Letter from London: Britain urges peace as Rabin tribute

"The mentality which Rabin helped to initiate still lays the foundations for a future final-status peace deal."

rabin special 298 (photo credit: )
rabin special 298
(photo credit: )
Britain has urged Israel and the Palestinians to push for peace in the Middle East as a "fitting tribute" to the life of Yitzhak Rabin. Marking the 10th anniversary of Rabin's assassination, Prime Minister Tony Blair, senior Cabinet Minister Geoff Hoon and Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind - who was British Foreign Secretary when Rabin was prime minister - spoke of their admiration for the war-hero-turned-peacemaker and of their desire for all sides in the Middle East to learn the lessons of his leadership. Rifkind, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, said Rabin had changed the mentality of mainstream Israelis towards their neighbors - even though he admits peacemaking has stuttered since his death. "In many ways, it has been a grey 10 years - but that is not to say the opportunity presented by Rabin has disappeared," Malcolm, who is today the Conservatives' Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, told the Post. "The mentality which Rabin helped to initiate - the realization by Israelis of the need to accept a Palestinian state, and a general acceptance in the mind of the average Palestinian the reality of the State of Israel - has stuck ever since, and still lays the foundations for a future final-status peace deal." Rifkind met Rabin a number of times, and also attended his funeral. "He was a brilliant general whose genius helped to win the Six-Day War and who took tough decisions whenever necessary," he said. "Yet he also realized that permanent peace required a political solution, not just a military one, and he had the ability to sell that to a skeptical Israeli public." On Monday night, Labor Friends of Israel, a group made up of pro-Israel British Labor MPs, launched a new book, Striving for Peace: the Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. The 87-page paperback, featuring essays by top British, Israeli and American politicians and academics, claims that Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza was Rabin's "great legacy" and paves the way for a long-term realization of his dream of peace with the Palestinians. Writing the book's foreword, Prime Minister Tony Blair called on Israelis and Palestinians to drive forward the peace process in Rabin's memory. "He symbolizes many of the values that I, and so many of my Labor colleagues, admire most about Israel - a commitment to democracy, justice, liberty and progress," Blair wrote. "What Yitzhak Rabin understood is that a negotiated agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian people is the surest way to ensure Israel's future as a stable, secure and democratic society. His advocacy of this position took both leadership and vision. By meeting the challenges of the coming months and years with both resolve and determination, we can achieve real progress to stand as a fitting tribute to the memory of one of Israel's greatest statesmen." Elsewhere in Parliament last week, Finance Minister Gordon Brown was hailed by MPs for his unprecedented recent decision to set aside 1.5 million of taxpayers' money to send a handful of teachers and pupils from every British state secondary school to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The lack of Holocaust knowledge among some young people in modern Britain has long concerned local Jewish leaders, and Brown's decision was welcomed by MPs from across the political spectrum. Vernon Coaker, a Labor lawmaker and former deputy head teacher, who himself recently visited Auschwitz, told the Post, "Young people here from all backgrounds and religions must be given the opportunity to learn from the past."