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Commentary. The prime minister was hardly an icon of peace, and his legacy is far from clear.

Yitzhak Rabin’s peacemaker myth

Twenty years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the memorials are a dramatic antithesis to recent events in Israel. These days, Rabin is a myth far from reality. Many people are attending the main ceremony in Tel Aviv not so much to commemorate, but rather in the illusion that renewing Rabin’s specter may spark a faint hope in the spirit of those who see these days as a black chapter, teetering toward a tragic ending.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is incapable of responding to the events of recent weeks. Palestinian attacks have created a general, unjustified panic fueling politics of fear. As we have already reported in il manifesto, the government’s reaction is limited to forceful solutions without any real political alternative.

The far right has thrown more gasoline on the fire: Every Palestinian or Israeli in Jerusalem or the occupied territories has become a possible bomber. Consequently, every Palestinian is a potential target of the “security forces” and the fascist hordes growing with each passing day. Any Palestinian who wants to take a bus or go to work must be afraid of being attacked or at least suspected. So, you can expect to see, at best, blind rage and, at worst, injuries and deaths. Even an Israeli Jew was killed on suspicion alone.

“Be on alert, soldiers, police officers and citizens,” repeat our sagely ministers; the hysterics listen, and out of fear or because they’re trying to be heroes they start shooting innocent people and arresting random Palestinians.

When Netanyahu absolved Hitler of responsibility for having conceived and implemented the elimination of the Jews, by throwing the blame on the Mufti of the time, he obviously didn’t say it out of ignorance. His message to the Israelis is clear and simple: All Arabs and Muslims are Nazis with murderous potential. Therefore it is impossible to deal with them.

As the panic spreads, the opposition has proved it has neither strength nor a voice. For the despairing left, resurrecting Rabin’s myth is evidently necessary, at the political level and at the individual psychological level.

Rabin was the great general of the victory of 1967. Shortly after, he retired from the army and was ambassador to the United States, showing great admiration for Henry Kissinger (it’s not necessary to dwell here on the criminal nature of the latter’s political work).

The 1973 war was difficult and extracted a heavy price in Israeli soldier casualties, making it clear that the leadership of the old Labor Party would have to go. Rabin, the brilliant general who was to change the image of a discredited leadership, became prime minister for the first time in 1974. These were the last days in power of a debased social democracy; it was a period full of corruption.

Rabin resigned in 1977 and the Labor Party lost the elections. The general was a good friend of other generals. Some were quite problematic, including those of the Argentine dictatorship and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli defense minister who, in June 1982, joined the war in Lebanon on the advice of Rabin, veteran of a victorious war.

In 1984, the Likud and the Labor Party were obliged to form a coalition government, with Shimon Peres as prime minister for two years. He was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir of the Likud, but the post of defense minister was assured to Rabin for the four years of the coalition. Rabin led the repression of the first Intifada, gave the order to “break the bones” of the demonstrators and closed schools for over a year.

Rabin seemed to conceive a future in which Israel would not exercise direct domination over the Palestinians. At the same time he was always far from the vision of an independent Palestinian state and close to a vision of autonomy, or the Palestinian territories under the control of Jordan. In signing the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government’s moves were not clear enough as to suggest that Israel wanted a lasting peace. Rabin did not seem willing to adopt the formula of two states for two peoples. The many contradictions throughout the peace process are obvious.

Oslo seemed to promise a better future, but throughout the process there wasn’t any evidence for a true peace. The harshness of occupation and the confiscation of Palestinian land continued. Rabin seemed unwilling to make dramatic decisions about the difficult reality of the occupation. In February 1994, when Baruch Goldstein, a doctor and criminal extremist, entered the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and killed 29 Palestinians, the army came and killed at least 10 more Palestinians protesting against the massacre. Rabin refused to expel from Hebron 500 Israeli settlers who had long fomented hatred with constant provocations.

So, what should Rabin’s legacy be? It is very hard to know, since the same Rabin never clearly favored a two-state solution, nor the creation of a Palestinian state. In fact, although during the rally he attended on the day of his assassination he seemed to favor a peace plan, it was still not clear, however, what his actual formula would be or what price he was willing to pay in terms of territory.

His violent death turned him into a martyr in the service of peace. But in the following years, he was almost forgotten. A student with whom I talked in recent days did not know Rabin’s positions or history, nor the real meaning of his assassination, decreed by right-wing extremists amid a cruel smear campaign. The legacy is still not clear.

Today, putting the lack of any clear Israeli leader on full display, the memorial organizers tapped President Bill Clinton (!) to speak at the commemoration. With a left and pacifist world profoundly debilitated, many wonder if some tragic outcome awaits.

Twenty years later, the only possible legacy of Oslo is a small bit of optimism in this very dark period in the history of Israel. This isn’t just a question of peace: It’s about a possible triumph of fascism, with an alliance of fundamentalists and nationalists, that would endanger Israeli society and dramatically alienate the possibility of a path that will put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.