Israel's gruff soldier-statesman was the last best hope for peaceby Avi Shlaim / March 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman, by Itamar Rabinovich (Yale University Press, £16.99)
On the evening of 4th November 1995, at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv, a Jewish fanatic named Yigal Amir shot and killed the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In Rabin’s jacket pocket was a neatly folded sheet of paper with the words of the song he had just sung—“The Song of Peace.” It was later found stained with the 73-year-old’s blood, pierced by a bullet.
Amir wanted to punish Rabin for signing the 1993 Oslo Accord with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)—and to derail the peace train altogether. Few political killings in history have been so successful. Twenty-two years on, the dream of a secure Israel and viable Palestine is a distant fantasy. The increasingly right-wing stance of the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the drastic increase in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the weakness of Abu Mazen’s Palestinian leadership, and the periodic outbursts of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza have resulted in precious little trust on either side. Factor in Donald Trump—who campaigned on the provocative promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and who in a meeting in February with Netanyahu distanced himself from the two-state solution—and the lack of brave and intelligent leadership on all sides is all the more conspicuous.
It’s no wonder, then, that Rabin now has the aura of a secular saint. The epitaph on his grave—“Peacemaker”—is well deserved. Yet it does not take account of the long journey that preceded the transformation of one of Israel’s toughest military hawks into a prominent political dove.