To me, Ytizhak Rabin was a symbol of everything that is good and strong in Israel. I admired his modesty, I respected the intelligence and determination that made him a formidable military strategist, and I loved the pragmatism that made him a successful statesman and a man of peace.
Rabin was Israel
In many ways, Rabin was Israel.
Like Israel, Rabin fought when he had to fight, and he made peace when he could make peace. His daughter Dalia said, “He is portrayed as a hawk who became a dove. He wasn’t a hawk and he wasn’t a dove. […] He was pragmatic, and he wasn’t naïve.”
Like Israel, Rabin was an accidental soldier. At age 16, he was given a rifle so he could defend himself, but he later admitted, “That was not my dream. I wanted to be a water engineer. […] However, I was compelled to resort to the gun.”
Like Israel, Rabin was brash yet truthful. As Aaron David Miller wrote, Rabin had “a rough-hewn authenticity, quiet strength, and trustworthiness”.
Like Israel, Rabin did not care about formality, but he insisted on results, and he knew how to get them. As U.S. President Bill Clinton said at the funeral of Rabin, “To him, ceremonies and words were less important than actions and deeds”.
Like Israel, Rabin was uneasy about a Palestinian state. Rabin noted in his memoirs that he told U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1977, “The Labor Alignment would be prepared to share control over the West Bank with Jordan, placing Jordan in charge of the Arab civil administration and Israel in charge of security matters. […] We are vigorously opposed to an independent Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan.”
Like Israel, Rabin’s later support for the two-state concept was based in pragmatism. He said, “We had to choose between the whole of the land of Israel, which meant a binational state […] and a state with less territory, but which would be a Jewish state. We chose to be a Jewish state.”
An outstanding leader
Aaron David Miller wrote, “The assassination took away a leader of rare distinction and quality at a time when his nation needed him most. Israel […] lacks a leader of Rabin’s stature, temperament, and experience.” In his memoirs, U.S. President Bill Clinton wrote about Rabin, “With every encounter, I came to respect and care for him more. By the time he was killed, I had come to love him as I had rarely loved another man.”
Rabin was a great loss to Israel, but his death has resulted in a cult of personality that goes far beyond what he was or what he could have achieved. Tom Segev said, “Rabin has become the poster boy for what Zionism and Israel have lost. He was the opposite of the fanatics. He was secular, pragmatic and sane. He was the last of the beautiful Israelis.” But Segev is wrong. The “beautiful Israelis” are still very much alive.
Peace but not at any cost
Rabin craved peace. He said, “There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives. Not armored plating, or tanks, or planes, or concrete fortifications. The one radical solution is peace.” But he was not a pacifist, and he said “To preserve the sanctity of life, we must sometimes risk it. Sometimes there is no other way to defend our citizens than to fight for their lives, for their safety and sovereignty.”
Rabin had great pride in the IDF, whom he considered “an extension of the unique spirit of the entire Jewish people”, but he was acutely aware of the huge cost of war. He spoke movingly about it in his speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, but even when he celebrated a military victory, he did not lose sight of that cost. On June 28, 1967, he said, “The warriors in the front lines witnessed not only the glory of victory but also its price – their comrades who fell beside them, bleeding. And I know that the terrible price paid by our enemies also touched the hearts of many of our men deeply.”
However, it is wrong to suggest that peace has eluded Israel because of Rabin’s death. Less than a month before his assassination, Rabin told the Knesset that what he envisaged for the Palestinians was “an entity which is less than a state”. He pledged to “not return to the 4 June 1967 lines”, and he wanted a “united Jerusalem” and “the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities”.
After Rabin’s death, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians East Jerusalem as part of a package that was far more extensive than Rabin had ever suggested. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later made a similar offer. Both offers were rejected by the Palestinians. Rabin could not have offered more, and most likely he would have offered less.
Aaron David Miller, who wrote, “I’m betting that had Rabin lived, the future of the state of Israel — both its politics and its foreign policy — would have been different and much better,” also added, “Rabin was a cautious peacemaker, an incrementalist. In many respects he saw the Oslo process as a probationary period for the Palestinians.” Had he been alive today, Rabin would have agreed that the Palestinians flunked their probationary period.
Peace is not in the hands of the Israeli leaders but in the hands of the Palestinians. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said repeatedly that he would agree to a feasible two-state solution. He reiterated that support again recently when he said, “I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples: a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.” Yair Rosenberg noted, “Netanyahu […] has governed—both in word and deed—from Rabin’s left.”
Israelis are all Rabin
Rabin was a hero of necessity, just like many other Israelis since 1948. Israelis are scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, and farmers by choice, but they are soldiers by necessity. Each one of them is a Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin is still alive, and he can be found on every street and in every profession in Israel.
While the rest of the world is starting to wake up to the reality of terrorism, Israelis have been fighting that scourge for generations. Israel is a country of heroes who put their lives on the line every day to defend their country and to improve it despite relentless Arab hate and terrorism, but they cannot force Palestinians to want peace.
Respecting Rabin’s memory
One month before his death, Rabin said, “The primary obstacle today, to implementing the peace process between us and the Palestinians, is the murderous terrorism of the radical Islamic terrorist organizations, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which are joined by the rejectionist organizations.” Fast forward twenty years and several waves of Palestinian terrorism later, and we note that not much has changed.
The road to peace today is the same as it was before Rabin was assassinated, and it requires ending Palestinian terrorism, hatred, and incitement. Pretending otherwise does not serve the memory of Rabin, and it does not serve peace.