Rabin's legacy sits to the right

Fifteen years after his murder, Israelis don't care much about Yitzhak Rabin.

None of the main television channels planned to cover the commemoration ceremony for the slain leader this year - the state broadcaster, Channel 1, only reversed tack following a Facebook campaign. Last Saturday night, the organisers of the memorial could not even fill Rabin Square, the site of Rabin's murder on November 4, 1995. They will most likely have to move to
a smaller location next year.

But even as Rabin seems to fade from public memory - today's soldiers were only three years old when he was assassinated - the buds of his rehabilitation are already apparent. Particularly on the right, his legacy is starting to be revaluated. This is a healthy process, which the left should embrace as well.

Rabin, according to the new theory, was not the staunch peacenik we were all led to believe. Rather, he had severe doubts about the Palestinians' intentions, and never intended to establish a Palestinian state.

At the White House, Rabin hesitated to shake Yasir Arafat’s hand

The most surprising proponent of this view is Rabin's own daughter, Dalia, who told Yediot Achronot last month that she believed her father regretted the land-for-peace process he engaged in with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat.

"Many people who were close to father told me 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 that Arafat wasn't delivering the goods,"
she said. "Father after all wasn't a blind man
running forward without thought… he was someone for whom the security of the state
was sacrosanct."

Several commentators picked up on this, pointing out that when Rabin established his government in 1992, he committed it to strengthening Israel's "strategic" settlements in the West Bank and in "Greater Jerusalem", declared that "Jerusalem will not be open to negotiation… It is ours and ours forever",
and warned that Israel's security considerations would always take precedence over peace.

Rabin was deeply hesitant about an Oslo process which had started behind his back. Signing the Accords on the White House lawn the following year, Rabin's ambivalence showed itself physically, in his reluctance to shake Arafat's hand.

Shortly before his death, Rabin outlined his hawkish vision of a final settlement to the Knesset. Alongside the Jewish state - which would include "most of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate" - would be a "Palestinian entity which is less than
a state", that is, an autonomous area. Israel, he added, would "not… uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not… hinder building for natural growth".

Why has all this been forgotten? We remember Rabin as a radical because he was one, for his time. But even then, the details of Rabin's vision got lost in the broader argument over whether or not the peace process should advance.

Fifteen years later, we can see things more objectively, and the Israeli political map has shifted so far that Rabin's positions suddenly seem remarkable for their tameness. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is condemned internationally for his alleged right-wing extremism, but - unlike Rabin - he seems to have accepted a two-state solution and at least a temporary settlement freeze. For the right, then, there is a clear political incentive to revisit Rabin's record. Bibi, 2010, they can tell American president Barack Obama, is further to the left than Rabin, 1995.

But it is actually the left that should be embracing this revision. Ever since Rabin was assassinated, Labour has been trapped by the myth of Rabin the peacemaker, who forged on with the peace process regardless of what the Palestinians said or did. Since abandoning "Rabin's way" is a betrayal, Labour's political vision has been at a standstill for a decade-and-a-half.

It has completely failed to adapt to major events such as the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and Iran and changing international sympathies, with all their strategic implications, sticking with the same tired old political paradigms of 15 years ago. As a result, Labour has been completely abandoned by the electorate, with polls consistently showing the party shrinking to just five seats in the next election.

Labour must recognise that its hallowed 'Rabin legacy' is far more conservative than it ever allowed, and possibly never existed in the first place; then free itself from the tyranny of this illusory memory, before the party is destroyed.

    Last updated: 5:12pm, November 4 2010