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From Rabin To Annapolis

Israel Marks Twelfth Anniversary Of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's Assassination

Yitzhak Rabin

If Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated twelve years ago by Israeli fanatic Yigal Amir would Israel now be at peace with the Palestinians? It is a question that has cropped up on October 24th the day the Jewish state officially marked the tragedy that has stunned Israelis ever since. IsraCast assesses the political climate leading up to the Rabin assassination and subsequent events leading to the upcoming Annapolis peace conference.

What if...? It is a question that haunts Israel twelve years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and a month before Israel, Palestinian and Arab representatives go to the Annapolis Conference at the invitation of U.S President George W. Bush. While the Jewish state pauses and ponders, Rabin's killer Yigal Amir from behind prison bars vys for as much media coverage as the slain prime minister. Amir now serving a life term is about to become a father. Israeli law ruled, that like any other convicted murderer, Amir was entitled to marry, receive conjugal visits from his wife and father a family. He, his family and far-right supporters are campaigning for clemency in the future and a furlough to attend his son's circumcision ceremony. The latest opinion polls indicated that one in four Israelis favor granting clemency that other killers receive - in Israel there is no life sentence without parole.

Yitzhak Rabin's assassination

This apparently has spurred the authorities to release a video recording of Amir's first interrogation by police a short time after he fired three bullet's into Rabin's back at a Tel Aviv peace rally on November 4th 1995. Amir, cocky and defiant , was asked by a police officer if he regretted killing Rabin. Amir retorted in Hebrew: 'Has V'shalom!' - 'Absolutely Not!' Since then there has not been the slightest sign of remorse by Amir - in fact the assassin seems to relish in the fact that he succeeded in killing Rabin and possibly halting the peace process with the Palestinians. Dalia Rabin, the prime minister's daughter, is incensed by Yigal Amir moving into the limelight and declared bluntly that Amir should have been executed at the time. Mainstream political movements from the Right have also spoken out against any move to set Amir free in the future. Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu, who some left-wingers charged had led incitement against Rabin, has stated: 'Amir should be left to rot in prison until his dying day!' Netanyahu as well as former prime minister Ariel Sharon participated in the big Jerusalem rally where a Rabin caricature was decked out in a Nazi SS uniform. Both have said they never saw the caricature and would have protested if they had.

Nonetheless, there is a mounting debate on whether new legislation is required to enable the courts to deal more rigorously with political incitement. Threats were also made against Sharon during Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip two years ago. However so far the general feeling is that Yigal Amir killed a prime minister - we should not allow him to kill our democracy as well by restricting freedom of speech. At the same time there is a body of opinion which holds that branding Israeli politicians as Nazis should be ground for legal prosecution.

The public fixation over the Rabin assassination goes far beyond the emotional jolt that citizens in our countries have experienced when their leaders have also been gunned down. The life and death issues for Israel are still as stark, maybe even more so, than they were twelve years ago. The question of how far Israel can and should go in its quest for peace with the Palestinians still hangs in the balance and is about to be put to the test shortly in Annapolis. And so the question is debated between the Left and the Right over whether Israel would now be at peace with the Palestinians and not in Iran's nuclear cross-hairs, if Rabin had not been shot dead by a lone assassin who charged that Israel's leader was risking Israel's existence by signing the Oslo agreement with Yasser Arafat in 1993.

Shimon Peres

Rabin himself was never that gung ho about Oslo which he reportedly called 'a Swiss cheese filled with holes'. It was the then foreign minister Shimon Peres and his aides who secretly hammered out the agreement with a skeptical Rabin monitoring it from the sidelines. But Rabin, like the majority of Israelis, was driven by the desire to make peace with the Palestinians and end the bloodshed. The country rallied to the cry of 'give peace a chance' in what was viewed as a calculated risk worth taking. The fact is that although the two year period from Oslo to Rabin's assassination is often painted in glowing terms, Palestinian terrorists continued to keep up the pressure. Over two hundred Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks during that time. The idea was that peace was just around the corner and that Palestinian extremists should not be allowed to torpedo the historic process. Rabin himself took the stand that Israel must proceed with the peace-making while making war on the terrorists. This despite the fact that Israeli intelligence officials believed that Arafat never dismantled the terror groups because he chose to activate them from time to time to pressure Israel. Arafat was said to ' fan the flames beneath the terror attacks ' or to be act as the ' arsonist who ignites the blaze and then pretends to be the fireman who rushes to put it out '. Then in March-April of the following year, a crescendo of suicide bombings murdered and maimed scores of Israeli civilians in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Palestinians sabotaged Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Rabin's successor and ultimate Israeli peace maker. Oslo which paved the way to an eventual two state solution of Israel and Palestine was dealt a mortal blow.

Rabin and Peres had given the Palestinians their chance for Palestine and they blew it; but not for long. After three years in office, the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu lost an election after also getting nowhere with his tougher approach of reciprocity: 'If the Palestinians give - they'll get'. Labor's Ehud Barak professing to be Rabin's successor won a big election victory defeating Netanyahu with a pledge to pick up where Rabin had left off. In the midst of Palestinian attacks which included indiscriminate firing from the Palestinian town of Beit Jalla into Jerusalem itself, Barak decided to take the bull by the horns. In cahoots with U.S. President Bill Clinton, Barak went to Camp David in July 2000 to try and hammer out a final peace deal with Arafat. Everything was on the table including an Israeli withdrawal from 95% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with land swaps on the remaining 5%, the partition of Jerusalem, the return of some but not all the Palestinian refugees and the end to the conflict. President Clinton, an active participant in the negotiations, would act as guarantor. Palestine and far more than Rabin had signed on to in the Oslo agreement was offered to Arafat. But the Palestinian leader did not say yes- he didn't even say no. Arafat just got up and went home. This has been attested to by Clinton and two other Camp David participants peace envoy Dennis Ross and CIA Director George Tenet.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Ironically, Barak returned home to be attacked by the Israeli peace camp for going 'too far' at Camp David. Could Rabin's statecraft have made a dramatic breakthrough to peace. It is highly unlikely that Rabin would have offered greater concessions than did Barak who turned over backward to reach an agreement with Arafat. At least at Camp David, Yasser Arafat was considered strong enough to take on Hamas and the other Islamist groups to make a deal stick - one that would give the Palestinians their Palestine. But now it's President Mahmoud Abbas still licking his wounds after being expelled from Gaza by Hamas in June. Members of his Fatah movement on the West Bank were caught by Israel's Security Service planning to assassinate another Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert whom Abbas had invited to visit Jericho. Abbas was acutely embarrassed by the event- all the more so after his own security people had arrested some of the plotters and then let them go. The whole affair illustrates just how weak and out of touch Abbas is on his own turf. It's been said the tragedy is that Arafat was strong enough to make peace with Israel but didn't want to whereas Abbas wants to make peace with Israel but is not strong enough. Now this is the Palestinian leader the Israeli public will see as their peace partner in Annapolis. And this is also why most Israelis will not get too excited when foreign leaders and pundits start joining the chorus calling on Israel to be ready for 'painful concessions and to give peace a chance' at the upcoming peace conference.

Rabin honored in state ceremony at Mt. Herzl

 

 

 




 

David Essing

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