The Lesson from Rabin, Arafat and the Oslo Accords

On Nov. 4, 1995, Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Tel Aviv, while leaving a large peace rally in support of the Oslo Accords he had signed with Yasser Arafat two years earlier. The murderer was spurred by a climate of hatred toward Rabin, and the agreements, created by Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies among the extremist supporters of the “Greater Israel” movement. Netanyahu later bragged, “I de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords”.

It is crucial to review the changes in thinking which led to the Oslo peace process, to gain insights into how peace can be made, in spite of a cycle of violence going back over 75 years.

Rabin’s career as a soldier was shaped by his commitment to security for Israel based on building overwhelming military superiority over the Palestinian population and Israel’s Arab neighbors. He was the commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) which took Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza during the 1967 Six-Day war. As Minister of Defense during the First Intifada uprising by Palestinians in December 1987, he ordered the IDF to use violent force, demolish homes and expel rioters, to suppress the revolt. But he came to realize that such tactics would not bring about a peaceful resolution. According to his wife, Leah, in her autobiography, Rabin: Our Life, His Legacy: “The Intifada made it wholly clear… that Israel could not govern another people.” It became evident “that only a political solution could succeed over the long term”.

The opportunity came after Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister in 1992. He called for accepting Palestinian self-government, bringing Palestinian officials into direct negotiations, and issuing a freeze on settlements in the occupied territories.

He also opened secret talks with PLO officials in Oslo, which produced the Oslo Accords, with its two crucial economic annexes. These called for cooperation on mutually beneficial development projects, including agreements on water, energy, transportation and industrial production. Arafat reiterated his commitment to renunciation of terror and to recognition of Israel, which opened the door for the handshake between Rabin and Arafat at a White House signing ceremony on Sept. 13, 1993, in the presence of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

At that meeting, Rabin demonstrated the quality of statecraft required to end protracted warfare. He said:

“Let me say to you, the Palestinians, we are destined to live together on the same soil in the same land. We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes; we, who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents; we, who have come from a land where parents bury their children; we, who have fought against you, the Palestinians; we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears. Enough.”

Arafat responded by stating:

“My people are hoping that this agreement, which we are signing today, will usher in an age of peace, coexistence and equal rights.”

Rabin signed a peace treaty with Jordan’s King Hussein on July 25, 1994, at the White House, and identified what is required to pursue peace: “If I raise my toast, I will raise it for those who have the courage to change axioms, to overcome prejudices, to change realities, and those who make it possible… Le Chaim.”

Unfortunately, the promise of the Oslo Accords was never realized. The funds raised to begin the joint projects outlined in the two Economic Annexes were withheld by the World Bank, and then Rabin was felled by an assassin’s bullet. Netanyahu’s role in undermining the Oslo process and the legacy of statesmanship of Rabin and Arafat during his term in office from June 1996 to July 1998, is well documented. Since 2009, he has served as Prime Minister for all but eighteen months, and has repeatedly undermined any prospect for negotiations with the Palestinians.

More on the subject here.

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