The lesson for the peace camp

We must press for unconditional talks with our Arab neighbors.

rabin special 298 (photo credit: )
rabin special 298
(photo credit: )
The Rabin assassination 10 years ago shocked us all. We found it impossible to believe that an event of this kind could occur in Israel. The sorrow, fury and doubts about our society still haunt us. We should use the 10th anniversary of the assassination to reflect on and draw conclusions from the terrible event that took place on November 4, 1995. The most obvious, universal lesson, one that must encompass all of Israeli society, is the importance of guaranteeing that all of society accept the rules of the democratic game. There has never been an ideological consensus in Israeli society, not even before the establishment of the state, and that is a good thing. But there was always a high degree of procedural consensus. The proportional election system, which has existed since 1920, contributes to our political fragmentation because even small political groups are not crushed by the majority and are able to express their views in the context of the system. Especially since 1967 the problem has been exacerbated with the establishment of settlements and because various governments have turned a blind eye to the illegal aspects involved in settlement construction. This has created cracks in the procedural consensus and growing legitimization for breaking the law and confrontation with the rule of law, in the name of a divine law or values that conflict with those of democracy, and which are perceived as taking precedence over it. The Rabin assassination was the climax of this phenomenon, and if we look at the surveys carried out among teenagers on this subject, it can be seen that the attempts made since then to inculcate democratic values in the younger generation have been less than a resounding success. Israeli society must increase its efforts in the area of education toward democracy. AN ADDITIONAL lesson can be drawn from the assassination, one that is binding on the peace camp. In the past 10 years, we have missed out on the opportunity to achieve comprehensive peace with our neighbors. A number of principles championed by Yitzhak Rabin have been undermined by his successors from the Right, and have not been implemented by his successors from the Left. Rabin understood the real threats facing Israel, just as he recognized the opportunities that presented themselves to him. Perhaps he also remembered how he himself missed a huge opportunity when he was prime minister in the 1970s and King Hussein was willing to reach a partial settlement with him. The two main threats he discussed were the loss of a Jewish majority in the areas under Israeli control and hostile countries in the Middle East obtaining nuclear weapons before an Israeli-Palestinian settlement could be reached. His solution involved an effort to reach a settlement with all the Arab countries by the end of the 1990s. He supported the Oslo process, and if he had lived and remained in power, he would have obtained a final status settlement by May 1999, the date agreed upon with the Arab states, in the spirit of the Clinton plan and our own Geneva Initiative. He held intense negotiations with Syria and expressed willingness to relinquish the Golan Heights for peace. He took advantage of King Hussein's courage and the agreement with the Palestinians to sign a declaration of principles with Jordan, just one day after the signing of the Oslo agreement, which eventually produced the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty in October 1994. Rabin distinguished between the various forces at play in the Arab world, and especially among the Palestinians. He viewed Hamas as an intractable enemy with whom it would be impossible to reach a compromise, whereas he saw the leadership of the PLO as a partner that needed strengthening. His determination that negotiations should be held as if there were no terror and terror fought as if there were no negotiations stemmed from exactly that distinction, and from his desire to prevent any terrorist from having a veto over the peace process. Rabin's successors took a different route. Both Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak gave priority to the Syrian track, but did not complete that course of action and halted the negotiations with the Palestinians. Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, on the other hand, did everything in their power to prevent any negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian final status settlement. Netanyahu invented the "if they give, they'll get" system, which in his eyes justified the halting of the negotiations, and Sharon denounced the Rabin formula regarding negotiations and terror as mistaken. Nevertheless, he managed to get the Labor Party to join his coalition although it was clear that a weakened Palestinian Authority would not be able to wipe out the terrorist infrastructure before negotiations were held. The peace camp must resume Rabin's path. We must pressure for negotiations without any preconditions, hold talks with the Palestinian Authority on the final status settlement, attain it as fast as possible, and take advantage of Syria's current situation to sign a peace agreement with it. The peace camp must not lend its support to anything that delays unconditional negotiations and it must bolster the understanding that only peace agreements with our neighbors, rather than unilateral steps or partial agreements, can bring about the realization of the Zionist dream: a Jewish and democratic state living in peace with its neighbors that is not a ghetto in the Middle East and that is not the most dangerous place in the world today for Jews as Jews. The writer is leader of the Yahad/Meretz party.