Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rabin, ten years on

What's interesting about the commemorations of the anniversary of Rabin's murder this year is that, perhaps for the first time, there seems to be a re-evaluation of his personality and contribution -- not just from the right, which never believed in his legacy in the first place, but from the left / former left as well; see Amotz Asa El in the JPost for one of the most cutting critiques. With the distance of a decade, not only is it now clear to (almost) everyone that Rabin's legacy, in terms of the peace process, is a big mess, but the emotions surrounding Rabin's assassination have faded to the point where it is acceptable to voice doubts about the man himself.
Clearly, the assassination itself should continue to be a central event in Israeli life, as the assassination of a prime minister, especially on political grounds, is a shot at democracy at its very core. It is a watershed event whose lessons the nation must always internalize -- the huge shame that a prime minister of Israel was shot by another Jew, a frum Jew in particular.
But what of Rabin personally? If he was, as so many pieces have proclaimed in the last few days, neither a visionary nor a particular success (both in his military career -- a run-of-the-mill-top-general, some say -- his first premiership, and in his Oslo endeavour), how should he be remembered? Should his personality take center stage -- or become secondary, as we mark Nov. 4th each year, to the memory and lessons of the assassination itself?
I believe that Rabin the man is still important. Although I see now that Oslo did not work, I do not regret that it was tried. Looking back to the late 80s and early 90s, there were simply no other options. The (Israeli) people could not cope with the burden of occupation and no one else had any other realistic ideas. There were naysayers -- but they didn't actually offer an alternative, and people today forget just how desperate the people were for something to be done. Coming to an agreement with the Palestinians simply had to be tried, and an Oslo-type development was always going to be the first move in the attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Every day, people take risks that do not pay off. Just because a gamble fails does not necessarily, however, mean you were wrong to try it. I continue to believe that Israel, if it wants to continue being a democracy, could not / cannot continue to rule indefinitely over millions of unwilling people. Rabin -- with all his errors, all the things he could have done better even within the Oslo process itself -- started a historic process that was irreversable, forcing people to recognize that ultimately, Israel will have to exit the territories. With the benefit of hindsight we see that his way, ultimately, was never going to be the way, but he set the ball rolling with the only maneuver that people could realistically think of at the time, and established the principle. That took courage, vision (even if the original vision was others', as Asa El reminds us), leadership and determination. For taking that necessary first step, he has earned a positive place in Israeli history, and deserves to be remembered as one of our giants.

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