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Ten years. Ten years have gone by since the agony, the disbelief and the horror of that news flash telling us our prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had been gunned down by a Jewish zealot. The massive security phalanx that envelops our present prime minister is telling testimony that we have learned nothing from that terrible event; the danger of a repeat act is constantly with us.
There is something strangely similar in the personal histories and the psychological make-up of Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. Their fathers were both Zionists. Rabin's father served in the Jewish Legion in World War I together with David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. Ze'ev Jabotinsky was his first Hebrew teacher.
Sharon's father was a passionate Zionist. He studied agriculture in his native Russia so that he could take up farming as soon as he made aliya. He made his home in Kfar Malal where his son grew up, working their farm.
For the Jerusalem-born Yitzhak Rabin, agriculture, too, was his chosen profession, though he spent more time in the ranks of the Hagana and the Palmah than in the fields of his kibbutz. Both were headstrong, with an iron will. Both were brilliant military commanders, and both have left their mark on the history of Israel as prime ministers: Rabin with his efforts to make peace, and Sharon, so far, with his disengagement plan.
If you had told Rabin that he would one day shake the hand of Yasser Arafat he would have ridiculed you; if you had told Sharon that he would one day forcibly evacuate settlements, he would have thought you were crazy. Both of them proved to be adept at evaluating changing situations and drawing the necessary conclusions.
RABIN WAS the ultimate sabra. Henry Kissinger, who worked closely with him when Rabin was ambassador in Washington, described him as "taciturn, shy, reflective, almost resentful of small talk. His integrity and his analytical brilliance in cutting to the core of a problem were awesome."
Kissinger added: "Yitzhak Rabin had many extraordinary qualities, but the gift of human relations was not one of them. If he had been handed the entire United States Strategic Air Command as a free gift he would have (a) affected the attitude that Israel was at last getting its due and (b) found some technical shortcoming in the airplanes that made his accepting them a reluctant concession to us."
His analytical qualities were expressed in outstanding fashion in the cables he sent from Washington to the Mossad in Tel Aviv to be forwarded to the prime minister - he used that channel because he could not stand foreign minister Abba Eban and did not want him to see the cables - and that, too, was typical of Rabin.
DURING MUCH of his political life he was an activist and hard-liner, the darling of Yitzhak Shamir, and with views not very different from those of Ariel Sharon. When Margaret Thatcher visited Israel in 1986 she found that defense minister Rabin was one of the strongest opponents of concessions to the Palestinians.
She describes the breakfast she had with him. "He proceeded to read out his views to me for 40 minutes with barely time for a bite of toast."
When a high-level personage from Morocco came on a secret mission to Israel, Rabin asked neither after the health of the king, nor about the mission of the emissary. Instead, he launched into a lengthy analysis of the Middle Eastern situation that left his guest almost breathless. The Moroccan, whom I accompanied, hardly managed to put in 10 words.
Rabin had the strength of will and character after the first intifada to apply his analytical powers to a complete reassessment of Israel's relations with the Palestinians. He reached the conclusion that brute force could not solve the conflict, and that peace with the Palestinians as embodied in the Oslo Accords was a "national imperative," in the words of Uri Savir.
Once he reached the conclusion that peace was a national necessity he pursued it with the same persistence with which he had waged war - despite his continuing dislike for the PLO leadership. He became a true soldier for peace, in his own words.
In that, he differed from his former comrade-in-arms and friend, Ariel Sharon. If Rabin's spirit could give an opinion on the current situation, he would in all probability say, in that deep voice of his: "You did a great job getting out of Gaza, Arik. But after that, you blew it. Instead of building on the trust you created, you sent our army to make hundreds of arrests in West Bank towns and villages. Twenty-four Palestinians were killed after disengagement and before the drive-by shooting at Gush Etzion. Some of them, to be sure, were terrorists, but most of them were civilians, including youngsters. You think that is the way to promote peace, even peace and quiet?
"By all means go after the Jihad, but not by declaring war on the entire civilian population!"
But then, Rabin always spoke his mind, even if what he had to say was not popular in certain quarters.
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