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Yitzhak Rabin’s true legacy is trust

He pursued a simple truth: We need to keep trying to bring about peace. It angered a lot of people, it led to his assassination

Yitzhak Rabin’s real legacy isn’t peace and it isn’t war. It’s trust. Rabin’s leadership was based on trust. People believed him and so they trusted him. He led soldiers into the battle and they believed in him. He was a chief of staff, minister of defense and prime minister who the public trusted. He lived and died a man of integrity. He said what he thought and did what he said. He was assassinated because the assassin believed him.

The murderer believed that Rabin wouldn’t step back, wouldn’t blink and wouldn’t surrender so long as he was alive. He murdered him because Rabin had said ten minutes beforehand on the stage in the square: “I want this government to exert every effort, exhaust every opportunity, to promote and to reach a comprehensive peace.” And if Rabin said it then he meant it.

If he hadn’t been murdered, that’s what he would have done. Exerted every effort, exhausted every opportunity. That’s what leaders do. They define the truth and then fight for it.

The attempt to claim that Rabin’s only legacy was that he was murdered is an effort to fabricate history. Rabin isn’t defined by his death, he is defined by his life. Rabin’s legacy is his model of leadership. He defined for us the values of an Israeli leader and since then we have betrayed them again and again.

Rabin’s model of leadership was simple because Rabin believed in simple things. He believed that a leader should speak the truth. A leader should take responsibility for mistakes. A leader should be generous with credit when there are successes. A leader should set targets and not just try to survive from day to day. Define what you want to achieve and work to make it happen. Take risks, absorb the failures and the blows, and do the things that aren’t popular. That was Rabin’s leadership. That’s the leadership our government lacks today.

Rabin was a soldier. He was a better soldier than those who came before or after him. Commander of the Harel Brigade in the War of Independence. Chief of Staff in the Six Day War. Prime Minister during the raid on Entebbe. He believed Israel should be strong and seek peace. So he dedicated the first part of his life to making the country strong and the second part of his life to peace. Both were carried out the same way – he set a target in a loud and clear (and slow) voice and then started heading towards it. No one asked where he was going, everyone knew. Even his opponents and greatest enemies never felt cheated. That might be the greatest political compliment: his opponents believed him. Sometimes they believed him more than his supporters.

Rabin’s legacy says: Define your truth and then be prepared to fight for it. The fight for your truth is the only way of life that is worth living. If you give your word, deliver.

If you define

Rabin’s legacy is a model for our leadership. His legacy is doing the right thing when it’s hard. We look to him, we look at the people leading the country today and we can’t help but see the difference.

If you define what is good for the people of Israel and the land of Israel, that’s more important than what is good for you, more important than your own political survival. There will be difficulties along the way because large goals create large problems. You’ll survive them. You’ll survive them because that’s your job. The essence of the job is withstanding pressure. That means not losing your sense of direction, it means staying focused, it means not looking for someone else to blame, it means searching for solutions. It means to keep fighting for your truth when the whole world tells you that it is time to give up, time to surrender.

Yitzhak Rabin never surrendered. There are soldiers who surrender and there are soldiers who can only be stopped with three bullets. What he left us is a simple truth: We need to keep trying to bring about peace. We might not succeed but we must never give up trying. We are not supposed to pass the issue of the Palestinians on to our children. We’re not meant to pass the conflict on to them. If there is a crack, we need to force our way into it. If there is a moment, we can’t miss it. Without separation from the Palestinians, the Jewish and democratic identity of Israel is at risk. Our role is to prevent that from happening, not to invent messianic illusions and pretend that it will disappear by itself.

When Rabin was assassinated there 5.4 million Jews and 3 million Arabs between the Jordan River and the sea. According to the official figures today between the Jordan River and the sea there are 6.5 million Jews and 6.5 million Arabs. To pretend that isn’t happening isn’t a policy, it’s a dereliction of our responsibility.

Rabin told us that our fate is not something we watch unfold, we need to determine and shape it according to our vital interests. It won’t happen in a day or even two. It also won’t happen at any cost. Rabin was clear about the risks we should never take. He was clear about maintaining the settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley, about security control. He made clear there were national interests, like Jerusalem and the right of return, that we wouldn’t compromise on. Jerusalem is ours. There will be no right of return. Without security control, there won’t be any agreement.

Those are major difficulties, Rabin knew that but he didn’t believe we should surrender to them. Difficulties are what you overcome on the way to reaching your goal. He spoke the truth, as he saw it. It angered a lot of people, it led to his assassination but no one doubted what his truth was. Even when he had doubts, and he had doubts, everyone knew. Deliberations were part of his truth.

We don’t live in a perfect world, there are no perfect solutions but that doesn’t give us the right to stop moving forward. That’s another thing leaders do that is often overlooked: they bring about imperfect solutions. There are no dilemmas between entirely good and entirely bad. Between good and bad the choice is easy and so it isn’t a dilemma at all. Lucky politicians choose between good and good. Real leaders choose between bad and bad. The Oslo process was a flawed process that was stopped in the middle and led to a flawed outcome. But it was less bad than the alternative. The alternative was to do nothing. Rabin didn’t see that as an option at all.

The welcome agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan are presented to the Israeli public as achievements that mean we can continue to do nothing about the Palestinians. That is terribly short-sighted. These agreements should be the first step in a long path to separation from the Palestinians. We should use these agreements to restart the two-state solution via a regional conference. That is an Israeli national interest. It’s not their interest, it is ours.

If Israel takes the two-state solution off the table, we will need to decide what we are offering instead. What is the alternative? How will we remain a Jewish democracy, a national liberal state, if we don’t have any idea what to do about millions of Palestinians living under our rule? It’s a painful dilemma that causes political damage to whoever touches it. That’s exactly why Rabin addressed it. He understood it was his duty as a leader. To tackle the problems no-one else wants to deal with.

Rabin’s legacy is a model for our leadership. His legacy is doing the right thing when it’s hard. We look to him, we look at the people leading the country today and we can’t help but see the difference.

His legacy is the one that allows us to distinguish between leadership that puts the country first and leadership that cares more about itself. He believed in the common good, not what was good for him.

Israel is facing one of its toughest moments. It isn’t only the pandemic, it’s also what is happening within us. The incitement has returned to our streets. The division, the tribalism. We live in a world where the concept of truth is under attack. Lies and truth are treated as equals. Violence is legitimate. Hate is a political tool. During times like this, we often feel nostalgia for leaders from the past, we think about what they would say to us. Rabin would say to us, “don’t talk nonsense, don’t be nostalgic. Go and fix it, that’s your job.”

Opposition Leader Lapid delivered the above in his remarks, Thursday, at a special Knesset session to mark 25 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

About the Author
Yair Lapid is the Founder and Chairperson of Yesh Atid, Israel's centrist party, and the leader of the opposition