While the Oslo process was quite flawed, Yitzhak Rabin's willingness to foment change and take risks to extricate Israel from its troubles turned him into a historic figure.
Yitzhak Rabin was no saint. During his first term as prime minister he got entangled in a financial scandal linked to his illegal dollar account, and in his second term he was heavily influenced by the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, who was eventually convicted of breach of trust. Rabin was surrounded by the rich, who led him to favor wealth over equality. During those years, Rabin privatized Israel Chemicals, selling it for peanuts and handing a known arms dealer Israel's only natural treasure: the Dead Sea.
Rabin was indeed a decent person, but he was among those who discovered the American green and became obsessed with it. Had Rabin's close acquaintances been scrutinized to the extent Israeli leaders' close acquaintances are scrutinized today, he would not have been able to live a normal life and his government would not have been able to function.
Rabin was no genius either. His analytic instincts were brilliant, but he lacked a deep-rooted and consistent historical outlook. Torn between conflicting approaches, the security-minded dove couldn't find a diplomatic path that would express his conceptual complexity. That's why when he chose peace, it wasn't a peace that was in character.
During the Oslo years, the prime minister didn't lead, he was led. He didn't navigate, he was navigated. It was a cunning Palestinian leader and a sophisticated Israeli deputy defense minister who defined the great political revolution of 1993. In decisive moments that year, Yasser Arafat and Yossi Beilin maneuvered Rabin and got him to do what they wanted him to do. The result was that the Oslo process bore the name of the Palmach hero but wasn't really derived from his values. Rabin founded Palestine-in-the-making without resolving the conflict between that act and his stated opposition to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem and the handover of the Jordan Valley.
But even though he was neither a saint nor a genius, Rabin was great. He was great not just because he saved Jerusalem in the War of Independence and whipped the Israel Defense Forces into shape ahead of the Six-Day War. He was great not just because he helped create a strategic alliance with the United States in 1970 and began the peace process with Egypt in 1975. Rabin was great because during his second term as prime minister he realized the existential danger of occupation and decided to take action. The specific action he took - the Oslo process - was quite flawed. But the septuagenarian's willingness to foment change and take risks to extricate Israel from its troubles turned Rabin into a historic figure and role model.
When Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak give speeches about Rabin a this week's memorial ceremonies, they should ask themselves where they are compared to him. Nine months have passed since the general election, and seven have passed since the government was established. But so far, the captains of this ship haven't bothered to let the passengers know where we're going - what the objective is, what the destination is. This ambiguity gives the Bibi-and-Barak government the charm of a Rorschach test: People can see in it whatever they want to see. The problem is that at the end of the day, the government is just as politically effective as a Rorshach test.
At a time when the State of Israel faces dramatic challenges, its leadership isn't saying anything or striving for anything. Yes and no, mutters Netanyahu. No and yes, whispers Barak. This isn't how you lead a nation. This isn't how you rebuild a country. If this is the government's price, there isn't any point to it.
The Israel of this millennium is a country in trouble. The calcifying government needs a political revolution, an educational revolution and a governmental revolution, all at once. A government that manages to carry out even one of these revolutions will be remembered forever. A government that at least begins these three revolutions will justify its existence. But a government that deals only with maintenance and survival won't get away with it and won't survive.
Rabin's great insight was that the Jewish democratic state of today cannot choose the status quo. It has two options: getting out of the mud or sinking into it. This is an insight the current government must internalize. The time has come to know where we are going.
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