Opinion // Yitzhak Rabin’s Legacy Is Very Much Alive

By | Nov 02, 2015
2015 November-December, Opinion

by Shmuel Rosner

If you think Israel’s “right” is “nationalistic” and the “left” wants “peace,” think again.

Every five years or so I have to write about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, that terrible event that changed Israel forever. And every time, I witness the inevitable fading of the emotional trauma. On the 10th anniversary, it was possible to remind readers that Israel is hardly the first state to have had a leader murdered; by the 14th, I was able to begin a talk about Rabin with a joke. Now, at the 20th anniversary, it’s easy to assume—with despair or triumphalism, depending on your politics—that Rabin’s legacy is fading as well.

But don’t be too sure. Rabin’s legacy is very much alive—if you interpret that legacy correctly.

Rabin, inevitably, is remembered first and foremost as the leader responsible for the Oslo process—the beginning of the long slog of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking that has thus far frustrated its practitioners. As Israel endures yet another wave of Palestinian violence, the Rabin legacy seems, again, like a loser. Peace? In our time? With the Palestinians? No way. More than 70 percent of the public, according to a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, does not believe “that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will lead in the coming years to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

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But to see Rabin’s legacy as peace with the Palestinians is to make a basic, and very common, mistake—a mistake based on the assumption that in Israel there are two rival ideologies: the “nationalistic camp” (the right wing) and the “peace camp” (the left wing).

It’s more accurate to turn that view on its head. The right wing is gradually becoming the camp that believes in peace—if by “peace” you mean Israelis and Palestinians living together. The left wing—really, the centrist camp plus some of the left—is the group that believes Israelis and Palestinians, or Israelis and Arabs, cannot live together in peace and hence must broker some kind of political separation. This should properly be called the nationalist view. This is the true Rabin legacy, and it is thriving.

Consider the numbers. In that Democracy Institute survey, almost half of all Israelis, both Jews and Arabs, agreed with the statement that “the idea of two states for two peoples is dead.” Under such circumstances, more than a third of all Jews (36.3 percent) would annex the territories and establish “one state under Israeli rule on all of the land.” That is the hard-core right wing—not generally seen as peaceful, but the “peace camp” in the sense that many of its members believe that coexistence of Jews and Arabs in some kind of state is possible. (A tiny faction on the far left of Israel also believes in such an idea, in the form of a “one-state solution.”)

By contrast, most of the center-left camp, properly understood, does not believe in peace at all. It believes in separation of Arabs and Jews into two states—because, like Rabin, it does not believe that these two groups can live together in harmony, and because it wants Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic. The recent wave of violence, the sudden, random knife attacks, solidified this camp of separatists. Again, the numbers reflect this shift. In a survey by Menachem Lazar of the market research group Panels Politics in mid-October, 66 percent of Jewish Israelis supported “separation” of Jewish and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, a clear indication that Jerusalem is not “united” despite the insistence of successive Israeli governments. Worryingly, 61 percent of Jews in that poll supported a “boycott” of Arab Israelis, because of their support of the Palestinians. Also worryingly, 58 percent support the idea of encouraging the Palestinians to “willingly transfer” themselves to other places.

These are devastating numbers, and they all point in one direction: Israeli Jews’ eroding belief in the ability of Jews and Arab Palestinians (in some cases even Israeli Arabs) to coexist in peace and their growing desire for separation. Of course, how to achieve such separation and what measures should be taken to get to a point of separation are still matters of debate. Some Jewish Israelis still think that a “two-state solution” through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is feasible. Others think that Israel has to act unilaterally and withdraw from territories in which many Palestinians live. Surely, Israelis understand that separation does not mean an Israel with no Arabs whatsoever. Rather, they hope that when Palestinians have a place of their own, the occasionally tense relations between Jews and Arabs within Israel will be defused.

This is what Yitzhak Rabin wanted. His last political campaign, in 1992, called for “taking Gaza out of Tel Aviv,” cutting the connection between Israel’s residents and the Gaza Palestinians. He believed “that in the long run, separation between Israel and the Palestinians is the best solution for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Surely, there were times in which he believed that the way to separation was through peace, through negotiations and agreements with the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat. But it was not a coincidence that when Rabin and Arafat signed the initial agreement, when the two leaders needed to shake hands, President Clinton needed “to give Mr. Rabin just a little extra nudge in the back,” as The New York Times chronicled. He was reluctant about Arafat and wary about dreams of peace. And he was right about something else, as most Israeli Jews understand today, 20 years after the heinous crime that took him away from us: Israels urgent goal is not peace, but separation.

Shmuel Rosner, a Tel Aviv-based writer, editor and researcher, is a contributing opinion writer for The International New York Times, political editor of The LA Jewish Journal, and a columnist for Israel’s Maariv Daily.

3 thoughts on “Opinion // Yitzhak Rabin’s Legacy Is Very Much Alive

  1. Avi says:

    During his TV debate with Yitzhak Shamir in 1992, Rabin said that he is against any Paldestinian stat between Israel and the Jordan river, and emphasized that he voted for Begin’s autonomy resolution in the Knesset. Those in the left who embrace Rabin, but reject the red lines he articulated in his last speech in the Knesset – United Jerusalem, the settlement blocks and the Jordan valley – do it for political expediency, using his murder in the most cynical and dangerous way to attack all who do not share their ideology, whom the call the right. Year after year, the ceremony in Tel Aviv has become a spectical of incitement against the settlers and the Likud. While it was Sharon who incited from that famous balcony in Jerusalem, and it was Bibi who said that Rabin is wrong but not a traitor, the left openly accuses Bibi. Of course Sharon had become a saint after evicting Jews from their homes in Gaza, which has created a terror state, exactly what Bibi predicted.

    But there is a two state solution and it is the Wiezmann – Faisel agreement from 1917 that gave the Palestinians 77% of my homeland, which is now Jordan. This outrageous act of the Brits, to bring a foreign king from Saudi Arabia, who is a Beduin, to rule the Palestinians must be reversed. It is better that Jordan becomes a Palestinian state and that together with Israel ensure a peaceful coexistence, otherwise, it will be taken over by ISIS, and the biggest losers will be the Palestinians. The rest are small details. I know it is unrealistic, because thenPalestinians really want the replace Israel and not to live in peace. This has become clear a few days ago when Abbas talked in the UN about 67 years of occupation.

    So you are right. It is the right that believes in peace and coexistence. It is the left that cannot stand the fact that the liberal so called elite from Tel Aviv will have to live with those backwards Arabs. After all the way the have treated Jewss from Arab countries is basically the same. just read Haaretz.

  2. Daniel says:

    Problematic piece.

    Rosner elides the far left in order to make his framework stick. The far left – by which I mean the cosmopolitan or post-nationalist set – is really the ‘peace camp’ as described by Rosner, in terms of ‘Israelis and Palestinians living together’.

    The right wing believes in ‘living together’ in one state, sure. But only certain elements are authentically liberal – Rivlin, Arens and those who follow that strand in Jabotinsky’s thinking. While sincere in their beliefs, these people cannot square the circle between their desire for a Jewish state over all of historic Palestine, on the one hand, and liberalism’s demand full equality between Jews and Arabs, on the other – except by either doing away with majority rule, falsely believing that Jews will maintain a strong majority in all of historic Palestine, or incorrectly interpreting Judaism/Zionism in completely secular terms as something to which all can take part in, regardless of ethnic/religious background. Rivlin has done the most to take Jabotinsky’s thoughts on equality to their logical conclusion, suggesting the state could shed its Jewish character. or be led by a non-Jew. But he is an iconoclast of the right, not a representative.

    The dominant portion of the right and far right is not authentically liberal in the sense of ‘living together’ as described by Ronser. They are chauvinists, or worse. Ronser knows this, or should know this, and does a disservice by passing of a description of the right as something else.

  3. Jerry B;az says:

    Left is right and right is left if we don’t define what left and right mean. It generally is considered a characterization of political and economic stance although there are other terms like liberal, conservative, radical, reactionary, etc. In Israel the terms left and right no longer apply principally to economics but the policy of dealing with the Arabs. Since the right wants the entire Land of Israel to be the State of Israel, they will tolerate the Palestinians. The left is the group that wants to separate the land between the Arabs and Jews for demographic reasons. It is a question not fully answered by the right, but the demographic projections indicate that the Palestinians will out-number the Jews in the territory between the sea and the river and will demand equal rights. The left believes generally that this will lead to either an apartheid state or a state with a Palestinian majority, which means the end of the Jewish state.

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