Analyze This: Return of the Oslo Rabin

Rabin will be remembered as the foremost martyr of the growing pains of Israeli democracy.

October 25, 2007 00:55
4 minute read.
Analyze This: Return of the Oslo Rabin

calevbendavid88. (photo credit: )


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When asked what he thought was the historical influence of the French Revolution, the late Chinese premier Chou En-Lai famously replied: "It is too soon to tell." Though it is unlikely to take two centuries, 12 years after the death of Yitzhak Rabin, it is probably too soon to know for certain how history - or at least those in this country who will write the history that becomes the official version - will assess his political legacy. As a military figure whose career encompassed significant achievements from the War of Independence until his leadership of the IDF during its stunning victory in the Six Day War, his place in the national mythology is secure. As the only Labor leader to win two clear electoral victories in the last 33 years, Rabin can also lay claim to undeniable success in the domestic political arena. But Rabin's record as a statesman - especially his supervision, signing and initial execution of the Oslo Accords - remains a point of contention in this society. His stock in this regard has tended to fluctuate from year to year - especially on the anniversary of his assassination - in conjunction with the comparative health of the peace process he initiated with the Palestinians in 1993. In the first years after his death, with the shock of his murder still fresh, and following the election of ardent Oslo critic Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996, serious doubts were raised whether Rabin's most significant diplomatic achievements would long outlive his life. Labor's return to power in 1999 was hailed by party standard-bearer Ehud Barak as a return to the Rabin path. But Barak's failure to reach agreement at Camp David with an intransigent Yasser Arafat, and the subsequent outbreak of the second intifada in October 2000, dealt perhaps the severest blow yet to the Rabin legacy. In the first years of this century, Oslo was pronounced dead (at least in a coma) by the national leadership, and the Rabin they commemorated on the date of his death tended to be more the "Mr. Security" of the pre-Oslo years. Even when Ariel Sharon made his stunning ideological turnaround and carried out the Gaza disengagement, he preferred to position his unilateral steps as an alternative to Oslo, rather than a direct continuation of Rabin's policies. Ehud Olmert came into office pledging to follow in Sharon's path and talking of a second disengagement, unilateral or otherwise, rather than achieving the final-status agreement with the Palestinians envisioned under Oslo. But the Second Lebanon War and Hamas's election victory and conquest of Gaza has forced Olmert to make his own substantial policy shifts. In resuming direct negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and agreeing to begin discussing final-status issues with the Palestinians at the Annapolis conference, the prime minister has clearly raised up Rabin's Oslo banner to a prominence it hasn't enjoyed in years. In his speech before the Knesset at Wednesday's official remembrance session in honor of Rabin, Olmert made that explicitly clear: "Rabin's decision to adopt the Oslo Accords in September of 1993 changed the course of our lives and his own destiny. This was not an obvious decision. It did not reflect the natural course of his political way until that moment. It was a tortuous decision, difficult and filled with doubts; it forced Yitzhak Rabin into a soul-searching that only a few of his predecessors ever faced... "At the ceremony of the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin stated: 'We have come to try and put an end to the hostilities, so that our children, and our children's children, will no longer experience the painful cost of war, violence and terror. We have come to secure their lives, ease the sorrow and the painful memories of the past, to hope and pray for peace.' "A month from now, in Annapolis, an international meeting will take place under the auspices of which we will try to find a way that will lead, I hope, to an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians." No wonder that earlier in the day at the remembrance ceremony besides Rabin's grave at Mount Herzl, his partner in crafting the Oslo Accords, President Shimon Peres, felt he could confidently declare that "today, the path that Yitzhak Rabin paved for us 12 years ago is reemerging; the path of peace has not been lost." So the Oslo Rabin is back - for now. Whether he continues to be with us in the years ahead will undoubtedly depend on what happens in Annapolis, and beyond. If the negotiations with the Palestinians falter - or worse - don't expect to hear Oslo so prominently mentioned in future official commemorations of Rabin's death. He might instead be stressed - as he was Wednesday by Likud leader Netanyahu - as the Six Day War hero who united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and didn't live long enough to have to confront the difficult question of how to obtain peace with the Palestinians without at least partially undoing that achievement. On that latter point, one final observation is worth making about this year's Rabin anniversary. The legacy of the slain prime minister has been almost overshadowed on its 12th anniversary by that of his slayer. Wednesday, almost every speaker who recalled Rabin, including Olmert, felt compelled to address what appears from recent polls to be growing support for the release of Yigal Amir. In shooting down Rabin, Amir succeeded in seeing that the fate of at least part of Rabin's legacy, the Oslo part, would ultimately be decided by the political successors who chose to take up that unfinished business. But in using a bullet rather than ballot to deny Rabin the chance to carry on with the peace process, Amir insured that however that process ultimately plays out, Yitzhak Rabin will still incontestably be remembered - even centuries from now - as the foremost martyr of the sometimes fatal growing pains of Israeli democracy.

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