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ISRAEL REFLECTS ON YITZHAK RABIN

Likud Cabinet Minister Olmert: 'Rabin's Oslo Move Was A Courageous Step That Influenced Sharon's Recent Disengagement'

Former Shabak Officer: 'I Don't Believe In Conspiracy Theory, But Maybe New Inquiry Should Be Conducted'

Four Out Of Five Israelis: 'Another Political Assassination Is Likely'

Yitzhak Rabin at Peace Talks (Image: NARA)

November 4th marks the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It is time of memorial services and political soul-searching in the Jewish state which still confronts the same threats and dilemmas as it did ten years ago. Where has the country been since then and where might it be today, if Rabin had survived?

I don't believe in conspiracy theory, but maybe a new inquiry should be conducted into assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Thats the view of Dror Yitzhaki, the Shabak Security Service officer who had overall responsibility for the safety of assassinated prime minister. Yitzhaki told Channel Two TV of a report that a sergeant in the IDF intelligence corps had by chance overheard two people in the Tel Aviv washroom talking about a small Yemenite Jews who had a revolver and who was seriously planning to shoot Prime Minister Rabin. The Shabak officer who resigned after the assassination said the report never reached his desk. Yigal Amir who fit the description shot Rabin to death on Nov. 4th 1995.

Four out of five Israelis say Yitzhak Rabin will not be the last prime minister to be assassinated. Ten years later, the trauma still permeates Israeli society as the country mourns and reflects. Every Israeli will always recall where he was and what he was doing when he heard the astounding news flash on that night.

Yitzhak and Leah Rabin's Grave in Jerusalem

  The what if question is both intriguing and futile when reflecting on past events and trying to imagine their impact on the present. What if Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had survived the bullets of assassin Yigal Amir on that traumatic night of November 4th 1995? Would things have turned out differently? Might Rabin have succeeded in forging a true peace with Yasser Arafat and would Israel and Palestine be living side by side today?

In an article entitled What Might Have Been in the International Herald Tribune (Nov 4th) former U.S. peace envoy Aaron David Miller wrote:

Had Rabin lived, would Arabs and Israelis be any closer to real peace? Could he have overcome the deep divisions of Israeli politics and worked with a dysfunctional and recalcitrant Palestinian partner? In the world of historical contingency, the answer is yes.

In the Israeli daily Maariv, political commentator Ben Caspit presents a fictional account of how Rabin survives the assassination and turns from the Palestinians to work out a deal with Syria on returning the Golan Heights. Aaron Miller believes Rabin a unique leader with unparalleled credibility and vision in peacemaking could have prevailed; Ben Caspit imagines how Rabin would have embarked on a totally different track bringing peace to Israels northern frontier with the Palestinians totally isolated. There is naturally no way of knowing what course the late PM would have charted. Rabin was a leader who talked in terms of the short term although he once spoke publicly of the need to exploit the window of opportunity to reach a deal with the Palestinians before Iran acquired nuclear weapons. So, any assumption as to what Rabin might have done is total conjecture or the product of positive or wishful thinking. Nonetheless, there are several relevant factors that should be considered in the absence of any empirical proof.

First, could even all of Rabin's unparalleled credibility and vision have triumphed over Palestinian enmity. In one of Rabin's last interviews shortly before his assassination, Rabin points out that from January 1st 1994 until October 1995, no less than 119 Israelis had been murdered in numerous Palestinian terror attacks. After the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Arafat continued to wage terrorism as an instrument of policy to pressure Israel. Rather than viewing Oslo as a corridor to a Palestine living in peaceful co-existence with the Jewish state of Israel, did Arafat not turn Oslo into a war of attrition? Although not specifically stated in the agreement, it was clear the Oslo Roadmap lead to a Palestinian state at the end of the five years of good-neighbor relations. In fact, Rabin was not the initiator of Oslo; Uri Savir, Yossi Beilin and Shimon Peres were the political architects who persuaded the Prime Minister to take the chance. After Rabin's assassination, Peres himself took the drivers seat only to face a horrific wave of suicide bombings that slaughtered scores of more Israelis. It was only then that massive American and Israeli pressure moved Arafat to crack down temporarily on Hamas and the other terrorists. By then it was too late, Israeli voters were furious with the Palestinians and voted in hard-liner Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud. But not for long, a majority of Israelis again turned back to the peace process enabling Labors Ehud Barak to trounce Netanyahu in 1999 and open the door again to a Palestinian state. Barak went on to Camp David and with U.S. President Bill Clinton acting as go- between, Arafat was offered over 95% of the territories including parts of Jerusalem in a land exchange. The Palestinians would get Palestine in return for recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up the right of return for the refugees. Arafat didn't say no; he simply got up and walked away. The Palestinian answer came later-a full blown Intifada# 3. Despite the quest of most Israelis for a Palestinian peace deal, they turned again to the Likud and Ariel Sharon for an answer to the suicide bombers who attacked almost at will from the West Bank.

Again, the Palestinians got another chance at the plate. U.S. President George Bush on June 24th 2002 told Yasser Arafat that all the Palestinians had to do to get their state was to stop the terrorism. But, they also turned down that deal. Even today, after Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip and when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas pleads with his people to halt the violence and go for their independent state, the outcome still hangs in the balance.

Question: In light of what has transpired since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin ten years ago, could even the unique leader with unparalleled credibility and vision in peacemaking have prevailed in achieving peace with the Palestinians?

Syrian track: The Shabak Security Service has warned there is a real danger of an assassination attempt against current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This is the result of Sharon's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the settlements there. Keep in mind there were dire threats of a civil war over the issue, although opinion polls showed a majority of Israelis supported the evacuation. The exact opposite is true for the Golan Heights that were conquered by the IDF in the Six-Day War in 1967, after Syrian gunners above constantly shelled Israeli towns and villages down below. Most Israelis are strongly opposed to handing the Golan back to Syria.

Question: If right-winger Ariel Sharon of the Likud had so much trouble evacuation the Gaza Strip which most Israelis did not want, how could left-wing Laborite Yitzhak Rabin have gone down from the Golan Heights which most Israelis do not want to give up? Besides, Sharon would have mounted a huge opposition campaign and never allowed Rabin to return the Golan.

Olmert & The Method In His Madness: Likud Cabinet Minister Ehud Olmert, a vehement opponent of the Oslo Accords, has dropped a political bombshell by describing Rabin's move on Oslo as a courageous step. Olmert now says that with the passage of time, Rabin's move started the process of enlightenment by the Israeli public. Although Oslo had its weaknesses it, Olmert said there could be no doubt that it forced Israeli society to do some soul searching about returning to the right borders for the state of Israel. Olmert was addressing a gathering marking the tenth anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Although he had no regrets about turning thumbs down to Oslo at the time, Olmert admitted it had lead to a more realistic and balanced Israeli approach to the Palestinian issue. He went on to say that without Oslo the timetable for Israels recent disengagement would also have been different. Olmert is now running to be Finance Minister and Likud disengagement rebels who planned on voting for him in the Knesset now threaten to vote against his appointment next week. Olmert was Sharon's point man in the controversial withdrawal plan and the big question is why did he choose to make such a volatile statement. It will obviously burn more of his bridges in the ruling Likud party. Nor was Olmert speaking off the cuff, it was a carefully worded statement with reporters and TV cameras present. Olmert is a crafty politician with aspirations of succeeding Ariel Sharon. Its possible but improbable that he would have praised Rabin on Oslo without checking with the PM. It could be that Olmert is thinking ahead about a Likud split and the ultimate formation of a new centrist party that could appeal to a majority of Israeli voters who support further withdrawals on the West Bank. And those right borders would include the settlement blocs of Ma'ale Adumim, the Etzion Bloc, Pisgat Zeev and Ariel.

David Essing

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