Israel's Center-left Must Return to Yitzhak Rabin's Path

If Rabin's political camp has a chance, it must cast off the fabricated image of Rabin the messianic peacenik and return instead to the rough, direct, genuine Rabin.

Ari Shavit
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Smoking the Peace PipeCredit: Yaakov Saar / GPO
Ari Shavit

In another few weeks, we will be returning to that square in the center of Tel Aviv now known as Rabin Square. It will have been 20 years since the night that split Israeli history into two. The speakers will be more distinguished than ever, and the speeches themselves more fiery than ever. And the crowds that will gather opposite Tel Aviv city hall will be pained and troubled. Every year, Yitzhak, the void is deeper. Every year, the despair is darker. The passage of time is not dulling the sense of loss, but rather intensifying it.

Peace has been shelved, hope extinguished. The light that washed over Israel in the early 1990s has disappeared and is no more. It is entirely clear that the Israeli leader whom Yigal Amir shot in the back has never been replaced by any Israeli leader who was really comparable to him. But Yitzhak Rabin was not only murdered. Yitzhak Rabin was also abducted. Over the long years of mourning, grief and remembrance, his image has been distorted. There are those who have turned this commander of the Harel Brigade, IDF chief of staff during the Six-Day War, and security-minded prime minister into what he never was: a peacenik. A leftist. The messiah of peace. The truth is that Rabins charm and the source of his power stemmed from the fact that he was never messianic. He was fundamentally realistic, skeptical and pessimistic.

In his heart of hearts, he knew that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was insoluble. He didnt shed his deep suspiciousness for a moment with regard to some of our neighbors. He didnt for a moment forget the cruel neighborhood in which Israel was living. But in this brutal world, he still believed Israel had a duty to act. And that it was Israels duty to partition the land. It was the duty of Israel to quell the conflict and convert a 100-year war into an ongoing series of interim agreements that would extract us from the curse of the occupation.

Legend has it that if Rabin hadnt been murdered, there would have been peace. Nonsense. The Palestinian national movement has never ceded the right of return of those refugees (and their descendants) whom Rabin expelled from their homes in 1948. The Palestinian national movement has also not given up on Jerusalem, which Rabin insisted would remain a united city. As a result, there was no chance that Rabin and Yasser Arafat would have signed a comprehensive, final peace agreement in 1997 or 1999. Not a chance. But if Rabin had continued to be prime minister during the collapse of the Oslo process, it is reasonable to assume he would have steered it to a long-term interim agreement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Its possible he would have followed the advice of his mentor, Henry Kissinger, taking one step after another toward that summit of peace, in the clear knowledge that it could not be conquered. Rabin would have never tried to reach that end-of-conflict utopia. Instead he would have tried to act within the constraints of the conflict to make Israel strong and moral and a country with a border.

So on the approaching 20th anniversary of his assassination, Yitzhak Rabin is more relevant than ever. In the face of Islamic fanaticism, Arab chaos and Palestinian extremism, only a leader of his kind can abate the justifiable fears of Israelis and restore enlightenment to government. In the face of Jewish radicalization, only a sober and realistic leader can return stability to Israels political system.

If the center-left has a chance, it is only through a return to Rabins path. If Israel has a hope, that hope is only in a renewed embrace of Rabins legacy. Realizing that prospect, however, and renewing the hope for Rabins political camp requires casting off the fabricated image of Rabin that followed his murder, returning instead to the rough, direct, genuine Rabin. At this years memorial in the square, we must not look back in mourning and tears. We need to restore the right spirit. Only such a spirit will be victorious in the great battle for Israels future.

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