200,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square tonight to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his assassination by a right-wing gunman at the very same site. Among the noted speakers were Shimon Peres, who was by his side that night; Amir Peretz, incoming Labor Party leader; and Bill Clinton, the keynote speaker. The latter gave what appeared a moving and personal statement of grief as read on paper. But curiously, the speech lacked the typical Clinton immediacy and magic when viewed on video. Some of this may be due to the intrusive audio track of the interpreter translating for the Israeli audience. Haaretz quotes portions of the speech:
“I loved him very much, and I was in awe of his ability to move from being a soldier to being a peacemaker, a politician to a statesman,” Clinton said.
“If he were here, he would say, ‘There is enough of all this missing. If you really think I lived a good life, if you think I made a noble sacrifice in death, than for goodness sakes take up my work and see it through to the end,”‘ Clinton said.
“However many days Rabin had left, he gave them up on this spot for you and your future,” he said. “He knew he was risking giving them up and he gave them up, too, for all the children of the Palestinians, who deserve the benefit and the blessings of a normal life, as well.”
In a speech that was at times deeply personal, Clinton said he “expected to be missing Yitzhak Rabin for the rest of my life.”
Rabin’s memorial comes at a critical juncture in Israeli politics. Ariel Sharon now ponders what, if anything, his next step should be in the peace process and whether he should remain within the constricted confines of Likud in pursuing these objectives. Labor has just unceremoniously dumped its elder statesman-leader, Peres for the younger and infinitely more charismatic Peretz who promises to leave the current governing coalition. If Labor does leave (which seems likely) and there are elections, these developments promise to send a lightning bolt through Israel’s political life. Will Sharon split from Likud to form a centrist party? Will Peres bring Labor’s center-right MKs into Sharon’s party? Will Meretz return to Labor now that it has a leader with a bold, progressive vision to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? The most important question is how will this impact the peace process.
Peretz, who was a last minute addition to the speaker roster after his electric victory in the Party leadership contest, also spoke expansively of his vision for peace:
…Peretz said in his speech that “the path of Oslo is still very much alive.”
The Oslo peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, led by Rabin and then-deputy prime minister and foreign minister Shimon Peres, “is Israel’s future and hope,” said Peretz, whose victory on Wednesday over Shimon Peres in the Labor leadership vote raised a political storm.
“I have a dream that one day Israeli and Palestinian children will play together,” he said, echoing Rev. Martin Luther King but shifting his context to his hometown Sderot and the neighboring Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun.
“Violence is gnawing at the essence of Israeli democracy,” Peretz said. “Violence is not only in the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, it’s between us.”
“Had we stopped the violence in the territories, we would have stopped violence among us. The ongoing occupation in the territories is a recipe for the loss of values in Israel. We need a road map of morals.”
“Ending the occupation and a final status agreement are synonymous to protecting human values,” he said.
After the Israeli right and American neoconservatives have demonized the Oslo accords as poison fruit and the font of all that is wrong with Labor and the peace camp, it is refreshing to hear a major Israeli political leader affirm Oslo. May it be the harbinger of more such affirmations of the peace process.
Thank God for Haaretz, the NY Times only sees fit to offer a brief Reuters article on the event (as of the time I’m writing this). “A day late and an article short” should be their motto.