October 16, 2002
Seven years after the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we need to ask ourselves if Yigal Amir, his assassin, is gaining his objective after all. The conventional wisdom, or perhaps the conventional wishful thinking, is that in a democracy an assassin's bullet cannot and should not change history. The conventional wisdom is that one person cannot change history. Rabin, however, was not an ordinary person, but rather the embodiment of a symbol.
Rabin, like all great leaders, was part myth, and there is no denying that his assassination created more myths. However, in virtue of his capacities both as a man and a myth, Rabin was able to do things that ordinary leaders could not do.
Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak are ordinary leaders. They could not unite the Israel Labor party behind a drive to make the Palestinian Authority fulfill its Oslo treaty obligations and suppress terror. Benjamin Nethanyahu was a very ordinary leader. He could not have gotten the support of the US to force the Palestinian to fulfill their Oslo and Wye treaty obligations, though he wanted to. He didn't even try really. Peres and Benjamin Ben Eliezer and Ehud Barak are ordinary leaders. They cannot, and could not withstand the pressure of the settler lobby to build more and more settlements, and to plant illegal outposts in impossible places.
The peace initiative undertaken by Yitzhak Rabin was based on his correct understanding of three facts, and on Rabin's unique ability to communicate those facts to the Israeli public. The first fact is that Israel cannot rule over millions of Palestinians who are unwilling to accept Israeli sovereignty. The second fact is that the world, and especially the United States, will not allow Israel to continue the occupation indefinitely, especially after the United States had invaded Iraq for its unlawful occupation of Kuwait. The third fact is that regardless of foreign policy, the settlement adventure is warping Israeli society, and transforming Zionism from a progressive movement of national rebirth into the standard bearer of reactionary religious zealotry.
On the anniversary of Rabin's assassination, celebrated today (October 16-17) according to the Hebrew calendar, there are those in Israel who are insisting that basically, Yigal Amir was right. The Oslo accords are a failure. The "Al-Aqsa Intifada" has wiped out the hope of peace according to them.
The Intifada, as well as the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the suicide bombings and provocative actions of the Palestinian leadership during the > Oslo years certainly prolonged the occupation. The hairsbreadth victory of Benjamin Nethanyahu in 1996, came just a few months after the nation, in shock from Rabin's assassination, had vowed to continue his heritage. Nethanyahu's victory was gained with the aid of Chairman Yasser Arafat's speeches, which were shown over and over again in Likud election propaganda. The terror attacks of September 11 likewise gave the aggressive policies of Ariel Sharon new life and legitimacy, for he could say "we are fighting terror" with a degree of truth.
The lifetime of the occupation and the settlements has been artificially prolonged, but they are still doomed. What was true in 1992, is still true today. We cannot rule over three million Palestinians indefinitely. Soon they will be four million, and then perhaps six million, and will outnumber Jews in the land between the Jordan river and the sea.
Meanwhile, the hold that the settlers and their supporters have on Israeli society has grown ever tighter. Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer meets great opposition in attempting to dismantle even the least of the illegal outposts set up by the settlers. The unthinkable and unmentionable has become respectable. Advocates of wishful-thinking-based transfer solutions insist that it is possible to keep the land without the Palestinians. There is no longer any meaningful and organized opposition to the settlers. "Peace" initiatives are confined to a tiny minority of anti-Zionist and moralistic faithful who have little support among the Israeli public, Jewish or Arab. The Israel labor party, having dethroned Shimon Peres, lacks a leader of stature that can explain the need for dismantling the settlements to a public that has become, at best, apathetic to prospects for peace, as well as to the ruination of the economy.
The United States is apparently poised for a second attack on Iraq, and after settling accounts with Iraq, there is no doubt that the US will pressure Israel to agree to formation of a Palestinian state and to enter into peace negotiations based on the Saudi initiative, which is shelved, but not dead. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations are all publicly committed to Israeli withdrawal and to Palestinian statehood. Israel will not be able to count forever on bad Palestinian leadership and Islamic radicalism to allow prolongation of the occupation.
Israeli society and the Israeli government are not ready for this eventuality. Like the government, we have simply decided to blame everything on Yasser Arafat, and to put our faith in irrational or impossible solutions such as conducting sieges of the Muqata compound or hoping for transfer. The elimination of Arafat's leadership and the elimination of Saddam Hussein have become, to Israeli society, what the Messiah was to religious Jews. Somehow, if Arafat and Hussein are gone, the Israeli government and public are convinced that the Palestinians will agree to allow perpetuation of the occupation by a different name. However, in reality, the end of the Iraqi crisis and real Palestinian reform will bring on the day of reckoning. Israel will be forced to withdraw from the settlements and to negotiate peace with the Palestinians. A society that has staked everything it has on the settlement fiasco will be left with nothing. Not only the money, but also the indoctrination invested in "Judea and Samaria" and in Gaza will all vanish. What will a generation that has been raised on religious and nationalist zealotry use for ideology in place of the settlements? The danger to Israeli society is the real damage caused by the assassination of Yitshak Rabin, and that damage may be a fatal wound to Zionism. This is the meaning of Yigal Amir's victory.
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