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Nov 8, 2010

Rabin's legacy

With the annual "Rabin-fest" coming to a close, though it was not really so bad this year, I felt it was important to share an article, and some thoughts, with you.

The assassination of Yitzchak Rabin was a horrible event in our history. Not because it destroyed the Oslo Process or anything like that. It was horrible because the killing of a Jew by a Jew is horrible. And because of what it's done to us as a nation, making the divide between left and right much greater.

However, the worst of it is probably the fact that since the assassination, everybody thinks they have to continue Rabin's way, his "legacy". The man was a prime minister who was killed, but the fact that he was assassinated does not mean his "way" (if anyone really can lay claim to knowing what that really was) has to become the only way. Suddenly there has been no room for debate over what is right for Israel and the peace process. Everybody thinks that the only option is to adopt and continue Rabin's legacy. Even Benjamin Netanyahu feels the need to claim that the process he is leading is really the continuation of Rabin's legacy. I mean, what is wrong with rejecting Rabin's "legacy" and forging a new one?

Anyway, a particularly poignant piece was written recently by former President Bill Clinton in the New York Times called, "Finish Rabin's Work":
TODAY marks 15 years since an assassin’s bullet killed my friend, Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister. Since his death, not a week has gone by that I have not missed him. I loved him and his wife, Leah, very much. On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, his yahrzeit, the world would do well to remember the lessons of his life: his vision for freedom, tolerance, cooperation, security and peace is as vital now as it was 15 years ago, when he happily spoke and sang for peace at a huge rally in Tel Aviv just before he was killed.
Rabin was utterly without pretense. When David Ben-Gurion sent him as a young man to represent Israel during armistice talks in 1949, he had never before worn a neck tie, so a friend tied it, and showed him how to loosen it so he could preserve the knot for future use. True to form, two weeks before his assassination, he arrived in Washington at a black-tie event without the black tie. We borrowed one for him, and I still smile whenever I think about straightening it for him, just as Hillary does when she remembers how he complained when she made him go out on the Truman Balcony to smoke.
The story of Yitzhak Rabin and the story of Israel are intertwined. He took up arms to defend Israel’s freedom, and laid down his life to secure Israel’s future. When he came to the White House in 1993 to sign the Declaration of Principles with the Palestinians, he was a military hero, uniquely prepared to lead his people into a new era. Before shaking the hand of Yasir Arafat, a man he had long considered his mortal foe, he spoke directly to the Palestinian people:
“Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred toward you. We, like you, are people — people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you, enough. Let us pray that a day will come when we all will say, ‘Farewell to the arms.’”
A decade and a half since his death, I continue to believe that, had he lived, within three years we would have had a comprehensive agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. To be sure, the enemies of peace would have tried to undermine it, but with Rabin’s leadership, I am confident a new era of enduring partnership and economic prosperity would have emerged.
In many ways Rabin was ahead of his time. The end of his life overlapped with the emergence of the most interdependent age in human history, the explosion of the Internet and the era of globalization. The ties that bind the Israelis and the Palestinians — in his words, two peoples “destined to live together on the same soil” — are a powerful example of the connections that tie us all together across the globe. We are linked in so many ways that we cannot get away from each other.
Therefore, each in our own way, we must all take up the cause for which Yitzhak Rabin gave his life: building a shared future in which our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences. We can all do something, in our communities or around the world, to build the positive and reduce the negative forces of interdependence.
Rabin was a hard-headed idealist. His great gift was to keep the public’s trust while taking measured risks for peace. This approach was best reflected in his own guiding principle: he would work for peace as if there were no terrorism, and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process.
If he could speak to us today, he would ask us to remember him not by mourning what might have been, but by looking clearly at the opportunities and obstacles to peace and getting on with the work at hand.
There is a real chance to finish the work he started. The parties are talking. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the necessary support from his people to reach an agreement. Many Israelis say they trust him to make a peace that will protect and enhance their security. Because of the terms accepted in late 2000 by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, supported in greater detail by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and approved by President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians, everyone knows what a final agreement would look like.
The remaining issues can be resolved, and the incentives to do so are there. Israel has its best partner ever in the Palestinian government on the West Bank led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, with its proven ability to provide security and economic development. The peace alliance put together by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offers Israel full political recognition and the prospect of security and economic cooperation with a host of Arab and other Muslim nations in exchange for an agreement. And many Arab states are engaged in their own economic and social modernization efforts, which prove they are ready to let go of past differences and eager to reap the possibilities of cooperation with Israel.
Meanwhile, the United States government remains committed to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of peace, a conviction shared and manifested by President Obama; Secretary of State Clinton; George Mitchell, the administration’s special envoy; and their colleagues.
On that shining, hopeful day in 1993, Yitzhak Rabin stood on the White House lawn and spoke like a prophet of old when he said, “We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you, enough.”
Let us pray on this anniversary that his service and sacrifice will be redeemed in the Holy Land and that all of us, wherever we live, whatever our capacity, will do our part to build a world where cooperation triumphs over conflict. Rabin’s spirit continues to light the path, but we must all decide to take it.
The only debate we have allowed is not what is right for the country, what is an appropriate peace plan, but who is more faithful to Rabin's legacy, to his "lifework".

The question nobody knows the answer to though is, what was Rabin's legacy?

I don't know the answer to the question. Some say he was open to a peace deal that he was in the middle of working on, one that would have had serious concessions to the Palestinians. Others talk about how Rabin would have given the Palestinians everything they would eventually demand, including parts of Jerusalem. Others say he was in the process of retracting his concessionary attitude and would have offered much less from that point on. Nobody really knows, but everybody makes claims.

Rabbi Lau, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, dedicated his weekly column in the Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew) a week and a half ago to describe an incident he had been directly involved in that might shed some light as to what Rabin's legacy really was.

I am translating and being brief, so any inaccuracies are my fault.

Rabbi Lau relates:
After the massacre in 1994 at the Mearat HaMachpela, access to the Me'ara was closed off and the government and army were entering discussions and debates as to what the future of the Me'ara would be. After much debate, including Rav Lau himself speaking to the committee of the importance of the Me'ara and how Avraham had purchased it  and how throughout Jewish history the Me'ara was treated with the utmost importance, the committee decided to slit the access to the Me'ara between arabs and jews, each with a different entrance and only a number of days of the year would each side have access to the whole Me'ara.

Someone asked, what would happen if the Muslim leadership rejected the proposal.

Rabin responded, "We will publicize around the whole world that w did not take advantage of our control over Hebron (Hebron had not yet been given to the Arabs in th Wye agreement, but Israel had control over all of Hebron at this point), and that our religious leaders have not found an attentive ear on the Muslim side. The whole world will know who looks to peace and who to war."

During the implementation of the division of the Me'ara, the local yeshiva of Shavei Hebron let out for bein hazmanim. Rumor had it that Rabin was seriously considering acting upon the advice to not allow the yeshiva to reopen after Pesach in its original location in Hebron, but to make the yeshiva move to Kiryat Arba, due to the sensitivity of the days.

Rav Lau met with Rabin after the conclusion of Pesach to ask what the fate of the yeshiva would be. Rabin responded that he has already given the order that on April 11 at 8 am the yeshiva would open its doors as usual in its regular location next to the Me'arat HaMachpela.

Rabin then continued to say, "I am against uprooting and Jewish hold anywhere in the land. Negotiations for peace, yes. Uprooting yishuvim - never. And, honorable rabbi, I will give you a concrete example.
In northern Gush Katif there is a little yishuv named Dugit. The residents support themselves mostly from fishing off the coast near their yishuv. The residents came to me with a request to move the settlement 5 kilometers further north towards Ashqelon, because the fish are not in such abundance in this location near the yishuv, and by moving the yishuv just 5 kilometers they might be able to better their quality of life greatly.

Rabbi, I answered them  in the negative. I refused. You ask why? Because today it is 5 kilometers, tomorrow it is 50 kilometers. Today it is for quality of life, for parnassa of the fishermen, and tomorrow it is for security reasons, political reasons or other reasons. Today is Dugit and tomorrow will be any other yishuv in Israel. I never gave, and I have no intention to ever give, the command to uproot any existing entity from its place. Rav Bleicher's yeshiva (Shavei Hebron) will open its doors as usual on April 11 at 8 AM."

Rav Lau concludes his column asking if any of those who lay claim to continuing Rabin's legacy know about what Rabin thought about this..

Rabin's legacy indeed.

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