Twenty years ago, Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel, was murdered for his controversial advancements of peace talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). With his death passed the last truly hopeful time of peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership.
Rabin rose to the political forefront in Israel following 20 years serving in the Israel Defense Forces. As a former military man, Rabin saw firsthand the inherent horror of war, causing him to become Israel’s strongest proponent of peace during his later political career.
In 1993, Rabin, his Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, a huge step toward peace and a real gesture of sincerity by both sides. At the signing ceremony at the White House, Rabin said, “We who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears … enough!”
Rabin, Peres and Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward peace.
In 1994, Rabin signed a peace treaty with Jordan’s King Hussein, a monumental achievement of cooperation that lasts to this day.
His assassination, carried out by an extreme right-wing Israeli Jew named Yigal Amir, came as Rabin left a massive pro-peace rally on Nov. 4, 1995, in central Tel Aviv, minutes after he joined the crowd in singing “Song for Peace.”
Dan Ephron, a reporter working for Reuters in Israel at the time, has just published a book about the assassination called “Killing A King.” He terms the weeks before Rabin’s assassination “probably the most hopeful in terms of the possibility of coming to some agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.”
This is not to say that the peace process between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has been non-existent, just that Rabin’s death and the subsequent unraveling of the progress made in pursuit of peace have never really been overcome.
In 2000, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the PLO’s Arafat convened for the Camp David summit encouraged and mediated by US President Bill Clinton. During these meetings, Barak proposed a peace treaty in which Israel would withdraw from 100 percent of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank in exchange for peace. Additionally, to make up for the three percent of the West Bank not evacuated, Barak offered a section of the Negev region of Israel, which would have increased Gaza by a third. Arafat did not hesitate in rejecting the offer and failed to offer any counter-proposal, effectively collapsing the Camp David Summit peace talks.
The lead US negotiator from the Camp David Summit, Dennis Ross, argues that the deal breaker for Arafat had nothing to do with the land exchanges. Rather, Ross explains that Arafat rejected the deal because it would have effectively ended the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, writing that “for [Arafat] to end the conflict is to end himself.”
In recent weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been calling for an end to the terror attacks sweeping the country by asking Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, to sit with him in peace talks. While Netanyahu has not been the biggest advocate for peace in his time as Prime Minister, his request to hold talks to ease the current tensions were not recognized by Abbas.
Learning more about the PA and the strained state in which Abbas finds himself further threatens one’s hope for peace between the two governments in the near future.
Abbas will soon finish the tenth year of his three year term as President of the PA, effectively making him a dictator since he suspended the democratic elections that would hold him up for reelection.
In 2012, Abbas formed a unity government between his party Fatah and the internationally-recognized terror organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Israeli intelligence views the pressure on Abbas as growing from his political rivals. He has been criticized for even listening to peace offers, making it unlikely that he will sit down for peace talks.
In dark days like these, one cannot help but wonder, what would have happened if Rabin had not been assassinated? Would he have capitalized on the rare fact that he was able to negotiate with the Palestinian leadership? How different would Israeli-Palestinian relations be? How different would the entire Middle East be?
In a 1993 speech in Israel’s parliament, Rabin addressed the Palestinian people, saying, “We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance.”
I yearn for the day when both sides reach that feeling of empathy and desire to live side by side in peace.
I yearn for the day when we no longer have to wonder if Rabin’s assassination forever doomed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Hopefully we will live to see these days.