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Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin


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Yithaz Rabin was born in Jerusalem in 1922. He studied at Kandoorie Agricultural High School and joined the army on the outbreak of the Second World War. This included taking part in sabotage operations in Lebanon and Syria.

The Jewish state of Israel was established on 14th May 1948 when the British mandate over Palestine came to an end. The neighbouring Arab states refused to recognize Israel and invaded the country on the 15th May. Rabin fought in the war and represented the Israeli Defence Forces when the armistice was signed in March 1949.

Rabin studied at Camberley Staff College in England and in 1964 became Chief of Staff and led the Israeli armed forces in the Six-Day War. The Israeli army reached the Suez Canal and the west bank of the Jordan river on 7th June. Over the next three days the Israelis captured the Golan Heights and territory in Syria. The Israelis also gained control over the West Bank of Jordan and the 600,000 Arabs living in that area.

Rabin served as ambassador to the United States (1968-73) before replacing Golda Meir as leader of the Labour Party in 1974.

Menachem Begin appointed Rabin as his Defence Minister in his coalition government in 1984. The following year he withdrew Israeli troops from occupied Lebanon.

In 1992 Rabin became prime minister. He favoured Palestinian self-government. In 1993 Rabin and Shimon Peres negotiated a peace agreement with Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. This involved Israelis withdrawing from Jericho and the Gaza Strip. As a result the three men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Rabin's policies were unpopular with some sections of the population and on 4th November 1995 he was assassinated by a Israeli extremist while attending a peace rally in Tel Aviv.


Yitzhak Rabin: Eulogies at Rabin's Funeral

It is with deep regret that we are assembled here today to pay our last regrets to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a courageous leader and recognized statesman.

His earnest efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East are a testament to his vision, which we share, to end the suffering of all the peoples of Arab regions. He defied the prejudices of the past to tackle the most complicated of problems, namely the Palestinian problem, in a forthright manner.

The success he achieved in this regard has finally led to the foundations of peaceful coexistence between the Palestinians and the Israelis in a climate of trust and mutual respect.

The untimely loss of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at this important juncture in the history of the Middle East has dealt a severe blow to our noble cause. We must therefore redouble our efforts and reaffirm our obligation to continue the sacred mission to achieve a just and lasting peace. We must deprive those traitorous hands hostile toward our goal from reaping the rewards of their vile actions.

Only through our unwavering commitment to this objective can we truly honor the memory of this fallen hero of peace. And I could say that is the best memorial to Yitzhak Rabin.

On this sad occasion, ladies and gentlemen, I extend the condolences of government of Egypt and my personal condolences to the government of Israel and the family of Yitzhak Rabin.

King Hussein of Jordan:

I never thought that the moment would come like this, when I would grieve the loss of a brother, a colleague and a friend, a man, a soldier who met us on the opposite side of a divide, whom we respected as he respected us, a man I came to know because I realized as he did that we had to cross over the divide, establish the dialogue and strive to leave also for us a legacy that is worthy of him.

And so he did. And so we became brethren and friends.

Never in all my thoughts would it occur to me that my first visit to Jerusalem . would be on such an occasion.

You lived as a soldier. You died as a soldier for peace and I believe it is time for all of us to come out openly and to speak of peace. Not here today, but for all the times to come. We belong to the camp of peace. We believe in peace. We believe that our one God wishes us to live in peace and wishes peace upon us.

Let's not keep silent. Let our voices rise high to speak of our commitment to peace for all times to come and let us tell those who live in darkness, who are the enemies of light . This is where we stand. This is our camp. We are determined to conclude the legacy for which my friend fell as did my grandfather in this very city when I was with him as but a young boy. He was a man of courage, a man of vision and he was endowed with one of the greatest virtues that any man can have. He was endowed with humility. And, standing here, I commit before you, before my people in Jordan and before the world myself to continue to do the utmost to ensure that we shall leave a similar legacy.

The peaceful people in the majority of my country, of the armed forces and people who once were your enemies are somber today and their hearts are heavy. Let us hope and pray that God will give us all guidance each in his respective position to do what he can for the better future that Yitzhak Rabin sought.

President Bill Clinton of the United States:

To Leah, to the Rabin children and grandchildren and other family members, President Weizman, Acting Prime Minister Peres, members of the Israeli government and the Knesset, distinguished leaders from the Middle East and around the world, especially His Majesty, King Hussein for those remarkable and wonderful comments and President Mubarak for taking this historic trip here and to all the people of Israel, the American people mourn with you in the loss of your leader. And I mourn with you for he was my partner and friend.

Every moment we shared was a joy because he was a good man and an inspiration, because he was also a great man.

Leah, I know that too many times in the life of this country, you were called upon to comfort and console the mothers and the fathers, the husbands and the wives, the sons and the daughters who lost their loved ones to violence and vengeance. You gave them strength. Now, we here and millions of people all around the world, in all humility and honor, offer you our strength. May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and to Israel. Yitzhak Rabin lived the history of Israel through every trial and triumph, the struggle for independence, the wars for survival, the pursuit of peace and in all he served on the front lines. This son of David and of Solomon took up arms to defend Israel's freedom and laid down his life to secure Israel's future. He was a man completely without pretense as all of his friends knew.

I read that in 1949, after the War of Independence, David Ben-Gurion sent him to represent Israel at the armistice talks at Rhodes and he had never before worn a necktie and did not know how to tie the knot. So, the problem was solved by a friend who tied it for him before he left and showed him how to preserve the knot simply by loosening the tie and pulling it over his head.

Well, the last time we were together, not two weeks ago, he showed up for a black tie event on time, but without the black tie. And so, he borrowed a tie. And I was privileged to straighten it for him. It is a moment I will cherish as long as I live.

To him, ceremonies and words were less important than actions and deeds. Six weeks ago, the king and President Mubarak will remember, we were at the White House for signing the Israel/Palestinian agreement and a lot of people spoke. I spoke. The king spoke. Chairman Arafat spoke. President Mubarak spoke. Our foreign ministers all spoke. And finally, Prime Minister Rabin got up to speak and he said, "First, the good news. I am the last speaker." But he also understood the power of words and symbolism. Take a look at the stage he set in Washington - the King of Jordan, the President of Egypt, Chairman Arafat and us, the prime minister and foreign minister of Israel on one platform.

"Please take a good hard look. The sight you see before you was impossible, was unthinkable just three years ago. Only poets dreamt of it and to our great pain, soldiers and civilians went to their deaths to make this moment possible" - those were his words.

Today, my fellow citizens of the world, I ask all of you to take a good hard look at this picture. Look at the leaders from all over the Middle East and around the world who have journeyed here today for Yitzhak Rabin and for peace. Though we no longer hear his deep and booming voice, it is he who has brought us together again here, in word and deed, for peace.

Now it falls to all of us who love peace and all of us who loved him to carry on the struggle to which he gave life and for which he gave his life. He cleared the path. And his spirit continues to light the way. His spirit lives on in the growing peace between Israel and her neighbors. It lives in the eyes of the children, the Jewish and the Arab children, who are leaving behind a past of fear for a future of hope. It lives on in the promise of true security.

So, let me say to the people of Israel - Even in your hour of darkness, his spirit lives on and so you must not lose your spirit. Look at what you have accomplished making a once-barren desert bloom, building a thriving democracy in a hostile terrain, winning battles and wars and now winning the peace which is the only enduring victory.

Your prime minister was a martyr for peace, but he was a victim of hate. Surely, we must learn from his martyrdom that if people cannot let go of the hatred of their enemies, they risk sowing the seeds of hatred among themselves.

I ask you, the people of Israel on behalf of my nation that knows its own long litany of loss from Abraham Lincoln to President Kennedy to Martin Luther King, do not let that happen to you - in the Knesset, in your homes, in your places of worship, stay the righteous course.

As Moses said to the children of Israel when he knew he would not cross over into the Promised Land: "Be strong and of good courage. Fear not, for God will go with you. He will not fail you. He will not forsake you."

President Weizman, Acting Prime Minister Peres, to all the people of Israel, as you stay the course of peace, I make this pledge - Neither will America forsake you.

Legend has it that in every generation of Jews from time immemorial, a just leader emerged to protect his people and show them the way to safety. Prime Minister Rabin was such a leader. He knew, as he declared to the world on the White House lawn two years ago that the time had come, in his words "to begin a new reckoning in the relations between people, between parents tired of war, between children who will not know war.

Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres:

We have not come to cover your grave, we have come to salute you, Yitzhak, for what you were: a valiant soldier, who bequeathed victories to his people: a great dreamer, who forged a new reality in our region.

Last Saturday night, we joined hands and stood side by side. Together we sang "Shir Hashalom - the Song of Peace," and I sensed your exhilaration. You told me that you had been warned of assassination attempts at the huge rally. We didn't know who the assailant would be, nor did we estimate the enormity of the assault. But we knew that we must not fear death and that we cannot be hesitant in seeking peace.

One day earlier, we met privately, as we often did. For the first time, you remarked that the work is arduous, but peace obliges us.

I knew your temperance and consequently your refusal to be swept away, not even by peace. I knew your wisdom and hence your caution against premature disclosures. These were the qualities of a captain and a captain you were since your early adulthood. A daring captain on Israel's battlefields and a great captain in the campaign for peace in the Middle East.

To be a captain is not a light task. And you were not a lighthearted person. Earnestness became second nature to you and responsibility your first. These two traits made you a rare leader, capable of uprooting mountains and blazing trails of designating a goal and achieving it.

I did no know that these were to be the last hours of our partnership, which knew no bounds. I sensed that a special benevolence had descended upon you, that you could suddenly breathe freely at the sight of the sea of friends who came to support your chosen course and to cheer you.

The peak to which you led us opened wide and from it you could behold the landscape of the new tomorrow, the landscape promised to the new Israel and its youth.

Yitzhak, the youngest of Israel's generals and Yitzhak, the greatest of peacemakers: the suddenness of your passing illuminated the abundance of your accomplishments.

You resembled no one nor did you seek to emulate anyone. You were not one of the "joyous and merry."

You were one who made great demands - first of yourself and therefore also of others.

You refused to accept failures and you were not intimidated by pinnacles. You knew every detail and you grasped the overall picture. You shaped the details one by one to from great steps, great decisions.

All your life, you worked hard, day and night, but the last three years were unparalleled in their intensity. You promised to change priorities. Indeed, a new order has arrived, a priority of openness.

New crossroads have been opened, new roads paved unemployment has declined immigrants have been absorbed exports have increased and investments expanded the economy is flourishing education has doubled and science has advanced.

And above all, perhaps at the root of it all, the mighty winds of peace have begun to blow.

Two agreements with our neighbors the Palestinians will enable them to hold democratic elections and will free us from the necessity of ruling another people - as you promised.

A warm peace with Jordan invited the great desert between us to become a green promise for both peoples.

The Middle East has reawakened and a coalition of peace is taking shape: a regional coalition supported by a world coalition, to which the leaders of America and Europe, of Asia and Africa, of Australia and of our region standing alongside your fresh grave bear witness.

They came, as we did, to salute you and declare that the course that you began will continue.

This time, Leah is here without you, but the whole nation is with her and with the family.

I see our people in profound shock, with tears in their eyes, but also a people who know that the bullets that murdered you could not murder the idea which you embraced. You did not leave us a last will, but you left us a path on which we will march with conviction and faith. The nation is shedding tears, but these are also tears of unity and spiritual uplifting.

I see our Arab neighbors and to them I say: The course of peace is irreversible. Neither for us, nor for you. Neither we nor you can stop, delay or hesitate when it comes to peace - a peace that must be full and comprehensive, for young and old, for all the peoples.

From here, from Jerusalem, where you were born, the birthplace of the three great religions, let us say in the words of the lamentation of Rachel, who passed away on the very day that you were slain:

"Refrain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes from tears for thy work shall be rewarded and there is hope for thy future, saith the Lord." (Jeremiah 31: 16-17)

Good-bye, my older brother, hero of peace. We shall continue to bear this great peace, near and far, as you sought during your lifetime, as you charge us with your death.

Noa Ben-Artzi Filosof for Her Grandfather

You will forgive me, for I do not want to talk about peace. I want to talk about my grandfather. One always wakes up from a nightmare. But since yesterday, I have only awakened to a nightmare -- the nightmare of life without you, and this I cannot bear. The television does not stop showing your picture you are so alive and tangible that I can almost touch you, but it is only "almost" because already I cannot.

Grandfather, you were the pillar of fire before the camp and now we are left as only the camp, alone, in the dark, and it is so cold and sad for us. I know we are talking in terms of a national tragedy, but how can you try to comfort an entire people or include it in your personal pain, when grandmother does not stop crying, and we are mute, feeling the enormous void that is left only by your absence.

Few truly knew you. They can still talk alot about you, but I feel that they know nothing about the depth of the pain, the disaster and, yes, this holocaust, for -- at least for us, the family and the friends, who are left only as the camp, without you -- our pillar of fire.

Grandfather, you were, and still are our, hero. I want you to know that in all I have ever done, I have always seen you before my eyes. Your esteem and love accompanied us in every step and on every path, and we lived in the light of your values. You never abandoned us, and now they have abandoned you -- you, my eternal hero -- cold and lonely, and I can do nothing to save you, you who are so wonderful.

People greater than I have already eulogized you, but none of them was fortunate like myself [to feel] the caress of your warm, soft hands and the warm embrace that was just for us, or your half-smiles which will always say so much, the same smile that is no more, and froze with you. I have no feelings of revenge because my pain and loss are so big, too big. The ground has slipped away from under our feet, and we are trying, somehow, to sit in this empty space that has been left behind, in the meantime, without any particular success. I am incapable of finishing, but it appears that a strange hand, a miserable person, has already finished for me. Having no choice, I part from you, a hero, and ask that you rest in peace, that you think about us and miss us, because we here -- down below -- love you so much. To the angels of heaven that are accompanying you now, I ask that they watch over you, that they guard you well, because you deserve such a guard. We will love you grandfather, always.


Born to Zionists in Palestine

Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, in British-controlled Palestine, on March 1, 1922, the first of the Rabins' two children. Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv, where his father, Nehemiah Rubitzov (he took the name Rabin before marrying), worked at the Electric Corporation and his mother, Rosa, worked as an accountant. Rabin's parents both felt strongly about the importance of community service and volunteered their time to a variety of public causes including Zionism, the belief in the creation of an independent Jewish State. They had met in 1920 while defending a Jewish section of Jerusalem against an Arab attack.

During his youth Rabin was taught that collective agricultural settlements, called kibbutzim, were essential to the goal of securing a homeland for Jews. Although Rabin had grown up in a city, he decided to study agriculture in order to help establish such settlements. He entered the Kadouri Agricultural School in 1937, where he learned farming techniques. He also learned how to use weapons, in order to defend Jewish settlements and schools that were sometimes attacked by Arabs angry at the number of Jewish people living in Palestine. Continued riots between Arabs and Jews, and then the start of World War II (1939–45 war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan) interrupted Rabin's education, but he eventually graduated and won a scholarship to study at the University of California at Berkeley. Although he hoped to continue his studies at some point, he turned down the scholarship because, as he wrote in his memoirs, "I was simply incapable of leaving the country, and my friends, during wartime." This decision changed the course of his life.


The Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin embodied the contradictions of his nation. He was first and foremost a military man, leading the Israel Defense Force to victory in the Six Day War. But he was an agitator for peace, as well. As Prime Minister, Rabin initiated negotiations with the Palestinians&ndashfamously shaking hands with his enemy, Yasser Arafat. In the story of the State of Israel, Rabin&rsquos centrality is indisputable. His legacy, on the other hand, is fiercely disputed. Rabin&rsquos assassination transformed him into a mythical figure, a symbol of a panoply of different&ndashsometimes divergent&ndashideologies. What is Yitzhak Rabin&rsquos legacy? There&rsquos no one answer. Here are a few.

Above all, Yitzhak Rabin was a hero of the great Israeli adventure. From the War of Independence to the Six Day War, he earned the respect of all, friends and enemies alike. He epitomized a generation that made the desert bloom, created a vibrant democracy, and accomplishing the dream of a millennium: The creation of a homeland to the Jewish people that would give refuge to Jewish victims of persecution throughout the world.

-Jacques Chirac, President of France, Ynetnews

Rabin bequeathed to us a model of politics at its best. Politics whose essence is serving the public, serving the state, service that will influence coming generations. Rabin&rsquos legacy to the state in those years was courage, respect, and equality&hellip. Rabin the man will not return, but his legacy will stay with us as long as there are citizens in the State of Israel who fight for it. The murder took us back but it cannot stop the wheels of history.

-Shimon Peres, Labor leader, Yediot Aharonot

From the distance of time and perspective, Yitzhak Rabin&rsquos Oslo Agreement brought on a process of disillusionment by the Israeli public and the formation of a more realistic, sober and balanced perception of the moves Israel has to make&hellipThe Oslo agreement had its weaknesses but it was also justified. There is no doubt that it forced Israeli society to self examination that led to the conclusion that Israel must return to its correct borders and that it should be a Jewish and democratic state.

-Ehud Olmert, Likud leader, Haaretz

In death, there are those who want to repaint Rabin as the white dove of Israeli history and I say this does not do him justice&hellipI loved Rabin. He was no vegetarian. He could be brutal, but he was extremely honest and we must never forget he led the (Israeli army) to its greatest victory in 1967. The truth is he was not Mr. Democracy or Mr. Peace, he was Mr. Security. And this is what he will always be, no matter how the left tries to hijack his legacy.

-Ephraim Inbar, Head of Bar-Ilan University&rsquos BESA Centre, Toronto Star

The legacy Rabin left is not simple. His life as soldier and peacemaker underlined the Sisyphean struggle to keep Israel strong and, when possible, to cut peace deals with its neighbors. His death highlighted the need for greater tolerance in Israel&rsquos politically divided society&hellipA decade after the assassination, it&rsquos not clear how much of Rabin&rsquos legacy has been implemented. Though left-wing politicians such as Yossi Beilin, who sponsored the &ldquoGeneva Accord&rdquo peace initiative, try to present themselves as the successors to Rabin&rsquos legacy, a recent poll in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper shows that 24 percent of Israelis see Sharon&ndashthe Likud Party leader who vehemently opposed Oslo during Rabin&rsquos lifetime&ndashas Rabin&rsquos true heir.

-Leslie Susser, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

The depth of the confusion over &ldquothe Rabin legacy&rdquo could be seen and heard&hellipat the commemorations marking the anniversary of his death. Rabin&rsquos legacy is the idea of compromise (according to Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg), the Rabin legacy is the eternal unity of Jerusalem (according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) and the Rabin legacy is the Oslo process (according to opposition leader Yossi Sarid). The Rabin legacy for advanced students is that it is not nice to assassinate a prime minister and for younger students, the schools simplify his legacy to &ldquoit&rsquos not nice to hit people.&rdquo&hellip

It seems that Israel will flounder around for many more years in the twilight zone between &ldquolegacy,&rdquo which is the real thing a person leaves behind, and &ldquolegend&rdquo which emerges from symbols and symbolism. In the meantime, rather than &ldquoRabin&rsquos legacy&rdquo being formulated, the Rabin myth is being built up while using the word, legacy. A myth indeed requires tragic heroes, but a society that claims to be rational does not like to use the word &ldquomyth.&rdquo Legacy sounds much more dignified.

But did Oslo &ldquofail&rdquo? Obviously in the straightforward sense it did. We&rsquore 10 years on from Rabin&rsquos assassination&ndashtwice the trust-building period proposed&ndashand the peace process appears not much further forward.

But is that true? No one much now denies the obvious truth that the Palestinians must have a place of their own. That was almost unsayable in Jewish circles little more than a decade ago. Interchange with Palestinian leadership is now commonplace. We apparently rely on Egypt to provide us with lulavim [palm branches for the holiday of Sukkot] without embarrassment and we expect Jordan to help out. When the Iranian president urged wiping Israel off the map, the Palestinian leadership dissociated themselves, claiming all they wanted was to add Palestine, not remove Israel.

Clive Lawton, Executive Director Limmud (UK), TotallyJewish.com

As time passes, the question of Rabin&rsquos legacy becomes more pronounced. The mythological Rabin, posthumously endowed with the characteristics of Left- wing post-Zionism, needs to be separated from the historical Rabin. The myth is also a response, in part, to the vilification of Rabin by extremists on the Israeli Right, that took place before his murder and which also distorted the complexity of his policies and views. Neither extreme characterization does justice to the legacy of the late Prime Minister&hellip

The truth is that Rabin&rsquos legacy is very complex, and simplistic slogans do not reflect the work and contributions of over 50 years of public life. No one can speak for him, or claim to know what he would have said or done under any specific circumstances. The members of his family, and the people with whom he worked most clearly have a special role in preserving his memory, but in terms of policies and perceptions, particularly in the security realm, the Rabin legacy is open to many interpretations.


Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin was the soldier who became Prime Minister of Israel in 1992, and who abandoned the use of force in favor of negotiations to achieve peace with the Palestinians. He approved the Oslo Accords, negotiated in secret in Norway in 1993. Israel was to withdraw gradually from occupied territories and to grant the Palestinians self-determination. The agreement was signed in Washington the same year, and in 1994 Rabin shared the Peace Prize with his own Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Rabin was born in Jerusalem. During World War II he fought on the British side to prevent German conquest of the Middle East. After the war he fought against the Brits because they were preventing Jewish immigration into Palestine. Rabin took part in the war against the Arabs when the state of Israel was founded in 1948, and wound up as army chief of staff. In the 1970s he embarked on a political career, and competed with Shimon Peres for the top posts in the Labour Party.

Some Jews saw the Oslo Accords as a betrayal, and Rabin was assassinated by a religious fanatic in the autumn of 1995.

Copyright © The Norwegian Nobel Institute

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Netanyahu, Rabin and the Assassination That Shook History

With new waves of violence unfolding between Israelis and Palestinians, and U.S.-Israeli relations already emerging as a 2016 campaign issue, FRONTLINE begins the new year tomorrow night with Netanyahu at War.

This special two-hour documentary by filmmaker Michael Kirk tells the inside story of the complicated political history between America and Israel — with a particular focus on the events that have defined Benjamin Netanyahu, one of Israel’s longest-serving prime ministers and a polarizing figure on the world stage.

Among the events featured in the documentary: Netanyahu’s rise to power in the wake of the 1995 assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli Jew.

With fresh accounts from Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. diplomats, the documentary explores right-wing anger in Israel over Rabin’s support of the U.S.-brokered Oslo peace accord with the Palestinians, and how Netanyahu became the face of the opposition as it grew more hostile.

Rabin’s widow blamed Netanyahu, then head of Israel’s conservative Likud party, for contributing to the atmosphere that led to her husband’s death — and said so on worldwide television. But Netanyahu’s close aide at the time disputed that in an interview with FRONTLINE.

“The attempt to pin on him the murder of the prime minister is a cheap, political propaganda trick that was taken by his political opponents, mostly from the left, in order to delegitimize Netanyahu,” former Netanyahu advisor Eyal Arad tells FRONTLINE in the below excerpt from the film.

Others see it differently.

“There were moments when Netanyahu was advised that there are real nutcases in the national religious camp that we see, that we need to calm down, even gesturally,” David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, tells FRONTLINE. “Netanyahu never did that, he never did that, to his enormous discredit.”

As the nation mourned Rabin’s assassination, FRONTLINE reports, Netanyahu talked about the political costs of Rabin’s death.

“I remember Netanyahu saying to me, ‘Look, look at this. He’s a hero now. But if he had not been assassinated, I would have beaten him in the elections and then he would have gone into history as a failed politician,'” Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, says in the film.

Soon after, against a backdrop of renewed attacks by Palestinian extremists, Netanyahu, promising to take a hard line on terrorism, was elected prime minister — officially ushering in the Netanyahu years.


Opinion: Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination 25 years ago was an intelligence failure

THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, on the evening of November 4, 1995, by an extreme right-wing Jew was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the State of Israel. Contrary to the public perception that the assassination happened as a result of a security failure and poor management of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), I argue that the murder was mainly due to an ISA intelligence failure.

“The Shamgar Inquiry Commission”, as it was known because it was chaired by Meir Shamgar, former president of the Supreme Court, submitted its report in March 1996. This commission found significant failures in the security measures taken by the ISA to protect the late Prime Minister. But, in my opinion, its findings were seriously wrong, as it avoided diving into the major intelligence failure that led to this tragic incident.

On the evening of November 4, 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, a 27-year-old student who was known as an extreme rightwing activist. Amir was waiting for the prime minister next to his car and shot Rabin three times from a close distance, in spite of the fact that four of Rabin’s bodyguards were surrounding the prime minister. Amir claimed to have done it “for Israel, for the people of Israel and the State of Israel”. He was found guilty and was sent to serve a life sentence in prison.

The progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo Accords of 1993, allowed the political breakthrough of a peace agreement with Jordan in October 1994. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, for their role in the creation of the Oslo Accords.

The Accords greatly divided the Israeli society, with some seeing Rabin as a hero for promoting the cause of peace, and some seeing him as a traitor for giving away land viewed as rightfully belonging to Israel. Many rightwing Israelis often blamed Rabin for Jewish deaths in Palestinian terrorist attacks, attributing them to the Oslo agreements. There was wild incitement by rabbis and politicians from the right (including Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu), disobedience by far-right organizations to the police and the rule of law, and rabbinical rulings that saw Prime Minister Rabin as a traitor because he approved to the two-state solution with the Palestinians.

The protests against the government, and especially against Prime Minister Rabin, himself, intensified in 1995, as a result of the violence that accompanied the beginning of the implementation of the Oslo Accords. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad objected to the Accords and targeted Israeli citizens with severe suicide attacks. Yet, Rabin’s policy was to continue the peace process as if there were no terrorism, and to fight terrorism as if there were no peace process.

It was evident that Prime Minister Rabin was becoming the sole target of the extreme right wing in Israel. In a rally in Ra’anana in 1994, Netanyahu, head of the opposition, marched next to a coffin that read: “Rabin is killing Zionism”, which many thought was crossing a red line. The incitement did not stop it intensified. At one stage, two weeks before the assassination, the attorney general summarized a meeting by saying: “I’m worried about a crazy person who will be influenced by the public atmosphere of violence and the de-legitimating of the government and the law enforcement authorities”.

The ISA had two opportunities to stop the assassin, Yigal Amir, prior to the murder of Rabin. Five months before the assassination, the ISA received good intelligence about the intention of a young Jewish terrorist while only a general description was given. But the ISA failed to identify him. Also, the ISA had a valuable agent, in that extreme political group where the killer was active, but this agent was not questioned it that direction. The ISA did not believe that a political murder could happen in Israel, mainly because it had never occurred before and also because there was a strong belief in the quality of the security around the prime minister, if the intelligence were to fail.

The intelligence failure of the ISA was not just in not tracing the killer beforehand, but also in not properly assessing the high probability of an attempt to kill Prime Minister Rabin —an option that was reflected by the public atmosphere and by the strong opposition to the peace process to an extent that had never been seen before. The ISA was fixated on its main concern with Palestinian terrorism, which possibly blocked its capability to see beyond the obvious.

Eventually, this assassination changed forever the history of the state of Israel and the Middle East.

Dr. Avner Barnea is research fellow at the National Security Studies Center of the University of Haifa in Israel. He served as a senior officer in the Israel Security Agency (ISA).

Author: Avner Barnea | Date: 04 November 2020 | Permalink


Lessons From History Series: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin—25 Years Later

Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Former Deputy Prime Minister (2004–2005) and Former Foreign Minister (2002–2004), Jordan Former Jordanian Ambassador to the United States (1997–2002) Former Jordanian Ambassador to Israel (1995–1996)

Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern History, Tel Aviv University Former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and Chief Negotiator with Syria (1992–1996)

International Correspondent, NPR

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, only two years after he shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House South Lawn following the signing of the Oslo Accords. Panelists discuss his legacy, achievements, and the ramifications of his assassination on the Middle East peace process twenty-five years later.

AMOS: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here and I will introduce our distinguished panel. I'm going to begin with Martin Indyk, who is a distinguished fellow at CFR. He's a former U.S. envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. Marwan Muasher—vice president for studies [at the] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Jordan. He's in Jordan now. And Itamar Rabinovich—he is a professor emeritus of Middle East history at Tel Aviv University, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and a chief negotiator with Syria. I want to start with this, gentleman. A century ago, peace was snuffed out by an assassin's bullet—that is how we usually think about Yitzhak Rabin. His murder stunned the world, changed the course of history. We all remember where we were the moment we learned that he had died. I want to begin with his legacy, we'll get to his life, but let's begin with his legacy. Itamar, can you give us a sense of what we still take away from his message before he died?

RABINOVICH: Yes, there was a time during which the [Yitzhak] Rabin Center thought to commemorate Rabin mainly through Oslo, and then they moved away from this. It is not popular with part of the Israeli public, and they also realized that long term the most important part of the legacy is his leadership. This was obvious then and even more obvious now if you look around the international scene and look at the level of leadership that we have around the world—Rabin stands out. He had a vision. He was not interested in the second term, in just being in power. He was interested in implementing his vision. He had the courage to take unpopular measures. He had the ability to sweep people with him. And he was direct and credible.

What made him popular with the Israeli public, he was not charismatic, he had authority and he had credibility. These were his two strongest claims to leadership among the Israeli public. And you could see that also in his relationship with world leaders, particularly President Clinton, who very much admired Rabin for many qualities but also for the fact that he always said what he had on his mind. He was credible and very much appreciated by people who need to deal with another leader. So, if you look at the sum total of these qualities and you compare them to the available leadership around the world today, Rabin stands out. And I think that long term, he will be remembered primarily for his leadership.

AMOS: Marwan, first of all, where were you when you heard that he had been assassinated? And how is he seen now in the Arab world?

MUASHER: Well, I was actually with him in that square where they had the peace rally. I was seated next to him. I left the event probably a minute or two before he did, going down that, you know, the stairs that he went down from. So I was there, together with the Egyptian ambassador, at the time. And I think Martin, you also were there. But Rabin is, of course, looked at in the Arab world. First, as Martin said, during the first intifada he was seen as a brutal suppressor of the intifada. But he also came to be seen as someone who understood that he has to come to terms with the Palestinians. And I think that the first intifada made a big effect on him, where he understood that he has to negotiate with the Palestinians themselves.

And he took measures to do that and even though Rabin never talked about a Palestinian state, nobody did that at the time of his assassination in '95, not the Americans, nobody did, but he clearly was moving in that direction. The last speech he gave before the Knesset, he talked clearly about the Palestinians ruling themselves. He said, you know, it's self-rule plus less than a state, but more than self-rule. In my view, and I think you know his legal advisor at the time, Joel Singer, had an article yesterday in which he argued that Rabin was preparing his own public for the time when a Palestinian state would be established.

And I think that's his main legacy that he understood that this needed to be done. After he left, I mean, we are today looking at an Israeli government twenty-five years later that is not interested in a two-state solution, that says so publicly, and that instead is talking about annexing large parts of the West Bank. We are a long way from where we were in 1995 when Rabin was assassinated.

AMOS: Martin, can you talk a little bit about where you were and does the idea of Palestinian state on the Israeli side die with him?

INDYK: Thank you, Deborah. So I was not there, Marwan, explicitly because Rabin had asked me to stay away. He did not want to associate the United States with this rally. It's quite interesting that he wanted the Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors there, but he wanted the U.S. ambassador to stay away. So I was at home, and I got the call from Eitan Haber, his chief of staff, who unfortunately just passed away a couple of weeks ago, and Eitan called me and he just said, Rabin's been shot. Meet me at Ichilov [Hospital]. And as a result, I was only able to get to the hospital after Rabin had died.

As for his legacy, for me, but his courage, his ability to read the map and his courage to act on the conclusions were the most compelling part of his legacy. As Marwan says and Itamar also, there was a conviction on his part that he had to deal with the Palestinians. And now there's some argument about even the right in Israel tries to corrupt his legacy and say that he, you know, was not committed to a Palestinian state. And Marwan has expressed that.

But for me, the moment that I will never forget was the speech that he made, that few people refer to, after he signed the Oslo II Accords a month before he was assassinated. The Oslo II Accord, just to remind people, was the agreement in which Israel handed over 40 percent of the West Bank—the 40 percent of the Palestinian Authority now controls and 90 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank live in those territories. And that was signed in Washington a month before he was assassinated. He spoke there afterwards, in the presence of Arafat and King Hussein and President Mubarak of Egypt, as well of course, President Clinton.

And he said, turning to Yasser Arafat, he said what we want, what I see is my vision is of Palestinians in an independent entity living alongside a Jewish state of Israel and under their self-rule, they will rule themselves independently. And we will separate from them, not because of hatred, but because of respect. And that was Rabin's vision. And it's that concept of living side by side in peace, separated into two separate entities out of respect, was, I think, the most important legacy and the thing that has been lost now in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

AMOS: Just recently, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was giving a speech on the Arab-Israeli peace process, which he didn't mention Rabin at all. In fact, he was confronted by Rabin's daughter to admonish him that he'd left it out. Let me start with you, Itamar, is that a signal of something, is that simply a mistake, or should we read that as how the Trump administration sees the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin?

RABINOVICH: To begin with, I don't know. You know, it may have been a speech written by someone, it's not exactly Mr. Mnuchin's forte in foreign policy. But it may also be indicative of the attitude of the Trump administration and the close relationship between the Trump administration, the Trump circle, and Netanyahu. Today we had a very awkward incident in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset, in the memorial for Rabin when Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke and he spoke more about himself than about Rabin, trying to belittle Rabin's contribution, denigrating Oslo, and so forth and so forth. So I suspect that there may be a connection there between the omission of Mnuchin and the commission of Netanyahu.

AMOS: Marwan, do you see it the same way? Is there something to be said about the Trump administration not mentioning Rabin? Is it more than just Netanyahu or do they see the peace process in a different way?

MUASHER: Well, this is a Trump administration, Deborah, that clearly is against a credible two-state solution. They have sided with the Israeli government under Mr. Netanyahu. They have put forward a plan that only caters to the, you know, to Israel's needs. And by agreeing to annexing more than 30 percent of the West Bank, what they are really doing is killing the two-state solution, the very solution that I think Rabin, you know, and King Hussein and others, worked to achieve.

Today, everybody agrees that annexing the West Bank is going to kill a credible two-state solution. And as Itamar said, whether it is intentional or not, there is no question that the Trump plan attempts to kill the peace process as we know it and have Israel have the cake and eat it, too. It's not going to work in my view. But this is clearly an administration that is not serious about a credible two-state solution that gives hope to both Israelis and Palestinians.

AMOS: Let me just do one more follow up, Marwan, before I get to you, Martin, and that is you're in Jordan. So how does that work for Jordan where you have a majority Palestinian population? How does the slow death of any idea about a two-state solution work for Jordan?

MUASHER: Jordan's main reason why it went to Madrid, you know, to Oslo, is exactly to effect a two-state solution to end occupation of, you know, a Palestinian occupied territory, establish a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil as the only way to avoid solving the conflict at Jordan's expense, either through mass transfer of Palestinians into Jordan or through asking Jordan to manage the affairs of Palestinians in areas that Israel does not want to keep. When we signed the peace treaty with Israel, King Hussein and Rabin had a clear understanding that this is what the treaty will do. It will end once and for all the notion that Jordan is Palestine.

Today, Jordan is not, you know, clear that this remains of Israel's objective. If Israel does not want a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, and it clearly does not want it today, and if Israel also does not want a Palestinian majority in areas under its control that is in Israel's proper, the West Bank in Gaza and East Jerusalem, then to Jordan the only logical alternative for Israel is to try to solve the conflict at Jordan's expense. That explains the bad relations between Israel and Jordan today. And as long as Jordan feels that Israel is not serious about the Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, the relationship I think is not going to improve.

AMOS: Martin, I don't mean to put too much on Steve Mnuchin's comments, but it does in some way represent the administration's thinking. Will it matter, I mean, we are a week away from an election. You know, will we see a big shift if the election changes who's in the White House?

INDYK: So let me, if I might just make a comment about Mnuchin's omission. I don't think that he wrote that speech. He doesn't know anything about the Arab-Israeli conflict and its history. But that speech is consistent with the Trump administration's determined efforts over the last four years to do away with the basic principles, resolutions, plans, and parameters that represent the historical groundwork for the resolution, not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the overall Arab-Israeli conflict. I'm talking not just about the Oslo Accords, I'm talking about UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is the basic underpinning of the whole American-led peace process since 1967 in the Six-Day War. I'm talking about the Arab Peace Initiative, which Marwan had such an important role in devising, which called for a resolution of all of these issues based on Resolution 242. In return the Arab world would make peace with Israel.

All of those basic frameworks for negotiating between the Arabs in Israel that led to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and the Oslo Accords have been written out of the Trump administration's approach to resolving the conflict—purposely. Jason Greenblatt, who used to be the Middle East envoy, working with Jared Kushner, went to the UN Security Council to speak there and tell them that UN Security Council Resolution 242 was outdated, outmoded, and no longer relevant. And this is a resolution not only that Israel accepted, but worked greatly to Israel's benefit. But from their point of view, everything that came before Trump, failed—was all a failed effort—and therefore, should be wiped away in favor of this new approach that was somehow going to resolve the conflict. Of course, they did promote normalization in the end between the UAE and Bahrain and Sudan and Israel to their credit. But these were countries that were not in conflict with Israel. And so it doesn't do anything to end the Arab-Israeli conflict in itself. That will require a resolution to the Palestinian conflict.

Now, what happens a week from now? Well, it depends, of course, who wins. If Vice President Biden wins, I think you will see a reversion to strong support for the two-state solution, not just because he believes that that is the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but because the Democratic Party is different today. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has elevated promotion of a two-state solution into a kind of critical issue for them.

Having said that, however, the second thing is that I do not believe that if Biden becomes president that he will make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority. And I say that simply because he's got the pandemic, he's got China, he's got the economy. He's got so many other—climate change, of course—priority issues. And he knows because the people around him worked with me when I was envoy back in 2013-14, that with Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel and Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] as the Palestinian president, the chances of actually moving forward to some final resolution or conflict are between zero and none. And therefore, I think that he will restore relations with the Palestinians, but I wouldn't expect him to take an initiative until there's a change of leadership on both sides and a greater chance of moving forward.

AMOS: Correct that it's not a peace treaty with the Gulf states because they weren't at war.

RABINOVICH: Deborah, may I say something?

RABINOVICH: Itamar here. Actually, yes, contrary to what was said or understood before, the assassination of Rabin did not end the notion of a two-state solution in Israel. There were subsequent efforts to move the peace process forward with the Palestinians. Under Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak and under Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert, it's only since 2009 when Netanyahu came back to power and formed essentially a right-wing government that the Israeli government doesn't support a two-state solution, including the episode that Martin referred to before, the awkward negotiations with the Palestinians. But the main damage, the main disaster that happened in Israel with the assassination of Rabin, in my view, was more domestic than external. It affected the nature of Israeli politics and led to the kind of right-wing preeminence. And by the way, some of the voices, some of the people who incited against Rabin are still there and free speech.

AMOS: Let me ask you this, Itamar, and follow up on the opening with the UAE and Gulf states. How would Rubin have seen that? I mean, there's some things missing from that agreement. And certainly any sort of notion of negotiating with the Palestinians is out of that agreement. How would he have seen that? As a victory? As a half measure? What do you think?

RABINOVICH: No, he would have seen it as very positive, but he would not have confused it with the peace process. Actually, if you go back to the peace process of the 1990s, when Oslo was signed and the Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed, we had economic conferences—in Casablanca, in Amman, in Qatar—and you had diplomatic delegations by other countries in Israel. You had the Moroccan legation, you had the Mauritanian legation, so what we see now is not all that novel, it all happened in some way in the '90s under Rabin. And Rabin was very happy with this because the sense of normalization was very important in instilling in the Israeli public the sense that things have changed, and one can move forward even when making concessions. But he would not confused it and the main thing, he would definitely not have called it peaceful peace.

AMOS: Marwan, how did the opening with the UAE play in Jordan? I've read lots of press accounts, but I certainly am interested in your view from the ground.

MUASHER: As I said before, Deborah, any development from Jordan's perspective that does not contribute to ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil is not something to be celebrated. Yes, these are bilateral agreements, and you know, every country is free to do bilateral agreements. But they should not be celebrated as contributing to the peace process. If there is a contribution to the peace process, in my view, it is a negative one because Mr. Netanyahu is selling these agreements to the Israeli public as normalization with the Arab world as not having to deal with the Palestinians since he can have agreements with the Arab world without having to give up anything in return.

And in so doing, that gives the false impression that peace can come to that part of the world when there is no agreement with the Palestinians. I mean, let me just state the simple fact. It's not the UAE nationals or the Bahraini nationals that are living amongst Israelis, it's the Palestinians. And unless you come to terms with what is soon to become a Palestinian majority in areas under Israel's control, unless you come to terms with that, peace is not going to come to the Middle East. Jordan, you know, on one hand, has good relations, excellent relationships with Bahrain and the UAE.

And on the other hand, it understands well that the consequences of these agreements might work to its disadvantage and that explains Jordan's muted response, if you will. It was a very bland response. It did not celebrate the agreement it did not condemn them. But the real reason and the real factor here is, as I said, Jordan looks with great concern of the death of the two-state solution and what repercussions that will have on its own security.

AMOS: Martin, let me ask you, so this is moving quickly. It's possible that the Saudis will sign on. And I just wondered if you thought that because these relations are opening, because there may be flights, because, you know, Israelis will be happy to be flying through Dubai, that it does somehow, you know, put the Palestinians on the back burner. I mean, the UAE says, well, we've put off annexation, not forever, but for a while. How do you think this plays against the ideas that Rabin had about how to settle this conflict?

INDYK: Well, as Itamar said, Rabin was all in favor of normalization. And was certainly pushing it as hard as he could, and he had considerable success with it. But it was a normalization that was lubricated by the moves that he made on the Palestinian front. What we have now is normalization in the absence of any progress on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And that is a product of several factors. One, I think is important to recognize is that the Arab states essentially have been waiting for eighteen years for the Palestinians and Israelis to do something. The Arab Peace Initiative, as Marwan knows, goes back to 2002. And they now have other problems, in particular, the UAE and Bahrain are concerned about Iran and Turkey. And they have a common interest with Israel in dealing with that threat. And so they're putting their own national interests above the Arab interest, if you like, in the Palestinian interest.

So I think that the first thing that should happen, and may happen, is that the Palestinians themselves need to come to terms with the dramatic change in their circumstances. And they need to reassess and need to have a process of reassessment to figure out how they can turn normalization from something that was being held back to something that's being used to advance their interests. And that actually happened with the UAE. The UAE's deal was no annexation for normalization. It was very clear cut and Israelis understand that.

And the Saudis, if they come, the Palestinians should be talking to the Saudis now about what their conditions will be. And there are a whole range of things that the Saudis could insist upon, that Israel could do, justified in terms of concessions to the Saudis rather than to the Palestinians. But nevertheless, stopping demolition, stopping settlement expansion, allowing Palestinians to build in areas that are under Israeli control, etcetera. All of those things could change the dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians. At the same time, as Israelis feel that they can breathe more, that they're no longer under siege, that they are accepted by their neighbors, and I do believe, you've lived there Deborah, you know, that that will have an impact on Israelis.

The sense of a greater security that can lead under new leadership in Israel to a greater sense of generosity towards the Palestinians and why that's so essential. And that's coming back to Rabin's legacy, what he understood, is Israel holds all the cards. Israel holds the territory. Israel by respecting the Palestinians, giving them an ability to rule themselves in freedom and independence, is the way to resolve this conflict.

AMOS: We have 166 participants in this call, and so I'm going to open it up for them to ask questions. And I'm going to turn it over to my colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations to choose who is our first question.

STAFF: We'll take the first question from Robert Lifton.

Q: Hi, it's good to see you all again. I'd like to talk about one legacy of the assassination and that is the assassination itself. Shortly before Arafat's failed meaning with Ehud Barak, we had a luncheon with him in which he made clear his personal physical fear of giving up a right of return. And the basis of that, I wrote a letter to my constituents saying that I thought the meeting with a with Ehud Barak would fail, which indeed it did. At a meeting with Hafez al-Assad, he told us a story about how Anwar Sadat came to him to join with him, but that he thought it was too dangerous, actually putting his finger to his head indicating being shot in the head and suggested that he was at fear of assassination, too, if he made a deal with Israel without solving all of the right of return issues for the Palestinians. I wonder if you think any of this kind of thing influences people, like Abbas or any of the Palestinian leadership, or anybody else in this process?

AMOS: Your mics are open, any one of you can answer.

RABINOVICH: Yes, I think—hi, Robert, this is Itamar. I guess I think, let's put it this way, leaders in the Middle East and in other places when they make such concessions have to think about potential assassination. Yitzhak Shamir's nickname, our former prime minister, was "Michael," in the underground, after Michael Collins, the Irish leader who was assassinated. Leaders do or politicians do think about that, but it doesn't have to be the prevailing consideration.

People mistakenly think that Sadat was killed because he made peace with Israel—that is wrong. He was killed because to the jihadis, he was seen as a pagan ruler in Egypt. Making peace with Israel didn't help but was not the reason. King Abdullah was killed because of his relationship with Israel. But on the whole, given the level of violence, and in our region, the number of leaders who were killed because of making peace with the enemy is quite small.

AMOS: Anyone else? Okay, let's go on to another question.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Ron Shelp.

Q: Yes, thank you. I'm an author and a frustrated documentary filmmaker. Just out of curiosity, if President Rabin had lived, what do you think the odds are that a two-state solution could have come about? And that's for any of you to answer or all of you.

INDYK: Well, I'll jump in. But I know everybody has a view on this. It's the big question, the big counterfactual. And of course, it's all conjecture. I think that, first of all, Rabin would have had to win the election that was looming, I think, it within twelve months. And that bar was by no means a certainty, because the terrorist attacks that were accompanying his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, these were terrorist attacks coming from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, these Islamist terrorist organizations that were opposing the peace process, that those terrorist attacks were really harming the cause of peace.

And Netanyahu, of course, after the assassination when he ran against Peres, and defeated him, made a big deal in his campaign, of course, of the terrorist attacks. So I think that's the first question that would have to be resolved, but it's not impossible that Rabin would have won. The number of people that came out to rally in support of him on the night that he was assassinated was truly surprising to him. And to me, too, at the time. And so there was clearly still a strong sentiment for peace. He would have had to get Arafat to crack down on the terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists. Arafat was reluctant to do so. But he had started to move in that direction.

And here I think is the critical thing, Rabin and Arafat had built a relationship of trust. And Arafat came to believe that Rabin had his interests in mind in a way that I don't think he felt any other Israeli leader that came after Rabin, with the possible exception of Peres, but Peres was only around as prime minister for about seven months. But certainly not Netanyahu, and certainly not Barak. He thought they were out to screw him. And he didn't have a lot of incentive, therefore, to do their bidding.

With Rabin, it was very different and that speech that I described, that Rabin made in Arafat's presence, followed a speech that Arafat made, which was also very different to his usual calls for justice and Palestinian rights to the point where Rabin actually said, you know, “Mr. Chairman, we Jews are famous for only one sport and that's speechmaking. It seems to be that you must be a little Jewish.” And that, I thought, captured the nature of the relationship that had developed between them. And that I think was critical to whether if Rabin had been reelected, he would have been able to get Arafat to do what he needed to do.

Finally, Rabin had a special status amongst Israelis because he was "Mr. Security," precisely because he been such a hawk, such a warrior, such a war hero. They believed in him. And I think that he, much more than any of the leaders that came after him, was capable of convincing the Israeli public of the calculated risks, is what he called them, they would have to take in order to resolve this conflict once and for all. So bottom line is, we can’t, of course, know, but I think it's plausible that Rabin would have been able to achieve something that none of his successes have been able to do.

MUASHER: I'd have to agree with Martin. I mean, yes, Rabin faced a difficult three election challenge in 1996. But I think that, you know, I mean, Peres came within point 5 percent of winning the election, and Rabin would have probably would have won the election. Let's remember that the Oslo process was supposed to end in May 1999. If Rabin had survived and won the election it would have been well within his second term. And I think that there is a good chance, a very good chance, that it would have ended with a resolution.

The problem with the Oslo process, of course, one of the main problems is settlement activity. When Oslo was signed in 1993, Oslo I, the number of settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem was two hundred fifty thousand. They were still manageable in 1999, but today, they are close to seven hundred thousand people. Today, the demographics alone make it very difficult for a two-state solution to emerge. But in 1999, it would have been possible.

RABINOVICH: Yes. And let me take advantage of the fact that Marwan Muasher is with us and bringing the Jordanian angle. Martin made reference before to Rabin's speech and Arafat's speech at the Corcoran Museum after the signing of Oslo II. Rabin did speak there of a Palestinian independent entity, but he also spoke about, in not very clear terms, about the need to have some formulation—Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian—that could have facilitated the solution of the problem. And because if you bring a third partner in, you increase the pie, you make it easier.

But you also you can consider Jordan's interest. Jordan has a very significant and very justified interest in the future of a Palestinian entity. And any entity that would have emerged as a result of Rabin's negotiation with Arafat, in his own eyes could not have threatened Jordan in any way. So it never happened. The trilateral—Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian—is not very active now. But at the time on Rabin's mind, maybe not in a fully-fledged way, but this as in a nebulous way, was an important consideration.

INDYK: I think there's one other thing, Deborah, I want to add if I could, that Rabin has stood for. His approach was very much a step-by-step approach, a gradualist approach. He called it "phase by phase." The Oslo Accords did not define what the outcome would be. It never mentioned a Palestinian state, or Jerusalem, or refugees, or as Marwan knows, settlements. It didn't define the outcome because he knew that the outcome that he was at that point ready to support, Arafat could not accept.

And the outcome that Arafat wanted, he could not accept. So for him, it was about a process of coming to terms of learning to live with each other, of trying to build trust in each other in a way that would make these issues easier to deal with in the end. So I actually think that if he had survived, they wouldn't have made the final deal in the timeframe of Oslo in the five years. He would have put it off and Arafat would have agreed to it, too, because Arafat wasn't ready for those compromises that Robert Lifton referred to that would have been, for him, life threatening or at least he thought.

So, I think that, you know, to redefine the question in a way, it's not that they would necessarily have been a final agreement between Rabin and Arafat had he lived, but that there would have been a meaningful process moving towards a final agreement that would have, I think, had much greater chance of resolving the conflict of a time, than the efforts that his successors, particularly Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, when they tried to get a final agreement and could not do so.

AMOS: Thank you. And who knows, maybe the UAE would have come in back then. Can we have the next question, please?

STAFF: Sure. And as a reminder, to ask a question, please click on the “raise hand” icon on your Zoom window. We'll take the next question from Hani Findakly.

Q: Yes. Hi. Hello, Marwan. Hello, Martin. Nice to see you here virtually. As you know, I’m not focused so much on the parochial political issues, but I am focused on the economic issues. And I wanted to get your reaction to what I see over the medium and long term. The Arab population today is about four hundred million people. My own prediction is that they will double in the next 30 to 40 years and they will double again, there will be about a billion and a half Arabs, give or take, by the end of the century. And there's a huge social, political, and obviously economic implication, there's going to have to be a need to pay somewhere in the range of about $600 to $800 billion over the course of the next 70-80 years.

And there is nothing, no government today, that is capable and has plans and has ideas about how to go about doing that. We talk about the countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, today, Apple computers will release its earnings report. Last year it earned two hundred sixty billion U.S. dollars. That's the revenue for the company. It's roughly equal to about eight times the entire earnings from oil of the country like the UAE. And it's about three times, four times the size of earnings that Arabia has of oil. So looking over the long term, what do you see given the whole new changing dynamics for the Arab world and the way governments and society is going to deal with this issue and how this Palestinian-Israeli conflict fit within that context.

AMOS: That's some interesting data. Marwan, you want to take this?

MUASHER: Well, the Arab world today—Hani, first, it's good to hear your voice, it's been a while. The Arab world is undergoing a huge transformation in political and economic terms, societal terms as well. They oil era is over, Hani, as you know. It started in 2014 with the decline in oil prices below a hundred dollars a barrel. It was deepened with COVID-19 and basically collapsed of the rentier period in the Arab world. They Arab world lost the traditional tools it used to have to keep social peace. The economic tools of, you know, brought about by oil, and the fear of security, which was broken in 2011 by people going to the street and protesting against the lack of good governance.

Unfortunately, as you said, most Arab governments today, if they understand that the old tools are gone, are not ready to employ new tools that, you know, move towards inclusive decision-making, that has a new education system that emphasizes critical thinking, and prepares people for the complexities of today's world that has a new economic system that moves away from the rentierism and more towards productive economies. All of these are issues that require a fundamental shift in the mindset of most governments, if not all, in the Arab world. And unfortunately, such a mindset is not there.

The Arab world, maybe with the exception of Tunisia, has not yet been able to understand that the world has changed. And the tools of the twentieth century cannot work for the challenges of the twenty-first century. So we are in this interim period where the old Arab order has died. But a new order is having great difficulty being born because the status quo forces in the Arab world, basically most Arab governments, remain resilient to any change that would have them share their power, not lose it, but share their power with the populace. There remains a great resilience to that. And I'm afraid that this resistance to change is not going to bode well for the future.

RABINOVICH: Deborah, should I comment? Okay. In fact, in the normalization with the Emirates, and to some extent with Bahrain, there is an element of that. I think, you know, without Israel of course is, at the end of the day, a small country but it has highly developed technology, electronic, computers, biomed, and so forth. And I think that the Emiratis see a potential of using the relationship in Israel, you know, to expand and develop their own economy and we see in a surprising volume of business already taking shape in both directions—delegations from Israel going there and delegations from the Emirates coming to Israel trying to buy assets in Israel and so forth. And I think this helps to explain the breakthrough, but of course, Israel can do so much. I mean, larger actors than Israel—the United States, European Union and so forth—should be bought as to a transformation.

But, you know, the Arab world should look at the Asia—look at the Asian tigers. Look at where Egypt was in the early 1950s and where Korea was after the Korean War and where Korea is today and where Egypt is today. Many of these countries in Asia—Muslim countries—they've done very well. But this is something that has to come from within the Arab world. The Arab Human Development Report that was published by the UN early in this decade is an indication that there are people in the Arab world who are aware of it are capable of identifying the problem and of drawing a map. And so Israelis or Americans or Europeans can be partners, but I think, as Marwan suggested himself, the impetus should come from within.

AMOS: Martin, I wondered if how much we should account for instability in the big Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Egypt—because of the economy and because of the leadership in both of those places. You know, so far, the Saudis are on a path to revamping their economy. But, you know, the political decisions made by the leadership there put some of that at risk. Is that more of a problem than peace with the Palestinians?

INDYK: Definitely, I think the Saudis under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, very much see their priorities as focused on development and modernization of their society. So, unfortunately, he also engaged in all manner of adventures abroad that’s distracting them from that. But I do think that that is a very big experiment dragging Saudi society into the twenty-first century, very necessary for all the reasons that Hani laid out and highly consequential. Because if Mohammed bin Salman succeeds at that, it will have a profound impact or kind of ripple effect across the Arab world. And if he fails, it'll also be profoundly negative.

And so I just wish that he would focus on this challenge and leave all these other egregious actions on his path behind. Having said that, I think, you know, we can we can talk about the challenges of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and you’re right because they're the biggest, the most consequential, but we've got failed states in Libya, in Syria, a failing state in Lebanon, and a struggling state in Iraq, a terrible war in Yemen that's causing great humanitarian crisis. Now all of those problems are going to have to be dealt with as well. And there, you know, unfortunately, it’s going in the wrong direction. And so I think that there will continue to be huge, huge problems in the region that don't lend themselves to easy fixes and that don’t depend on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That is a problem for Israel and the Palestinians, primarily, and really, for Israel. And Israel has such a huge potential to participate in the development of the Middle East, and has so much to offer, but is unable to resolve the problem it has with the Palestinians. It's always going to be handicapped, not so much politically anymore, but in terms of, you know, the problem that the failure to solve that will present to Israel's own society and its stability over time.

AMOS: We have time for one more question. I'm going to ask my colleagues to give us one more and then we will wrap up this wonderful hour.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Judith Miller.

Q: Hi, so good to see you all. I guess, you know, such interesting points, but here's my question about the Rabin legacy. You talked about how tough he was, Martin, how “Mr. Security”—Itamar, you did the same thing. But when I went last year to see Yigal Amir's shrine, gravesite, it suddenly reminds one of how Israel itself has changed dramatically. And is the Israel of Yitzhak Rabin, in what would Yitzhak Rabin have made of the power today of the settlers’ movement? And is anything in that legacy possibly relevant today to the modern Israeli state we know? And finally, how would Yitzhak Rabin have handled the Iranian challenge both nuclear and its regional ambitions? What would he have done given “Mr. Security's” outlook?

AMOS: Thanks for the last one. But let's start with Itamar and see if we can wrap up on time after that question. Thank you.

RABINOVICH: Okay, let me do two briefly. One is with regard to the settlers. Twenty years before the assassination in the mid-1970s when Henry Kissinger was coming to Israel to negotiate the agreements of that period and the settlers were demonstrating against him in a very vile language, Rabin denounced them as a cancer in the body of the nation. And he was very powerful in that regard. And he identified early on the potential dangers that a fanatical movement had.

Second with regard to Iran, I think Rabin was a very smart analyst. He knew Israel's capabilities and the limits of Israel's capabilities. Iran, you know, is too much for Israel alone. He would have understood that the solution to the problem needs to be international, that Israeli alone cannot cope with the potential of this hundred million people nation with the science and money in research and everything that Iran has. And he would have tried to, I think, foster an international approach, not a unilateral Israeli effort to solve the issue of the Iranian nuclear.

MUASHER: I will say one thing. If Rabin was alive today, he would look with great horror at the death of the two-state solution. The death of the two-state solution, and I maintain that it is that, is going to change the focus of the conflict from the shape of a solution to a rights-based approach. If the Palestinians cannot have a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil, the next best thing they will ask for is equal political rights within the area that they live in.

And the international community is not going to be able to indefinitely say to the Palestinians, no to a state and no to equal rights. That means yes to apartheid. And no country in the world, including the United States, can tolerate, you know, condone apartheid indefinitely. That is what Rabin would have worked against. He understood the need for separation. He understood the need for Palestinians to rule themselves because the alternative is not going to be good for the state of Israel.

AMOS: Martin, you get one minute but the last word.

INDYK: Marwan and Itamar said it all very well. I think, but unlike Marwan, I don't believe that two-state solution is dead or rather, given that it's the Holy Land, that it's dead but not buried and will soon be resurrected because none of the other solutions, including the one that he referred to, are solutions. They are just recipes for continuation of the conflict. So Rabin's legacy of peace with the Palestinians is something that will have to happen sooner or later. And it will be based on precisely, as Marwan just said, on separation into two independent entities—an Israeli state, Jewish state, living alongside a Palestinian, he said entity, a Palestinian state, that in which the Palestinians rule themselves and Israel will have separated from them, not out of hatred, but out of respect. It's not too late to redeem that legacy, and I believe it will be redeemed. That's not in our time, but sooner or later.

AMOS: Martin, thank you very much for ending with essentially what Rabin been would say if he was with us twenty-five years later. Thank you, Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you everybody who joined us. Thank you, gentlemen. It was illuminating and it's lovely to see all of you.


The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin: ‘He never knew it was one of his people who shot him in the back’

T hey wanted him to wear a bulletproof vest, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Afterwards, they wished they’d pushed him harder – they should have insisted – but he was the prime minister and his mind was made up. He refused to believe a fellow citizen might pose a mortal threat.

And so a quarter of a century ago, on the night of 4 November 1995, Yitzhak Rabin stood before a vast and grateful crowd in Tel Aviv at a peace rally, protected by nothing more than a jacket, tie and white cotton shirt. The size of the rally had surprised him: he was a shy man, awkward with attention, and he had doubted that thousands of Israelis would come out to show support for him and his attempt to make peace with the Palestinians. He told aides he feared the city’s central plaza – not yet called Rabin Square – would be empty.

Instead the place was brimming with more than 100,000 people, many of them young, and the atmosphere, they said, was glorious. Rabin gave a speech insisting Israelis were ready for peace, urging them to overcome their fears, let go of the past, and finally forge an accord with their neighbours.

The emotional climax came when the veteran folk singer Miri Aloni performed her signature anthem, Shir LaShalom (A Song For Peace). Sandwiched between Rabin and the other politicians, the singer beckoned the prime minister to join in, putting a microphone to his mouth. Reluctantly, all but blushing, he mumbled along in his rumbling bass voice, reading the lyrics from a sheet someone had given him. He got through it, tucked the text into a pocket and left the stage, walking the few steps down to a waiting car. He had a parting message for the crowd, including the teenagers jumping into the fountains with their Peace Now banners: “Let’s not just sing about peace – let’s make peace.” They cheered for the man old enough to be their grandfather.

But it wasn’t just his car that was waiting backstage. Yigal Amir, a 25-year-old Israeli Jew, fervent in his faith and his nationalism, stepped out of the shadows and calmly shot the prime minister twice in quick succession. An hour and a half later, Rabin would be pronounced dead. Within a few months, his government would go the same way, taking the prospect of a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis along with it.

To this day, the killing of Yitzhak Rabin by a man determined to halt the Middle East peace process remains that rare thing: an act of political violence that wholly achieved its aim. Judged by the goal it set itself, it is surely the most successful assassination in history. But it is also a story centred on an extraordinary man who had made the journey from warrior to would-be peacemaker – a story of the family who loved him, the bodyguards and doctors who tried to save him, and the rivals who jostled to replace him. The intense, desperate and chaotic 90 minutes that followed the shooting both revealed a nation riven by a lethal divide and changed that nation for ever. Now those most closely involved, several speaking for the first time to a non-Israeli publication, are ready to give the most intimate account yet of what happened on the night two bullets altered the destiny of two nations.

T he road to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination began in Oslo. It was there that two teams of negotiators, Palestinian and Israeli, met in secret, gradually forging the Oslo accords, sealed in September 1993 by a handshake on the White House lawn between Rabin and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Rabin delivered the ceremony’s most memorable line: “We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough.”

Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat with President Clinton, sealing the Oslo accords with a handshake, September 1993. Photograph: GPO/Israel Sun/Rex/Shutterstock

His words carried extra weight because of his own history. He was a soldier turned politician, a commander in the founding 1948 conflict Israelis call the War of Independence the victorious chief of staff in the 1967 war Israelis saw as a miraculous deliverance from extinction at the hands of three neighbouring Arab states and a serial defence minister famed as “Mr Security”. Rabin was no dove: in 1988, he had ordered Israeli troops to put down the first intifada by breaking the bones of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters. But as the uprising dragged on, his position slowly evolved: he came to see Palestinian resistance not as a military threat to be crushed, but as a political grievance requiring resolution. When the Oslo talks suggested broad agreement might be possible, he faced a choice: to keep fighting or find a different way.

The latter option was available to him in part because of his hawkish credentials: Israelis saw him as a man they could trust with the nation’s defences. So when he declared it was time to agree an accommodation with the Palestinians – even if that meant giving up some of the territory Israel had won in 1967 and occupied since – Israelis were prepared to listen.

But not all of them. The moment the ink was dry on the Oslo accords, the Israeli right, and especially the settlers of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, denounced them as treachery. That intensified as the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad registered their own opposition to Oslo by detonating suicide bombs in Israel – blowing up buses and killing scores of civilians. Rabin was condemned for betraying his own people. At anti-government rallies, protesters carried placards showing a Photoshopped Rabin wearing Arafat’s distinctive keffiyeh, or in a Nazi uniform. Everywhere he was branded a traitor.

Meanwhile, Israel’s internal security agency, the Shabak, was picking up talk in far-right circles that alarmed them. Ultra-nationalist rabbis were calling Rabin a rodef: a murderer who, under Jewish religious law, could be killed to prevent further acts of murder. And the temperature at the anti-Rabin rallies was rising.

The then leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, was the star speaker at two now infamous demonstrations, where the crowd’s slogans included “Death to Rabin”. In July 1995, Netanyahu walked at the head of a mock funeral procession featuring a fake black coffin.

Israel’s head of internal security asked Netanyahu to dial down the rhetoric, warning that the prime minister’s life was in danger. Netanyahu declined. Perhaps he, like Rabin, didn’t imagine an Israeli Jew would ever kill one of their own any threat surely came from elsewhere.

That is certainly how Rabin’s granddaughter, Noa, then 18, saw it. These days she is a successful screenwriter who last year tried and failed to be elected to parliament for a new pro-peace party. She speaks via Zoom from her Tel Aviv apartment, where the memory of her grandfather still makes her smile. She remembers phoning him, the way his “hello” would melt as he recognised her voice. At social gatherings, he would deflect attention from himself to her: they were “partners” in covering up his shyness. When I ask what she misses most about those days, she says, “Being little.”

The family used to gather in the grandparents’ Tel Aviv apartment on a Friday evening, waiting for the prime minister to join them. After Oslo, he’d have to run the gauntlet of the weekly protests outside, the crowds shouting all the usual slogans Rabin’s wife would greet him with the words, “OK, traitor, you finally got home.”

‘The whole country was looking at that hospital, at that moment’: Rabin’s granddaughter Noa. Photograph: Michal Rubin/The Guardian

It was around then that Yigal Amir, an earnest law student, made up his mind to kill the prime minister. Later he would insist he was not swayed by extremist rabbis he had reached his own decision that Rabin – through his willingness to cede territory and to allow the creation of a Palestinian Authority, with its own armed police force – was a rodef and therefore a legitimate target. He got a weapon easily enough. With his brother, Amir was working on the creation of an anti-Palestinian militia. Nor was access difficult on at least three occasions before the rally, Amir attended public events where Rabin was present. He was waiting for the right moment: he didn’t want to shoot and miss.

The fourth of November was a Saturday, the sabbath, and Amir spent it quietly at home with his brother and parents in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv. He went to synagogue in the morning, returning later for another round of prayers. He stayed longer to say vidui, the confession: the prayer a religious Jew recites when he feels death is close.

According to Amihai Attali, a journalist who is one of the few people to have spoken at length to Amir – conducting hours of interviews by telephone – he had not decided in advance that this would be the day. Rather, the decision formed as the sabbath hours passed. In the evening, he changed into the casual clothes he calculated would make him look like a secular Israeli, one who would fit right in at a Tel Aviv peace rally. He checked his gun, a Beretta 84F semi-automatic pistol, and his ammunition: a mix of regular and hollow-point bullets, the latter designed to expand on impact. He did not want to wound he intended to kill.

A t that moment, Rabin and his team were preparing for the rally. Some of his advisers had been lukewarm about the idea: his former chief of staff, Shimon Sheves, didn’t like the optics of Mr Security surrounded by “lefty” peaceniks. Sheves lost that battle, but prevailed on the choice of official slogan: Yes to Peace, No to Violence. The threat Sheves had in mind was not chiefly Hamas bus bombs, but internecine enmity and hatred, pitting Israeli against Israeli. That informed Rabin’s speech, which addressed the rising extremism within Israel. In the crowd were Noa and her older brother, Jonathan. When the prime minister said Israelis had to pursue peace for the sake of their children and grandchildren, the pair smiled at each other: “It was as if he was talking to us.”

Amir had arrived from Herzliya on the 264 bus, soon finding the backstage area where Rabin’s security detail was waiting. He was challenged at least twice: the first time, he leaned on a performer’s van and said he was a driver, even sharing a joke with a guard mocking the male singer on stage who was wearing makeup. No one saw Amir – a fellow Israeli Jew – as a threat, let alone an assassin he looked and sounded like them.

By now Rabin had finished his reluctant performance of the Song For Peace and come down the stairs. A reporter shouted: “Mr Prime Minister, is this the first shot of the election campaign?” Rabin didn’t answer. As he was getting into his car, Amir approached. At 9.45pm, he fired two shots: one hit Rabin in the lower back, rupturing his spleen and puncturing his left lung the other tore through his rib cage, piercing his right lung. A third bullet wounded a bodyguard.

Instantly, one of Rabin’s four personal protection agents, still known only as Agent A, jumped on Amir. He grabbed the assassin by the neck and hit his gun-holding hand, the two falling backwards on to the ground. When he talks about it now, his voice is hesitant. The Shabak had to grant special clearance for this interview, and he switches the camera off on our video call. Today Agent A is a lawyer, his past life a secret shared only with his family and closest friends.

Yigal Amir being taken to court after the killing. Photograph: AP

“It was like slow motion,” he says. “I remember these seconds like they were minutes.” A moment later, Agent A would make a reflexive decision not to shoot Amir but to keep him alive, so he could stand trial. And yet in those long seconds, it was a different thought that pulsed through him. “What I thought was, we failed.” Whether Rabin lived or died, a gunman had got close enough to fire two bullets into the prime minister. “We failed in our job. In my job. I failed. And I still carry that feeling with me. And, honestly, I can’t let go. Even after so many years.”

The official inquiry found that he and his fellow agents followed procedure perfectly they could not be faulted. But that’s not how it feels. “It was something that, in my worst dreams, I didn’t expect to happen,” he says now. “It’s a burden.” He was only 23 when it happened: he thought he was old then, but these days he understands he was “very young”.

When our interview is over, unprompted, Agent A clicks on the camera so I can see his face. He doesn’t mind that I know what he looks like it’s everyone else who must never know. Does he fear people would blame him for Rabin’s death? “At first even some of my colleagues did. They didn’t say it to my face, but they said if they’d been there instead of me, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”

The agent who had been shot managed to bundle Rabin into the car and ordered the driver, Menachem Damati, to take the prime minister to Ichilov hospital, just a few minutes away. But the driver was so shaken, he became confused. Rabin was in the back and talking: he said he didn’t think he’d been hurt too badly, before passing out. Swerving to avoid pedestrians, crashing through red lights, Damati eventually saw a police officer. He pulled over and told the man to jump in. The officer took control of the car’s megaphone, instructing other vehicles to get out of the way and navigating Damati to the hospital. Ten minutes had passed since the prime minister had been shot.

Incredibly, no one at the hospital gate had been alerted. Damati had to stop and explain what had happened, before he and the police officer carried Rabin, bleeding profusely, into the trauma ward.

Soon a medical team of more than a dozen filled an operating theatre – including specialist surgeons who had driven across Tel Aviv in a crazed scramble. The room was quiet as they cleared the air from Rabin’s chest cavity and massaged his heart back to life: a pulse returned for four or five minutes. One of Rabin’s aides promptly made arrangements to set up an office inside the hospital, ready for a revived PM to resume his duties.

But it was a false hope. “He was dead on arrival,” says Professor Yosef Klausner, then head of surgery at Ichilov. He knew their resuscitation efforts were futile, yet the doctors kept going: “They didn’t want to stop.” Eventually Klausner had to call a halt and formally declare Rabin dead.

The doctor tells me all this from his desk in Tel Aviv. On the video call, you see a man who is controlled and precise, a medical professional at the top of his field. But talking about that night, he falters. He is back in the operating theatre, watching the prime minister’s life slip away.

“People started to cry,” he says, pausing to collect himself before each sentence. “They sat on the floor, crying. Some of them loudly.” There is a long silence. “Nobody knew him personally,” he says. Instead, “It was as if they knew that this was going to affect their country, their life, their families. They were crying not only for the prime minister – they were crying for their fate.”

Rabin’s family were waiting outside the operating theatre. The journey there had been frantic, all of them piling into a car, following the news on the radio. Noa recalls, “I kept saying, ‘Nothing happened to him. I can assure you, nothing happened to him.’ And I think the sixth or seventh time I said it, my mum, who’s very gentle and polite – I can hardly remember when she raised her voice to me – looked at me and said, ‘Shut up. We don’t know anything, and you don’t know anything. So just shut up.’”

No one at the hospital had been expecting them. They had no ID and waited for 15 minutes before being ushered in. By now Jonathan was sobbing. “All of a sudden you were in a movie,” Noa recalls. “The number of people and press outside. It was a feeling that the whole country was looking at that hospital, at that moment.”

She and her brother stood in a corridor. “There were two nurses passing by and one said to the other, ‘He’s not going to make it, but they’re not telling the family yet.’” She saw the army chief of staff arrive, along with officials from the Mossad and Shabak. “And you know that the moment is coming, and you don’t know how you’ll face it.”

Klausner and a colleague came to tell the family that Rabin was dead. Noa remembers instinctively pulling out a cigarette, the first time she had done that in front of her parents. “All of a sudden the whole corridor was holding cigarettes and lighting up. We started laughing, that this is the legacy.” Rabin had been an incorrigible chain-smoker.

The family were ushered into a room to say their last goodbye. Noa thought she saw her grandfather’s trademark half-smile and asked a doctor about it. He told her it might mean Rabin had not died in pain – that when you’re shot in the back it can feel like no more than a sharp slap. “You can see in the video of the assassination that he’s turning around,” Noa says now, as if “he thought it was someone saying hi. I found a lot of comfort in that. He never knew it was one of his people who shot him in the back.”

Rabin’s widow, daughter and granddaughter Noa at his funeral, with the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Photograph: AP

At 11.15pm, the prime minister’s spokesman announced the death to the crowd that had gathered outside the hospital. There were cries of, “No! No!” The journalist Attali, then a schoolboy, recalls hearing the news on a bus packed with his fellow religious students. One punched the air and said, “Yes!” He got a smack round the head from the rabbi for his disrespect.

Two days later, Rabin was buried in Jerusalem. In attendance were kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, including King Hussein of Jordan with whom Rabin had signed a peace treaty just a year earlier. (Arafat was asked to stay away, though he did visit the Rabin apartment during the shiva, the traditional week of mourning: in what was seen as a gesture of deep respect, he removed his keffiyeh.) Bill Clinton bade farewell to a man he had come to see as a father figure with the words, “Shalom, chaver”: goodbye, friend. The teenage Noa gave a eulogy she had written before dawn that morning, in which she spoke very simply of a granddaughter’s love: “The ground has slipped away from under our feet,” she said.

“There was no question whatsoever who would eulogise my grandfather,” she says now. “It was clear it was me. I was the one who was writing all the family speeches from the day I could hold a pencil.” But to speak in front of such a big audience, after such a tragedy? The soldier’s granddaughter replies, “Let’s just say I was brought up on tragedies.”

Rabin’s immediate successor was his decades-long rival, Shimon Peres. Sheves recalls going to see the new PM, urging him to call a snap election. The right was weak, shamed by its association with the incitement that had led to murder the wave of public grief, embodied by the candlelit vigils of young people, would surely lead to a landslide victory and an immediate mandate to complete Rabin’s peacemaking work. But Peres said no. After years in Rabin’s shadow, he wanted to wait until the scheduled election the following summer rather than rely on a sympathy vote. “He wanted to be elected by himself. It was just his ego,” Sheves says.


Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Independent Introvert

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin robbed Israel of a rare politician able to make peace with the Palestinians.

The Israeli novelist, Amos Oz, described Yitzhak Rabin as ‘not a charismatic man, but rather a logical, skilful captain’. Rabin was both a political dove and a military hawk, who never pretended to be a far-sighted intellectual, had no small talk and even found canvassing possible supporters ‘a herculean task’. Yet such an introverted figure was able to make peace with Israel’s historic enemy, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Itamar Rabinovich, a Tel Aviv university academic and expert on Syria, was appointed by Rabin to take charge of the vexed negotiations with Hafez al-Assad’s authoritarian regime. Few are better placed to write an account of Rabin’s life and times. Ambassador Rabinovich rightly argues that Rabin’s journey should be measured by his accomplishments in life and not by the manner of his death at the hands of a member of the far right in November 1995, following a peace rally.

In this excellent biography, it is Rabin’s sense of independence that predominates. He regarded the soldier and politician Moshe Dayan as ‘totally reckless’ in the way he dealt with people. He refused to bow to David Ben-Gurion’s will and was thus marginalised. Instead of promotion, he was sent to Camberley Staff College in the UK. Rabin regarded his great rival, Shimon Peres, as ‘an indefatigable intriguer’ and he stood up to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading US pro-Israel advocacy organisation.

Unlike many Israeli politicians, he did not cling to office as the be-all and end-all of his existence. Before the Entebbe raid in 1976 – in which Israeli commandos rescued hijacked passengers from Idi Amin’s Uganda – Rabin dictated his resignation letter in case things did not go to plan. It is also well known that he resigned as prime minister in early 1977, when his wife was found to possess a technically illegal foreign bank account.

He was appointed Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Force in 1964, but Israel’s lightning victory during the Six Day War three years later was received by Rabin with mixed feelings.

Shortly afterwards, Rabin was appointed ambassador to the United States, but had a tortuous relationship with Israel’s foreign minister, Abba Eban. Despite his success as a diplomat, he was passed over several times for posts by prime minister Golda Meir. One factor was that he was not well disposed towards the West Bank settlers. Keeping Ramallah was not ‘a question of life and death’ for him. During his first term as prime minister from 1974, he labelled the settler movement as ‘a cancer in the social and democratic tissue of the state of Israel’. He disparaged their claim to be a reincarnation of the 1948 generation and argued that maintaining control over a million and a half Palestinians posed a demographic threat to the Zionist experiment.

After numerous electoral failures by Peres, Rabin was elected once more as Labour party leader and duly won the 1992 election. Rabinovich was appointed initially to assess the feasibility of negotiating with the Syrians, rather than with the Palestinians. Yet when the Syrians presented their first paper on the situation, the word ‘Israel’ was omitted. Rabinovich argues that Rabin wished first to explore the Syrian option and offered the Americans a ‘hypothetical, conditional willingness’ to withdraw from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, despite the fact that Peres would oppose him and that many of the Golan inhabitants were actually Labour voters. The Syrian approach was maximalist, vague and intransigent. Despite this, the American interlocutors had, crucially, not kept in reserve Rabin’s potential offer to withdraw. They blandly placed it on the negotiating table to no avail. It was this action that persuaded Rabin, according to Rabinovich, to emphasise instead the Palestinian track, which eventually led to the Oslo Accord in 1993 and the handshake with Arafat on the White House lawn.

The black cloud of Rabin’s murder in 1995 hangs over this book. Rabinovich argues that the assassination was a watershed in the move to the right and that the wider circle of those responsible for the incitement before the killing have still not been brought to justice.

This well-crafted work raises profoundly moral questions about Israel’s trajectory and what could have been rather than what is.

Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman
Itamar Rabinovich
Yale University Press
304pp £16.99

Colin Shindler is an emeritus professor at SOAS. His latest book is The Hebrew Republic: Israel’s Return to History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017).


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