Opinion |

Setting the Record Straight on Yitzhak Rabin

The assassination of the former prime minister in 1995 isn't the main reason a Palestinian state hasn't been established - despite what Yasser Arafat believed

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1994.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Casablanca, Morocco, in 1994.Credit: Yaakov Sa'ar/GPO
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

One of the foolish remarks Yasser Arafat used to make – and which you can still hear some of his people saying to this day – was that if Yigal Amir hadn’t assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, the Oslo process would have continued and reached a good conclusion: a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Arafat and his circle had to justify the Oslo Accords to themselves and their people. They had to excuse the serious mistakes they made during negotiations (initially naively and carelessly, then later with a mixture of innocence, negligence, stupidity, incompetence, powerlessness, increasing impotence, turning a blind eye, and personal considerations of survival and corruption).

Israeli policy was not and is not formed based on the decisions of only one person. And certainly not when it comes to the key question of our Zionist being: What the hell to do with all these Arabs who pushed themselves into our Jewish home. The proud Zionist answer to this question today can be found in the reality of crowded Palestinian enclaves, dwarfed by the real estate-hungry Jewish space that God promised us. Whether He exists or not.

One person can’t be responsible for this convenient reality – not even the most seasoned of our geopolitical thinkers, Shimon Peres or Ariel Sharon, or Shlomo Moskowitz, who from 1988 to 2013 headed the Civil Administration’s supreme planning committee, which entrenched planning apartheid in the West Bank.

In order to shape the reality of the enclaves, a whole web of ideologues, generals, lawyers, officials, seekers of improved housing, rabbis, politicians, geographers, historians, contractors and many, many more were needed. Therefore, one person is not enough to block a policy that a determined and fully coordinated web designed. Not even Rabin – even if we assume for a moment that he realized a logical agreement could be based only on a contiguous Palestinian state.

True, Rabin called the settlers in the Golan Heights “propellers,” but he also said he wished Gaza would drown in the sea. He also did a very good job of defining Israel’s expectations from its Palestinian subcontractor when he said the Palestinian Authority would rule without the High Court of Justice and without the human rights group B’Tselem. And yet, more important than his politically incorrect statements are the facts on the ground, which were determined even before his murder.

And these are the foundations of the reality of the enclaves – which are the opposite of a state: Cutting off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank; cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian area; Area C; a weakened Palestinian leadership; strengthening the settlements and settlers; two unequal infrastructures and legal systems – one for the Jews and one for the Palestinians; the use of the security pretext as a colonialist tool. This is a reality that cannot be created in a day.

In Rabin’s time, the closure of the Gaza Strip – that is, the regime that started banning freedom of movement – grew ever tighter. Students were not allowed to return from their studies to the Gaza Strip. And then, suddenly, he allowed only students from Bir Zeit to return. Asked why only them, he said (as a member of the Palestinian liaison committee at the time told me), “When Arafat asked me to allow students to return, he only mentioned Bir Zeit University.”

Rabin supported the creation of a network of bypass roads in the West Bank – an important condition for attracting new settlers and for cutting off Palestinian geographical contiguity, strengthening the interim phase in exchange for making the phase of the Palestinian state dispensable.

Marwan Barghouti, in a typical mixture of incredulity and seriousness, told me about the following conversation between Rabin and Arafat:

Rabin: “But how will the settlers get to their homes in the interim phase if they don’t have separate roads?”

Arafat: “They’re welcome to travel through our cities.”

Rabin: “But if somebody hurts them, we will stop the negotiations and the redeployment.”

Arafat: “Heaven forbid! OK, so build the roads.”

As prime minister and defense minister, Rabin punished the Palestinians in Hebron for the massacre perpetrated on them by Baruch Goldstein in 1994. The army, under his control, imposed draconian movement restrictions on the Palestinians – which only became worse over time – and was responsible for the emptying of Palestinian residents from the city center. Rabin is the one who refused to evacuate the Hebron settlers after the massacre.

The silent transfer policy in Jerusalem (revoking the residency status of Palestinian, native-born Jerusalemites) began secretly – as usual, without any official declaration – during his time as prime minister. The struggle against it started only after evidence began to mount in 1996. The artificial division of the West Bank into areas A, B and C as a guide for the gradual redeployment of the army, was imposed during the negotiations for the Interim Agreement, which was signed in September 1995.

It’s impossible to know whether Rabin was a partner to that evil trick, through which, in the guise of a gradual process and for security reasons, Israel preserved Area C as a land reserve for Jews. But he was the one who coined the phrase, “There are no sacred dates,” in connection with the implementation of the Oslo Accords.

The assassin was so successful because, contrary to the right-wing propaganda, the government headed by Labor had no intention of cutting the umbilical cord by which it was connected to its colonialist methods and goals. The argument with opponents in Likud was never about the principles, but only about the number and size of Bantustans to be allocated to the Palestinians.

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