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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Leaders from across the political spectrum paid tribute to Yitzhak Rabin's vision on Wednesday by anointing themselves the true successors of the slain prime minister's legacy.
Special ceremonies were held at the Knesset and the Mount Herzl military cemetery in memory of Rabin, who was killed by Yigal Amir during a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. Across the nation, schools and military bases held their own ceremonies to mark the anniversary of Rabin's death.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik were among the many dignitaries who eulogized Rabin - each honoring a different facet of the slain leader's legacy.
In a speech that emphasized the importance of the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland, Olmert told Knesset members that he had recalled Rabin's own path toward the negotiating table as he prepared himself for talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.
"More than once I wondered, especially during the last two years, what led Rabin to take the path of Oslo. Rabin went through torment before beginning serious diplomatic actions. There is a moment when one changes direction and takes the risk because a decisive to move toward peace must be taken," the prime minister said.
Olmert then turned to his own hesitations about the upcoming talks, adding, "I don't know if the time for peace is yet ripe, but I know that it is my duty as the prime minister of Israel to do everything to advance that time and try and bring it closer."
If peace is achieved, said Olmert, it will be a cold peace at first. He added that he would not sacrifice the safety of Israelis or take unnecessary risks during the upcoming months.
"We already know that peace isn't made at international meetings, peace isn't just made on fancy pieces of paper. Peace is made through goodwill and real willingness to accept the other, while understanding his needs and fears," he said.
Recalling the difficult years since the Oslo Accords, Olmert said it was more important than ever for Israelis and Palestinians to recognize their mutual hardships and losses.
"We are strong enough and sure enough that we are in the right to recognize the suffering of the Palestinians and to tell them that we are not apathetic to the feeling of despair and agony that they have experienced," Olmert said.
Netanyahu, who spoke after Olmert, said it was clear to him that Israel's current leadership did not truly understand Rabin's legacy if they could not honor the words he spoke during his last address to the Knesset: "Jerusalem is united, it will never be divided again."
"Rabin and I disagreed on a number of things. But there were a great number of things we agreed upon, such as liberal economic theory. The central issue we concurred on was the indivisibility of Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
The Likud chairman's speech was meant as a jab at Olmert, who suggested during a speech to the Knesset last week that he would be willing to cede outlying Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as part of a peace agreement.
"I bring all this up for those who say they are going in Rabin's direction but tend to forget his words," Netanyahu said. "The Palestinians today are not partners for peace... I hope that in the future they will have different leaders who will take steps toward peace."
Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Yasser Arafat for signing the Oslo Accords, said the assassin had failed in his goal of derailing the peace process, which was now being renewed.
"Twelve years have passed by rapidly since that terrible night when the prime minister of Israel was killed by the lowliness and abomination that exists in murderers - by the son of injustice who undermined the integrity of Israeli democracy and plotted to topple it with three bullets which he fired into the exposed back of Yitzhak," Peres said during the Mount Herzl ceremony. "We were a strong people, we remain a strong people, stronger than any shock or crisis."
All the officials who gave public addresses Wednesday made reference to Rabin's assassin, although none uttered his name.
"From year to year, we realize how this horrible man's roots and the source of his evil is to be found in his home and family, who back his actions, and from there, from that evil house, spread further out," said Itzik. "The God of Israel is not your god, and your god is not ours. Your state is not our state, you have no part in the people of Israel."
Amir's supporters launched a highly-publicized campaign this week for Amir to be released from prison in time for the delivery of his first child; his wife, Larissa Trimbobler, is due to give birth any day. The campaign cumulated in a march through Tel Aviv Wednesday evening that turned violent when members of the Labor Party Youth Guard clashed with the right-wing activists.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter confirmed Wednesday that Amir would serve out his life term, comparing him to a "mummy sitting in prison."