IDF.

Rabin was not only a warrior and a commander; he was a force builder who played a major role in the build-up, composition and training of the IDF. He had a deep understanding that for a military to win a war it had to be professional and to train constantly. He really contributed to this becoming a part of the IDF’s DNA, leading to the unprecedented victory in the Six Day War.

When Rabin became prime minster he made another significant contribution in trying to reconcile Israel’s security needs and interests with an effort to bring about peace agreements with the Palestinians and complete the cycle of peace with our immediate neighbours. He signed a peace agreement with Jordan in 1994, securing peace on our longest border, and tried very hard with Palestinians and Syrians.

He epitomised a very unique combination of seeking peace while guarding Israel’s security interests. I think he had a deep understanding of the relationship between peace and security.

He understood that peace does not automatically produce security, and it has to be fortified by solid security arrangements. At the same time he understood that solid security arrangements contributed to peace. That combination makes him different to any of his successors.


Einat Wilf, a former MK and academic Extracts from a new book published by BICOM’s academic journal Fathom, entitled ‘The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin’ which can be downloaded at www.fathomjournal.org from 4 November. 

Dr. Einat Wilf
Dr. Einat Wilf

Where Rabin was in relation to the Palestinians was not close to a place where peace was possible – certainly a permanent agreement that would end the conflict.

Because Rabin was assassinated, we tend to fetishise the notion that, had he lived, we would have peace. In fact he was less forthcoming than Barak in 2000 and Olmert in 2008.

Uri Dromi, former Foreign Press Spokesman to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

 “The news of the Oslo Accords, and Rabin’s endorsement of them, came as a great surprise even to those of us working in his team. It was unlike him to enter into an agreement that would put an element of Israel’s security into the hands of anyone else, much less into the hands of the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat.
Rabin was ‘Mr Security’, whose determination to deal with terrorism was beyond doubt. Indeed, his uncompromising attitude to terrorists made life difficult for me, as his spokesman to the foreign media. The most notable event in the early period of Rabin’s term was his decision to expel 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives to Lebanon. When the Lebanese refused to admit them, they were left stranded on the border, leaving us with a public relations disaster. In December of 1992 he convened his staff to consider whether doctors from the Red Cross should be allowed to visit them. Thinking of the international media I urged him to agree, but he was not impressed.
 “Will this bring to an end the Intifada?” he barked. It was a revealing moment for me. I understood he was only really interested in what was right for Israel’s security, and how things looked to the rest of the world was a much lower priority. But I also understood how concerned he was by the Intifada, and the need to bring it to an end.”

Sara Hirschhorn, a Sidney Brichto fellow in Israel studies at Oxford University

Rabin certainly had a long and illustrious career in civil and military service. What stands out for me is his assertion that you don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.

He was honest about the difficulties of the process and gave both the people of Israel and the Palestinians an opportunity to have to reckon with each other – understanding they had to go forward based on a very difficult history – but that there was a path to peace in the future.

Unfortunately, I think his most outstanding contribution, at least for my generation, was more in death than life.

He symbolised the hope and the understanding that peace could be within reach. When I visit his grave on Mount Herzl I see young people who might not even have been born during Rabin’s tenure, flocking to the site to light candles and to pray for peace. They really still see him as the symbol of what may have been.



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