The Rabin State

We should tell the full truth about the assassinated prime minister: what he did for peace was too little and too late.

Yitzhak Rabin is now also a community. Three weeks ago, the cornerstone was laid for Tsur Yitzhak, a new community on the seam line that will bear the name of the late prime minister. Another community, Givat Rabin, in the Lower Galilee, has been in the planning stages since 2001. After all of the schools, streets and roads, a hospital and city squares, a musical production and power station, trauma center and monuments, a community will also be built, and perhaps a city, too, before long.

Next month, on the tenth anniversary of Rabin's assassination, the country will again be inundated with memorial festivals, and the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, with its megalomaniac structure, will be inaugurated amid great fanfare and in the presence of world notables. This new center cost $30 million to build; while the government allocation was recently reduced, it still stands at NIS 7 million annually. Even the Jordanian child, Yitzhak Rabin, received temporary resident status from Israel's interior minister recently only by virtue of his name.

And if this were not enough, about a year ago, the non-profit organization for perpetuating Rabin's memory petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the government and Trans-Israel Highway Company to name the road for him. Thus, maybe we will have a Rabin Highway linking the communities named for Rabin, in which there are dozens of schools and streets named Rabin.

There is no doubt that a prime minister who was assassinated while in office, who signed the first agreement with the Palestinians, and who was an army chief of staff wreathed in glory, deserves to be remembered forever. But after a decade of commemoration enterprises, one can surely ask: Haven't we exaggerated? Hasn't this wholesale commemoration cheapened it? And above all, was Rabin in real life indeed similar to the mythological figure that has been constructed around his memory?

It is not by chance that Israel loves so much to commemorate Rabin. For Israel, the living Rabin embodied the best of its secret longings. He was the man who proved that you could have your cake and eat it too - waging war and making peace; issuing commands to break the bones of Palestinians and sitting with them at the negotiating table; building settlements and condemning the settlers in scathing terms; signing an accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization and refraining from evacuating even a single settlement; deliberating with Yasser Arafat and expressing physical repugnance for him; ready to travel to Gush Etzion with a visa but not doing a thing to advance this issue; shocked by the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein and afraid to evacuate the Hebron settlers.

Perhaps truly on that night, when he refrained from evacuating the Hebron settlers, an important characteristic of his was expressed, a characteristic that is not mentioned when speaking about "Rabin's legacy" (a vague term than no one knows how to define): On that night, Rabin was revealed to be a cowardly statesman. If he had evacuated the Hebron settlers then, when an excellent opportunity for doing this arose, he would have prevented the development of the monster that grew in the city and has already succeeded in driving tens of thousands of terrified residents from their homes.

In the Oslo Accords - the crowning glory for Rabin, the man of peace - he also did not dare to do what a much smaller "man of peace," Ariel Sharon, did 10 years later. Rabin did not dare to put the evacuation of settlements on the agenda, even from the Gaza Strip, despite his conviction that at least some of them should be evacuated. The failure of Olso must therefore be attributed, among other things, to a lack of courage on Rabin's part. Even if the Palestinians themselves, for some unclear reason, were wary of being too adamant in demanding the evacuation of settlements, a statesman like Rabin could have been expected to recognize the Israeli interest in such a move. He should have initiated an evacuation in order to strengthen the agreement.

The decision to recognize the PLO and sign an agreement with it was indeed a courageous act, but while appreciating this, all of the long years of refusal that preceded the move should not be forgotten. During these years, Rabin refused to recognize the organization representing the Palestinians and Israel wasted valuable time. If Rabin and his colleagues had recognized the PLO in time, perhaps this would have prevented the bloodshed of the first intifada and the entire course of history that followed might have been different.

But the first intifada did break out, and the violent and brutal way then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin dealt with it cannot be erased from his "legacy" or the way his portrait is depicted. It is impossible to just remember the statesman who signed a peace treaty with King Hussein, an agreement that did not demand a price from Israel and only provided captivating photo opportunities with a king who had European manners and great personal charm.

Rabin believed in interim agreements. He thought that the abyss between the Palestinians and us could be traversed in stages. He wanted peace but, like most Israelis, did not agree to pay the price. For a leader who is portrayed today as a bold seeker of peace, he did not have enough courage to reach into the flames and try to extract a solution. Before the first intifada, the possibility of reaching a solution was greater than it is today, with over 200,000 settlers in the West Bank.

All of this should be taught to pupils at the many memorial assemblies that await us. We should tell them the full truth about the prime minister who became beloved and revered after his death: He was assassinated on the "altar of peace," but what he did for peace was too little and too late.