Twenty years have passed, and the despicable murder still haunts many hearts. Now and then the murderer gets some media coverage, and there are even those courageous folks seeking to get his sentence commuted.
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I cannot know for sure that Yitzhak Rabin would have lived up to the expectations pinned to him after his death, nor if he would have been pleased to have his path as a prime minister who fell while safeguarding democracy termed a “legacy.” Once he was murdered, everyone was free to interpret his path and his intentions.
One of the most prominent interpreters of his career is Ari Shavit. In his October 8 opinion piece, he argues that we need a leader of his stature, who will realize his vision. In that he is correct. It’s too bad, however, that Rabin’s path is not the focus of public discourse. The public is preoccupied with a lot of other things, and there are many who claim that Rabin negotiated with an enemy that there was no point in dealing with at all.
Shavit is also correct when he states that Rabin’s approach to the conflict and to the Palestinian leadership was characterized by caution and skepticism. He wasn’t planning to be the first leader to shake the hand of the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and he set security and diplomatic restrictions that would have made it difficult to ever sign a peace treaty.
In fact, I would not have felt obligated to respond to Shavit’s piece if it weren’t for this remark: “Legend has it that if Rabin hadn’t been murdered, there would have been peace. Nonsense.”
Given this claim I feel that I must share with readers a conversation I had with Rabin one Saturday in October 1995, two days before the Oslo II agreement was ratified by the Knesset. At the time I was a minister in his government but I had been in New York because of my wife’s illness. I went to meet him at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel because I wanted to be updated before I returned to Israel for that crucial vote.
Rabin was in an uncommonly good mood. He told me about the signing of Oslo II and about the positive reaction he had received from an interview that he and Shimon Peres had given to Israel Television. I asked him how he planned to maneuver between the Palestinian track and the Syrian track, which had also opened to possible negotiations. Rabin said he would have a hard time advancing both tracks together in 1996, which is why he planned to focus on the Oslo process. He expressed opposition to many of the Palestinian demands, but said that once he had taken the plunge he wanted to reach the shore safely, and that safety was a signed peace agreement with the Palestinians.
He was aware of the opposition from the religious right, but vehemently opposed its direction, believing it would lead Israel to a dead end. He viewed the settlements as a historic mistake that would pose difficulties for any agreement.
We parted ways, and two days later we met in the Knesset. During the debate on the agreements Rabin was angry and impatient. He refused to hear the arguments of Benjamin Netanyahu after the latter led a demonstration against him in Jerusalem’s Zion Square. The agreement passed 61-59. Less than a month later, Rabin was assassinated and the end of his life may well have heralded the end of his path.
I can’t pretend to know how Rabin would have reacted to the numerous terror attacks in early 1996. In any case, even his diplomatic outline would have required many adjustments to reach a peace agreement.
Ari Shavit believes in interim agreements and believes that even Rabin would have preferred them. I doubt it. I think the Palestinians aren’t interested in interim agreements because they fear that Israel will relate to them as permanent ones. I agree with Shavit that Israel needs a leader with Rabin’s DNA, who will act with faith and determination to reach an agreement, because there is no alternative.