Former US president Bill Clinton spoke warmly and passionately Saturday night to tens of thousands of Israelis gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, urging them and the country at large to continue the legacy of slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and pursue the goal of peace with the Palestinians.
An estimated 100,000 people gathered at the site where Rabin was assassinated 20 years ago by Yigal Amir on November 4, 1995, to commemorate the late leader and hear Clinton, President Reuven Rivlin, US President Barack Obama by video, and others extol the values of democracy and urge a rejection of extremism and violence.
Clinton helped broker the 1993 Oslo Accords signed by Rabin with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, for which he was murdered by Amir.
Clinton was welcomed rapturously by the crowd, and he urged them, and especially the youth, to adopt Rabin’s legacy of striving toward peace with the Palestinians and to finish what he started.
Obama to Rabin rally: 'A bullet can take a man's life but, his dream for peace will never die'
“Yitzhak Rabin defended this country, but more importantly, he advanced the values that are fundamental to Israel. He stood for freedom, for peace, acceptance of those different from of us and the preservation of democracy,” said Clinton.
“He refused to do the easy thing, which is to deny evident facts. He wanted to solve problems, not turn away from them or deny them.”
The former president said that he had once asked Rabin why he had adopted the Oslo process and the prime minister responded that he did not believe the West Bank could provide Israel with security, but that he did not want Israel to arrive at a crossroads where it would have to choose between being Jewish or being a democracy.
Clinton said that Rabin had been steadfast in pursuing peace and that his mantra when a terrorist attack was staged was, “We will fight terrorism as if there are no negotiations, and negotiate as if there is no terrorism.”
Clinton asked the crowd, “What does this all amount to? That is up to you. You, when you leave here, must decide how to continue his legacy. In the end, the decisions is yours.
“The next step in the magnificent journey of Israel, a titan of technology, a volcano of energy, a beacon of democracy in a region with too little, the next step is deciding that Rabin was right, that you must share the future with Palestinian children, and to give peace a chance.
“All of you need to decide how to finish his legacy. The last chapter needs to be written by the people for whom he sacrificed his life,” concluded Clinton.
Addressing the rally in a video message, Obama said of Rabin’s efforts toward peace and his assassination, that “A bullet can take a man’s life, but his spirit, his dream for peace will never die.”
Turning to the present, Obama said peace is needed between Israel and the Palestinians and both parties need to compromise and take risks.
“Peace is necessary, because it is the only way to ensure true lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians,” the US president said.
President Reuven Rivlin was politely but not enthusiastically received, speaking out against extremism in Israel. He said it was not only Rabin who was targeted by the assassination, but the Israeli state itself.
“We were – all of us – in the crosshairs: the State of Israel, Israeli democracy, Israeli society, Israeli hope. We all were the target,” Rivlin declared. “We stand here today, together, before that same murderer’s target – before the hatred and loathing of the extreme and violent fringes of society, to say: You shall not overcome us. The Jewish and democratic State of Israel, the state of the Declaration of Independence, will not become a sacrifice on your altar of violence and fear. Never.”
Rivlin said that the country must “shake off extremism and racism” and spend less time arguing who is right and more time listening to and understanding each other.
Former president Shimon Peres, who took Rabin’s place as prime minister after the assassination, intended to speak at the rally, but the organizers turned him down, saying he was too divisive a political figure, Channel 2 reported.
Peres attended the rally without speaking.
The rally and speakers were for the most part apolitical, a stance adopted by the organizers in recent years, although there were several very large green Meretz balloons lofted high over Rabin Square, while several Peace Now banners were also evident.
Other signs read: “We have hope and it will be victorious,” “There is no security without a diplomatic solution,” and “The majority is moderate.”Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.