On Rabin anniversary, bloodshed and bickering
BEIRUT - Israel has been commemorating the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the war hero who took a giant step towards making peace with the Palestinians, even as a resurgence of violence in which dozens have been killed testifies to how his legacy has been squandered.
Rabin, a former military chief of staff, was assassinated on November 4, 1995, but Israelis marked the anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar on October 27th.
He was shot twice in the back as he left a massive Saturday night peace rally in Tel Aviv’s Kings of Israel Square — since renamed Rabin Square — by a right-wing Jewish fanatic named Yigal Amir because the Israeli leader had negotiated a peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and planned to return the West Bank to them.
For the Israeli right wing, and the ultra-Orthodox in particular who believe God gave the Jewish people the land of Judea and Samaria, the biblical name for the West Bank, to be theirs forever, this was the ultimate betrayal.
“The assassination set off a chain reaction that would shift power from the pragmatists to the ideologues in Israel and sink Rabin’s peace process. Twenty years later, the ideologues dominate Israeli politics,” observed Dan Ephron, author of a forthcoming book Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel.
“Had he lived, Rabin might plausibly have reshaped Israel broadly and permanently by making a final peace deal with the Palestinians. Instead, during his two decades of imprisonment, Rabin’s killer has had the satisfaction of watching the former prime minister’s legacy steadily evaporate.”
After two decades of constant violence, Israelis are grappling with what many are calling the third Palestinian intifada. Young Palestinians have stabbed Israelis in the streets of Jerusalem over Israeli efforts to control the complex dominated by the al-Aqsa mosque, known to Muslims as the Haram al- Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount.
More than 55 Arabs and 11 Israelis have been killed since the end of September and the violence appears to be spreading to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian leaders say the violence was triggered by young people’s pent-up anger over the failure of the peace process that Rabin helped launch with the Oslo accords of 1992-93.
The bloodshed and the smouldering grievances of 48 years of Israeli occupation underline yet again the toxic mix of nationalism and religion that lies at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and which doomed Rabin’s legacy.
Israel’s hard line against the Palestinians is embodied by the country’s current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who was first elected in 1996, two years after Rabin was gunned down. Many Israelis believe that Rabin’s murder was a consequence of Netanyahu’s virulent campaign against Rabin’s “treachery” for signing the Oslo accords, the last of them only weeks before his assassination.
Leftist political parties have repeatedly accused Netanyahu of stoking hatred in protests against Rabin’s peace-making, with extremists brandishing images of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform and chanting “Death to Rabin”.
Rabin’s decision to negotiate with the Palestinians did not come easy. He was a war hero who fought for Israel’s creation in 1948-49 and played a major role in driving out Palestinians from the new Jewish state.
The general-turned-peacemaker was not truly comfortable engaging in the nascent peace process during the early 1990s but he understood that Israel faced an endless war of attrition with the Palestinians, and the Arab world at large, if a settlement was not achieved.
That culminated in the landmark treaty signed by Rabin and Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993, with a beaming Bill Clinton looking on as the two long-time enemies hesitantly shook hands.
Rabin was assassinated less than two years later. Arafat died in a French hospital on November 11, 2004, in circumstances that have never been fully explained.
Two decades after Rabin was killed, there seems little hope the Oslo accords will be implemented. Netanyahu, currently serving his third term as Israel’s leader, has made it abundantly clear he has no interest in abandoning the West Bank.
“Palestinians are not ready to end the conflict and give up on their dream of a Palestinian state in the place of Israel,” he declared during a special session of Israel’s parliament to mark Rabin’s death.
The corruption-riddled Palestinian administration of Arafat’s colourless successor, Mahmoud Abbas, considered by many Palestinians to be little more than Israeli collaborators, looks as if it is on its last legs. Abbas officially jettisoned the Oslo accords in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September.