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Yitzhak Rabin's Legacy of Endless Negotiations

The fact that he was assassinated doesn't prove the late prime minister sought true peace. Quite the contrary

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Bill Clinton (C) looks on as Yitzhak Rabin (L) and Yasser Arafat shake hands at the White House, September 13, 1993.
Bill Clinton (C) looks on as Yitzhak Rabin (L) and Yasser Arafat shake hands at the White House, September 13, 1993. Credit: REUTERS/Gary Hershorn
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The fact that an Israeli rightist murdered him doesn’t prove that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had severed himself from Israel’s heritage and the Israeli establishment to seek a true peace. Quite the contrary.

On October 5, 1995, a month before his murder, while giving the Knesset the details of the interim agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Rabin laid out the principles of what he termed a “final-status solution.” The resemblance between those principles, listed below, and today’s reality of Palestinian enclaves and the de facto annexation of most of the West Bank is no accident.

1. A Palestinian entity that will be less than a state.

2. No return to the June 4, 1967, lines.

3. A united Jerusalem, including the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, as Israel’s capital.

4. The Jordan Valley as Israel’s security border.

5. Gush Etzion, Efrat, Betar and other West Bank settlements will be part of Israel.

6. Settlement blocs like Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip should be established in the West Bank, “and if only there were such blocs.”

7. Israel will comprise a majority of the territory of Mandatory Palestine, since it’s preferable for this territory to be Jewish rather than binational.

At that Knesset session, Rabin also said, “We didn’t commit to the scope of the redeployment at any stage.” In other words, Israel would make sure the territory in which Palestinians were given planning authority and control of the land was as small as possible. And that in fact happened.

Moreover, he said, “We promised the Knesset that we won’t uproot a single settlement under the interim agreement, nor will we freeze construction or natural growth.” Someone who spends tens of millions of dollars today on building settlement blocs, infrastructure, roads, buildings and public institutions doesn’t intend to dismantle them tomorrow – unless some powerful political or economic force emerges that compels him to stop thumbing his nose at international law and violating it.

Could such a political force have arisen in the 1990s against the old determinism of settler-colonialism? Most Israelis who supported peace and Palestinian rights never bothered to delve into the details. Some believed that talking about peace would create a “positive dynamic”; some ignored the PLO’s basic, reasonable demands; and some viewed the settlements as a private, temporary enterprise by a specific group rather than as part of their country’s DNA.

The PLO hobbled itself. The European Union upgraded its relationship with Israel as if it had already obeyed UN resolutions and international law and withdrawn from the occupied territories. In various Arab states, the elites were already preparing for good economic relations with Israel.

And that satisfied Israel’s business sector, which back then had pushed for a deal with the Palestinians to pave its way to new markets, technologies and international contracts. If that could be achieved solely through endless negotiations, without peace, then why not? And that’s how the road was paved to today’s full diplomatic ties with Arab states.

Whether or not the right believed back then that such a force could emerge, it was smart enough to create an opposing political force through street activism, propaganda, intimidation, forging ties with the American right and depicting Palestinian attacks as an existential threat.

Rabin said at that Knesset session that they weren’t an existential threat but were an obstacle to implementing the peace process. And thus, like most Israelis, he cast the blame on the dispossessed and the occupied.

The murder was the climax of the incitement. It also accelerated and intensified the dynamic of Palestinian enclaves that Rabin laid out in his principles for a final-status solution.

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