At one time it was nice to be thought of as a successor to the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. In the Israel of the early 1990s, without a protest movement, a change in national priorities took place. The first budget of Rabin's government provided for a halt to the construction of 15,000 housing units in Jewish settlements in the territories, making possible the shift of 3 or 4 billion shekels for spending on education and infrastructure. Over four years, the education budget grew from NIS 8 billion to NIS 14 billion, a real increase of 70 percent. Rapid growth made possible passage the national health care bill, as well as the academic upgrading of the country's colleges, funding of higher education in outlying areas of the country, paving of roads and highway interchanges (yes, in the territories, too ) and approval of plans for the Route 6 toll road and the new terminal at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
The Rabin government also made it possible for government research budgets to be increased and for funding of child allowance payments and development budgets for the Arab population of the country to be brought into line with what the Jewish population received. It also gained passage of a law benefiting demobilized soldiers and instituted revolutionary changes in funding for local governments. Unemployment declined from 11.5 percent to 6.5 percent. The defense budget, however, did not go up!
What followed is unfortunately well-known. The Oslo accords, the peace agreement with Jordan, prosperity and growth were threatened by waves of Palestinian terrorism. Political incitement and Rabin's murder brought about profound changes to the country. It sometimes seems to me that a political eternity has elapsed since, but that's not so. Three individuals who are currently leading Israel were also dominant in Israeli politics 16 years ago, when Rabin was killed.
One of them, Benjamin Netanyahu, was one of the leading figures who incited animosity vis-a-vis Rabin. Two others, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, pledged to continue in the path of Yitzhak Rabin, and to be steadfast to his legacy and to his thinking in the areas of defense and social policy. "What would Rabin have done?" it used to be asked. On the assumption that they weren't simply pretending, it would be interesting to know when they broke free of the burden of that legacy. When did they escape its intellectual constraints?
Was it on the eve of the last election that the political alliance was concocted between Ehud Barak and the man who marched in front of the coffin at the Ra'anana junction, and who looked on from the balcony at the protest at Jerusalem's Zion Square, as posters depicting Rabin in an S.S. uniform were set on fire to chants of "Rabin is a traitor"? And maybe the process of taking leave of Rabin's heavy burden began with the establishment of the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government, with the encouragement of President Shimon Peres?
There's something fascinating about trying to follow the accumulation of more and more authority, and the lust for power and the need for control. Over the past 16 years, we thought we had seen a lot of that. Now it turns out, some of it was just the coming attractions for the coming attraction. This week, when I saw Defense Minister Barak promise his BBC interviewer that there was no need to change his near-term plans because Israel would not attack Iran "this week," I tried to gauge the distance between His Haughtiness the Defense Minister and "Yitzhak," as Barak referred to him with such familiarity even while eulogizing him.
I have no idea what Rabin would have said and done during the current period, but all of us have more than a hint at what he would not have done. We saw him over the course of many years at the Defense Ministry and as prime minister. He didn't set himself up as our savior and redeemer, as someone who knew what to do better than anyone else. He didn't rush to deliver briefings and to order investigations over leaks to the media and he didn't know what "spin" was. He didn't manipulate the Americans or his own cabinet ministers. He didn't recommend military action without the support of those who would have to carry it out, and he didn't take credit for making the decision on military action while deflecting blame for failures in its execution to those under him.
No disagreement between Rabin and the army chief of staff ever ended up in the lap of the State Comptroller or an official investigative panel. He never forced his way into news photos. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer never called him a clown. Happy is he who doesn't know that his successor, who promised us the dawn of a new day, could instead bring darkness at noon.
קראו כתבה זו בעברית: מה שרבין היה עושה