Would Rabin have stopped the 'peace process'?
Twenty years ago tonight was one of those moments that you always remember where you were when you heard about it. Twenty years ago tonight, then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated at the end of a 'peace rally' in Tel Aviv. (For the record, I was in our apartment on the computer and Mrs. Carl had gone with a couple of the kids to the mall - I think I had the two then-youngest kids at home).
I have written many times before about the assassination and why I believe that the person sitting in jail for doing it did not receive a fair trial. But perhaps the more significant question is whether Rabin would have continued the 'peace process' had he lived. Jeff Jacoby argues that Rabin would have brought that process to an end after the 1996 elections (Hat Tip: Martin Kramer).
Oslo was a disaster from the outset, arguably the worst self-inflicted wound in Israel’s history. By 1995, it was widely regarded as a failure by Israelis; polls showed public approval of Rabin and his Labor Party sinking to record lows. Oslo’s architects had promised that empowering Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization with their own quasi-state in Gaza and the West Bank was the best way to suppress terror attacks and improve Israel’s security. Rabin’s government took the gamble, but the “peace process” didn’t deliver peace. It delivered bus bombings and suicide attacks.
More Israelis were killed by Palestinian terrorists in the 24 months following the famous handshake on the White House lawn than in any similar period in Israel’s history.
In public, Rabin professed to be undaunted, repeatedly insisting that the engagement with Arafat must proceed: “We have to fight terror as if there were no peace talks, and we have to pursue peace as if there were no terror.”
But privately, Rabin was having grave doubts.
According to Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University and the author of “Rabin and Israel’s National Security,” Rabin was no starry-eyed peacenik. He was a pragmatic leader for whom peace, in and of itself, was never a core value. The Oslo concessions could be justified only to the extent that they left Israel more secure. As it became apparent that instead of land for peace, Israel had exchanged land for terror, incitement, and hatred, Inbar said Wednesday in a lecture at Boston University, there is good reason to believe he would have pulled the plug.
Others have said the same thing. Dalia Rabin, the prime minister’s daughter (and a former deputy defense minister), recalled in 2010 that she had been told by many of her father’s confidants “that on the eve of the murder he considered stopping the Oslo process because of the terror that was running rampant in the streets, and because he felt that Yasser Arafat was not delivering on his promises.” And Moshe Ya’alon, who in 1995 was Israel’s chief of military intelligence, was told by Rabin that he intended to “set things straight” with Oslo after the 1996 election, since Arafat’s commitments were plainly worthless.
Would he have done so? Of course we cannot know for sure, but as Inbar notes, Rabin did believe that Oslo was reversible. When critics expressed alarm at an agreement committing Israel to arm a Palestinian police force, he replied that there was nothing to fear. “There is no danger that these guns will be used against us,” Rabin said. “The purpose of this ammunition for the Palestinian police is to . . . fight against Hamas. They won’t dream of using it against us, since they know very well that if they use these guns against us once, at that moment the Oslo Accord will be annulled.”
But he waited too long.Rabin was never a willing participant in Oslo. Shimon Peres sent Yossi Beilin, Ron Pundak and Uri Savir to Oslo to negotiate with the PLO behind Rabin's back. Presented with the fait accomplis, Rabin went along. I think he would have dropped it in a minute.