Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described himself in his Knesset speech on Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day on Wednesday as following in the footsteps of his murdered predecessor. Netanyahu quoted at length from Rabin's last Knesset speech, made a month before the assassination, on the day he brought the interim agreement with the Palestinians (Oslo B ) to the vote. Netanyahu wanted to show that the positions he presents today correspond to Rabin's then - Israel as a Jewish state, a united Jerusalem in Israel's sovereignty, meticulous security arrangements and even a refusal to freeze settlements.
Netanyahu said he was going even further than Rabin did - in 1995 Rabin spoke about a Palestinian entity "which is less than a state" and today the prime minister is offering the Palestinians "a demilitarized state that recognizes the state of the Jewish people." Netanyahu also said "there is no argument on separation, there is no argument on peace."
Netanyahu is today drawing on Rabin's example as though he were his peace mentor, but in the Knesset debate 15 years ago he attacked him harshly. "Never before have Jews willingly and joyfully given up parts of their homeland and the recognition of our right to this land," he said at the time.
"Don't tell us stories that your motive for this policy is Jewish values," he threw at Rabin. "Your government is the most detached and most remote from Jewish values we've ever had."
Politicians and leaders are allowed to change their positions, due to belated insight or under pressure of circumstances. It's a good thing Netanyahu understands today the necessity to divide the land between us and the Palestinians so that Israel can exist as a democratic state with a Jewish majority. It is good that Netanyahu is adopting, with regrettable delay, Rabin's heritage. But he is also expected to do some soul searching. Was he wrong then in his total objection to any compromise and agreement with the Palestinians, and did his and his right-wing colleagues' stubborn objection contribute to missing opportunities and the disastrous division in the Israeli public?
The public deserves an answer. Not to reopen the wounds of the past, but to believe Netanyahu really has changed and is capable of leading Israel to an agreement with the Palestinians.
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