Today is the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Rabin (zichrono livracha–“may his memory be blessed”). M.J. Rosenberg, in his commentary this week at Israel Policy Forum echoes a question asked by Haaretz: Did Rabin’s Assassin Win? M.J. writes that the assassin hasn’t won and he hasn’t lost. I would phrase that differently.
The assassin has won. Oslo is dead due to the loss of Rabin’s forceful personality and political will. The Intifada, while it has advanced the cause of Palestinian nationalism in some respects, has set back the peace process immeasurably. To this I must add that some of the reason for this lies in Israel’s draconian and brutal response. In those ten years, the Territories and settlement infrastructure have been strengthened and further populated. Ariel Sharon has risen to power along with the extreme right and dominated the political landscape. So in many ways the assassin has singlehandedly turned the tide of Israeli politics and guaranteed constant war in that ten year interval.
But perhaps the assassin has lost too. Or at least the assassin will lose in the longer term. As M.J. says:
Rabin’s vision lives. Israelis and Palestinians continue to talk and negotiate, both formally and informally. Before Rabin, it was illegal for Israelis to negotiate with the PLO. Illegal! Today not only do the two sides talk, but they are in basic agreement on the terms that will end the conflict once and for all. No, they do not yet agree on borders, but they do agree that a West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state will be established in exchange for ironclad guarantees that will provide Israel with the security it has never had and the Palestinians with the state they need.
Anyone who doubts the lasting nature of Rabin’s accomplishment need only look at Ariel Sharon’s decision to pull out of Gaza, not to mention his support for a Palestinian state.
…Ehud Olmert, a Likud stalwart, said yesterday that if not for Rabin’s Oslo leadership there…would not have been any Gaza or West Bank withdrawal. “There is no doubt that it forced Israeli society…to the conclusion that Israel must return to its correct borders and that it should be a Jewish and democratic state,” Olmert said.
We should not make the mistake of being completely misty-eyed about Rabin. He was after all one of the architects of the draconian policy toward the Palestinians when he was defense minister in the 1980s (“we must break their legs”). After 1967, he could have raised his voice against the gathering consensus in favor of settling the Territories. There were voices within Israel which opposed this policy. Rabin was not one of them. Then, he took the easy way. But not towards the end when he eschewed his past in favor of a more realistic and tempered approach. Haaretz offers this cogent critique of Rabin’s telling failure to confront and destroy Gush Emunim in its infancy.
Rabin’s lasting legacy was the turning away from a solely military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was the validation of the “land for peace” concept which is still operative today. It was the embrace of the concept: Yeysh im mi-l’daber (“there is someone to talk to”). In other words, Rabin was the first Israeli leader who was willing to negotiate with Palestinians despite his visceral mistrust of Arafat (well-founded, it turns out). Had he not been murdered by the fanatic, Yigal Amir (may his memory be erased), he would have become Israel’s DeGaulle. Sharon, who seems to be also attempting to claim that mantle with his evacuation of Gaza, pales in comparison.
It has become fashionable on the Israeli Right to denounce Oslo as a craven capitulation to Palestinian ‘gangsters’ who never intended to make peace. In fact, rightists like Amir and his compatriots believed (and still believe) that the Oslo negotiators were traitors. Haaretz quotes his mother as justifying Rabin’s murder by calling it the killing of a “criminal.” The family also called for “hanging” Israeli politicians who supported the Gaza withdrawal. Is it any wonder that Amir did what he did after drinking in such hate with his mother’s milk? Anyway, these are the rationales they used to kill him. Such twisted rhetoric has also been taken up by American supporters of the Israeli right like William Safire who parrot the same line. But they do so more suavely. They call Rabin terribly naïve, misguided and foolish. But their take on Oslo is little different from Amir’s.
In fact, this demonization of Oslo reminds me of the neoconservative attempt to rewrite American foreign policy. In the eyes of Wolfowitz and his like every American attempt at multilateralism is callow and craven. The only right policy is one that “projects American power” robustly and unilaterally.
We have seen how successfully this imperial view has been in Iraq and elsewhere since 9/11. Israelis too, if they could look at things unblinkingly, would see that Oslo was a success never fully consummated. And the policy that took its place of constant confrontation and belligerence toward the Palestinians is the abject failure.
Rosenberg too expressed appreciation for Oslo:
In the ten years since Rabin’s assassination, the momentum he started has never completely stopped. Maybe that is because the last three years of Oslo – from the fall of 1997 to the fall of 2000 – still provide Israelis and Palestinians with a vision of what the future could look like. Those were Israel’s safest and most prosperous years, a time when Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation reduced the number of victims of terror in Israel to a total of three (compared to 791 in the subsequent three years) and when Palestinians began to enjoy the benefits and hope of evolving independence.
Eventually, when a full peace descends on Israel and Palestine, Rabin will be fully recognized for his giant contribution to resolving the conflict.