The last six prime ministers have failed to bring peace with the Palestinians, who are unwilling to accept a Jewish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday at the Knesset’s memorial for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The Palestinians are “unwilling to give up the dream of returning to Haifa and Jaffa. They educate their children to hate Jews, to see Israel as an imperialist entity and the source of all evil,” Netanyahu said. “Rabin hoped this trend would change, but he was met with cruel waves of terrorism and radical Islam.”
The prime minister said Israel had made peace with former enemies Egypt and Jordan, but Rabin and every prime minster since had been unable to attain peace with the Palestinians, despite their efforts.
“We evacuated Gaza, and what happened? Half of the Palestinians, radical Islamists, rained rockets and missiles on us,” Netanyahu said. “The other half refuses to confront the first half. The Palestinians do not have a mirror image of our society, which wants peace but disagrees on how to attain it.”
In the current wave of violence, the government has been “trying, like Rabin, to stand up to terror with determination and without hesitation,” Netanyahu said, adding: “We will fight incitement and terrorism with all our might.”
Peace cannot be achieved without safeguarding security, he continued.
“We must take away the Palestinians’ hope that one day they will defeat us through force. Only when they understand that they cannot do that, will we be able to put our swords back in their sheaths,” he said. “Rabin understood that well.”
At the same time, Netanyahu said steps must be taken to improve Palestinians’ lives – to “reduce friction, promote reconciliation and economic development.”
Netanyahu said Rabin’s assassination had created a deep wound in the nation.
“A series of events in the history of our nation were caused by polarity and unbridled zealotry,” he stated.
“We promised ourselves that the lessons of the past were learned and that the Kingdom of Israel will not be destroyed a third time.
The challenge is to have a democratic, deep public discourse in a climate that keeps the nation united. Our basic unity is the basis of our strength,” he said.
He concluded his remarks by saying: “Yitzhak Rabin made many contributions to the revival of the state. We are deeply grateful and remember him dearly and respectfully.”
At the same Knesset meeting, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) intimated that Netanyahu, who was opposition leader at the time of the assassination, bore responsibility for incitement that preceded it.
“Rabin tried to prevent Israel from becoming ‘Israstine,’ hell. Rabin tried to take the territories out of Israel....
And you were on the balcony and heard cries calling him a traitor. And then the three gunshots came, and Yitzhak Rabin was murdered,” Herzog said, aiming his remarks at the prime minister.
“You should be ashamed!” MK Miki Zohar (Likud) shouted, as the plenum briefly devolved into chaos.
“You don’t even know how to respect this day,” Culture Minister Miri Regev yelled.
While Netanyahu was present at protests in which Rabin was called a traitor, he came out against such statements, telling a demonstration in 1995: “Rabin is not a traitor. He’s not a traitor. He’s making a big mistake.... We are dealing with political rivals, not enemies. We are one nation.”
During Monday’s memorial, Herzog accused Netanyahu of poor leadership in comparison to Rabin.
“All of your actions, all of your speeches, decisions are full of fear that is deep and polarizing,” the opposition leader said. “As opposed to Mr. Responsibility’s leadership, yours is about ‘to whom can I defer responsibility today.’” Herzog added that the prime minister was also responsible for the current wave of terrorism.
“After many years, there are only right-wing members in the government. This is a fully right-wing government. There are no ‘lefties’ in it. You don’t have a scapegoat to blame,” he said.
“Netanyahu can do whatever he believes in – annex Judea and Samaria, cancel the Oslo Accords, collect the guns that you accuse Rabin and [former prime minister Shimon] Peres of giving the Palestinians. Let the IDF win,” Herzog said.
“For almost a month, there are no safe places in Israel. From north to south, east to west, the land is full of terror. The fully right-wing government did not cancel the Oslo Accords, [Education Minister] Naftali Bennett did not submit a proposal to the government to annex Judea and Samaria, and Netanyahu is calling on [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] to meet with him ‘without preconditions,’” he went on.
“You are responsible for almost 10 years, and in your time, Jerusalem was divided. Not under Peres or Rabin. Only you’re responsible,” he added.
According to Herzog, Rabin would not have let terrorism win, and had he been alive, he would have prevented the second intifada.
The opposition leader described the current period as a fateful time in which the country must decide if “we will slide toward Masada, to a state of the Sicarii, to destroying our third chance at independence, or if we will go bravely together toward a change that will bring us safe, clear, recognized borders that will protect the State of Israel as our national home once and for all.”
The Sicarii were a band of Jewish zealots who, in the years leading up to the destruction of the Second Temple, attacked Romans and their followers, using small daggers they would conceal under the outer garments.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein cautioned against placing blame for Rabin’s assassination on a certain population group, saying the tragedy appalled the vast majority of Israelis across the religious and political spectrum.
“In the years since the murder, many talked about ‘learning lessons.’ We almost always hear the claim that ‘we haven’t learned anything.’ The blame is almost always placed on one camp,” Edelstein said.
“The religious and nationalist population has felt that it doesn’t matter what they do,” the speaker said. “When the memorial day comes, they will be collectively blamed...as if only they are responsible for the tragedy, as if they supported it, whether through silence or through words.”
Twenty years after Rabin was assassinated, Edelstein said, the time had come to stop the collective finger pointing.
“Violence and murder are not our way; it is not anyone’s way; it certainly is not a norm,” he added. “You will be able to find someone who encourages it only by using a microscope.”
Edelstein also warned against incitement, especially online, saying people needed to restrain themselves from expressing anger on social media.
“It must stop, or else fingers that are keyboard-happy will end up becoming trigger-happy,” he said.