Myths of Rabin – martyr or peace-blocker?
The Rabin myth fostered by Gush Shalom
Exchange of emails between Moshé Machover and Adam Keller
From Moshé Machover, 19 November 2011
In a blog dated 19 November 2011, and entitled “The bastards have changed the rules”,
Adam Keller writes:
“Seeing Israel isolating itself and embarking on the path of eternal war with its neighbors in the region and loss of its friends in the world, Rabin went on to shake hands with Yasser Arafat and enter into an agreement that would have led to the establishment of the State of Palestine no later than May 1999″.
I wonder on what he bases this extraordinary claim. The Oslo Accords contained nothing about a Palestinian state.
Moreover, on 5 October 1995, a month before he was assassinated, Yitzhak Rabin asked the Knesset to ratify the Oslo Accords. I quote his words from the Knesset official records:
“Members of Knesset,
We are striving for a permanent solution to the unending bloody conflict between us and the Palestinians and the Arab states. …
We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.
Either Adam Keller doesn’t know what he is talking about, or he is deliberately fostering a myth about Rabin.
From: Adam Keller, 23 November 2011
Thanks for paying attention to what I wrote.
“Is Adam Keller deliberately fostering a myth about Rabin?” you wrote.
My first reaction was: What is wrong with myths? What better asset can a movement have than a genuine Hero-Martyr, around whom a myth can be fostered? All the more so as we are in a very sore need of some magic.
As you may know, the Bad Guys over here have been quite effective with their own myths. In 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak – with some help from US President Bill Clinton -created a very powerful myth called “The Generous Offers” or “There is no Partner”. Afterwards Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu all contributed to buttressing this myth further and making it current among most of the Israeli public. What does this myth say? That Barak offered the Palestinians “everything” and they responded with suicide bombings, that Sharon “gave Gaza” to the Palestinians and they responded with shooting missiles, and that Olmert again offered “everything” and again the Palestinians rejected it. Conclusion: We have no partner, the Palestinians are to blame for anything nasty which happens to them, and peace will come when the Palestinians stop hating us and produce the Real Partner (or when the Messiah comes, whichever happens sooner).
How do you fight this myth? You can try rational arguments, but rational arguments are a rather feeble weapon against the myth. Easier to fight a myth with a myth. And there is our Prince of Peace, who was going to make peace with the Palestinians but he was cruelly cut down by the Evil Assassin – the assassin who was incited and egged on by Netanyahu and the other right wing leaders and settler rabbis. Conclusion: peace will come if we fight hard to throw Netanyahu and his gang out, find the True Heir of Rabin and bring him or her to power to complete what Rabin had started.
But you might say that this myth is based on a falsehood, that Rabin was not such a Man of Peace as the myth makes him appear, and you very properly cite what Rabin said in the Knesset in October 2005. Still, knowing this speech of Rabin very well, I nevertheless submit that the Rabin Myth has a solid factual core and kernel – as a proper myth should have.
Yitzchak Rabin had said many things during his military and political career, and he might even have been sincere about it when he said them – and nevertheless, later changed his mind completely. When he was Prime Minister for the first time (1974-1977) he said “We will meet the PLO only on the battlefield”. When he was Defense Minster in 1988 he told soldiers that the best way to deal with Palestinians was to break their bones (and quite a few soldiers did literally that). When the negotiations were secretly conducted in Oslo in early 1993, the idea was that the agreement would be signed by Dr Haidar Abdul Shafi, Head of the Palestinian Component of the Jordanian-Palestinian Delegation, and that Arafat would not be anywhere visible. Arafat pushed himself in at the last moment and Rabin was none to pleased about that. Later he got used to dealing with Arafat.
Another quite important issue: Until 1994 Rabin – like all other PM’s before (and after) him – asserted that a government in Israel must have “a Jewish Majority” in the Knesset and never rely on Arabs for its majority. But in 1995 two right-wing Laborites bolted his coalition, he lost his majority and was willing to rely on Arab Knesset Members to get the Oslo II agreement approved in the Knesset. This was a far more radical act than the Oslo II agreement in itself. The one and only time when Arab citizens of Israel took part in a major political decision. When asked about it on TV on November 1, three days before his being murdered, Rabin said: “Anyone who says that it is illegitimate for a government to rely on Arab votes is a racist”. On November 4, Yigal Amir killed Rabin. When asked by the police “Why did you do it?” Amir did NOT say “I killed him because he gave up territory”. What Amir DID say was: “I killed him because he relied on Arab votes, that made him an illegitimate Prime Minister”.
For me, all this makes Rabin fully worthy of being venerated as a Martyr. I don’t foster the Rabin myth out of cynical calculation, I foster it because I think Rabin deserves it.
But what about this speech of October 5, 2005? Yes, Rabin did say these things. Did he mean them as his final and definite word, his political Last Will and Testament? I doubt that. In 2006, negotiations were going to start with the Palestinians on a Definite Solution, which were supposed to conclude no later than May 1999. Clearly, when Rabin spoke of a Palestinian entity “less than a state” in borders “different from those of 1967″, that was the bargaining position he intended to start the negotiations with. Obviously, Arafat would have rejected it out of hand. Would Rabin have said “take it or leave it?” I think not. I think the negotiations would have ended with quite a different outcome. Of course I can’t prove it – but I think it makes a plausible and legitimate stuff for a myth.
Yours, Adam Keller
From: Moshé Machover, 24 November 2011
Thank you for your response to my email of 19 November. As I circulated that email to a number of people, I would like them to see your response. Please let me know asap if you have any objection.
I must say that whereas I found the claim you had made in your blog of 19 November about Rabin “extraordinary”, I find your present justification of it outrageous.
Of course, there is “nothing wrong” with myths per se. But there is something deeply wrong in propagating a myth as a fact. The creation myth in the book of Genesis is beautiful, and has even a kernel of truth in it; but creationists, who insist on its factuality, are reactionary obscurantists.
Yes, Rabin, like most politicians, shifted his position on various tactical matters. But the deep-seated opposition of all mainstream Zionist currents to a sovereign Palestinian Arab state anywhere between the Jordan and the Sea is not a tactical matter. It is fundamental. It drove Ben-Gurion to make his dirty deal with Abdullah, and it has guided all major Israeli leaders since then. As Dayan put it, speaking in his usual “dughri” way:
“Fundamentally a Palestinian state is an antithesis of the State of Israel. …The basic and naked truth is that there is no fundamental difference between the relation of the Arabs of Nablus to Nablus and that of the Arabs of Jaffa to Jaffa.… And if today we set out on this road and say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights, then it will not end with the West Bank. The West Bank together with the Gaza Strip do not amount to a state.… The establishment of such a Palestinian state would lay a cornerstone to something else.… Either the State of Israel—or a Palestinian state.” (Haaretz, 12.12.75)
Your claim that Rabin would have accepted a Palestinian state because Arafat would have insisted on it is ridiculous. The whole of the so-called peace process (including the Oslo Accords) is one of escalating Palestinian capitulations to the demands of the much more powerful Israeli side. Rabin would not need to say to “President” Arafat “take it or leave it”; all he would need to do is to give him a fig leaf to cover something “less than a state” by giving it some fancy name.
In any case, against your mere speculations there are the firm facts: there are Rabin’s words in his last speech in the Knesset; and there are his deeds, in allowing and promoting ongoing colonization of the West Bank during the whole of the Oslo period.
So what remains is your ideological need for a myth. Had you said that despite all evidence to the contrary you believe that Rabin could have accepted a sovereign Palestinian state, I would raise no objection. Believe what you like. But you stated it as a fact:
“Rabin went on to shake hands with Yasser Arafat and enter into an agreement that would have led to the establishment of the State of Palestine no later than May 1999.”
Note: “would have” rather than “might have”. Surely, stating as fact something for which you have not a shred of proof, and which goes against all the evidence we do have, is reprehensible. And it seriously undermine your credibility.
From: Adam Keller, 24 November 2011
Of course you may pass on my answer to your contacts; I expected it.
About the substantial issue: nobody could say for certain what “might have been” – there is a flourishing field of “alternative history” books of which I am rather fond, but they are all speculations. We know how the Oslo process developed in reality – would it have been the same if Rabin lived and been re-elected in 1996 is an open question. I believe that the same dynamic which made Rabin start the whole process would have led him to take the final step, too, and that as Prime Minister in 1996-1999 he would have acted substantially different from how Netanyahu acted in the same years. Of course, I can’t offer a scientific proof of this – but when you talk and debate about politics you can hardly ever offer a scientific proof of what you say.
For me, the fact of Rabin having been willing to rely on the vote of Arab Knesset Members is a very significant data. As you know, the idea that Arabs in Israel must never be allowed to take part in the real decision-making process is very fundamental to the Zionist way of thinking. A Jewish state is a state where the power is in the hands of Jews, and of Jews only. Various mechanisms were built up from the time of Ben Gurion onwards to ensure that Arabs have formal citizenship but no real access to where decisions are made. The fact that Rabin was ready to break this fundamental taboo is for me evidence that he might have broken other taboos as well (and this is also what his right-wing opponents feared).
By the way, the quotation which you give from Dayan is outdated. According to Dayan, Israel must never “Say that the Palestinians are entitled to their own state because they are natives of the same country and have the same rights”. Israel is now saying it, even Netanyahu is saying it. Sure, he has no intention of doing it – but according to Dayan, even expressing it verbally is too much of a concession.
Things can change in this world of ours. Things which were unthinkable can become reality – good things and bad things, alike.
From: Moshé Machover 24 November 2011
I regret to say that your logic is faulty.
Of course, nobody can say for certain what “might have been”, nor does anyone need to. Because “might” denotes a mere possibility rather than certainty. But in your blog you made a much stronger statement: not what might have been but what would have been:
“Rabin went on to shake hands with Yasser Arafat and enter into an agreement that would have led to the establishment of the State of Palestine no later than May 1999.”
So you pretend to know this not as a mere possibility, but as a certainty. I stressed this difference in my previous email.
Yes, many things change, but the fundamental mainstream Zionist opposition to a Palestinian state west of the Jordan has not changed. No Israeli leader has ever made a legally binding commitment to such a Palestinian state, and all have done their damn[ed]est to prevent it.
What Bibi says is beside the point, because everyone knows he is a liar, who may say anything, with his tongue in cheek and fingers firmly crossed. Sarkozy knows it, Obama knows it, and so do you.
If you read the small print, what he says means that the Palestinians can have a state if… if and when their leaders join the Zionist movement. It is like saying that my granny will be a cart if she will have wheels. Dayan was simply more dughri.
The rest is just wishful thinking. You are deluding yourself; and worse: you are deluding others.
Extract from GushShalom blog after the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
Sarkozy: “I cannot stand him (Netanyahu). He is a liar!”
Obama: “YOU are fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day!”
A few weeks after Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister (for the second time) in 1992, I met Yasser Arafat in Tunis.
He was, of course, curious about the personality of the newly elected Israeli leader. Knowing that I was meeting him from time to time, he asked what I thought of him.
“He is an honest man,” I replied, and then added: “as much as a politician can be.”
Arafat burst out laughing, and so did everybody in the room, including Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed Rabbo.
Ever since Sir Henry Wotton said, some four centuries ago, that “an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country,” it is generally assumed that diplomats and politicians may be lying, and not only abroad. Some do so only when necessary, some do it often, some, like Netanyahu, do it as a rule.
In spite of the general assumption of mendacity, it is not good for a leader to be branded as a habitual liar. When leaders meet personally, in private and face to face, they are supposed to tell each other the truth, even if not necessarily the whole truth. Some personal trust is of great advantage. If a leader loses it, he loses a precious asset.
Winston Churchill said of one of his predecessors, Stanley Baldwin, that (quoting from memory) “the Right Honorable Gentleman sometimes stumbles upon the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.” One of our ministers said about Ariel Sharon that he sometimes tells the truth by mistake. People asked how you could tell when Richard Nixon was lying: “Easy: his lips are moving”.
Rabin was basically an honest man. He hated lying and avoided it as much as he could. Basically he remained a military man and never became a real politician.
Last Wednesday was the 16th anniversary of his assassination, according to the Hebrew calendar.
The event was marked in Israeli schools by speeches and special lessons. What these citizens of tomorrow learned was that it is very bad to murder a prime minister. And that, more or less, was that.
Not a word about why he was killed. Certainly nothing about the community the assassin belonged to, or what campaign of hatred and incitement led to the murder.
The Ministry of Education is now firmly in the hands of a Likud minister, and one of the most extreme. But the trend is not confined to the education system.
In Israel it is practically impossible to obtain a picture of Rabin shaking the hand of Arafat. Rabin and King Hussein? As many post cards as you might wish. But Rabin’s peace with Jordan was an unimportant matter, like the US peace with Canada. The Oslo agreement, however, was a historic watershed.
Only people branded as “extreme leftists” – one of the worst insults these days – dare to raise the obvious questions about the assassination: Who? Why?
There is tacit agreement that the only person responsible was the actual assassin: Yigal Amir, the son of Yemenite Jews, a former settler and a student of a religious university.
Would he have acted without the blessing of one or more rabbis? Most certainly not.
Amir was led to do what he did by months of intense incitement. An unprecedented campaign of hatred dominated the public sphere. Posters showed Rabin in the uniform of an SS officer. Religious groups publicly condemned him to death in medieval ceremonies. Demonstrators in front of his private home shouted: “With blood and fire / we shall remove Rabin!”
In the most (in)famous demonstration, in the center of Jerusalem, a coffin marked “Rabin” was paraded around, while Netanyahu looked on from a balcony, in the company of other rightist leaders.
And most tellingly: not a single important right-wing or religious voice was raised against this murderous campaign.
By general tacit agreement, nothing of all this was mentioned this week. Why? Because it would not be nice. It would “split the nation”. Honorable citizens do not do this kind of thing.
Rabin himself cannot be acquitted of all blame. After the incredibly courageous act of recognizing the PLO (and thereby the Palestinian people) and shaking hands with Arafat, he did not rush forward to create an irreversible historic fact of peace, but hesitated, dithered, held back and allowed the forces of war and racism to regroup and counter-attack.
When the Kiryat Arba settler Baruch Goldstein carried out his massacre in the “Cave of Machpela”, Rabin had a golden opportunity to clear out the nest of fascist settlers in Hebron. He shrank back from taking on the settlers. The settlers did not shrink back from killing him.
WHAT HAPPENED next? This week a very revealing document was leaked.
It appears that on the day of the assassination, Netanyahu spoke with the American ambassador (and Zionist Jew) Martin Indyk. Netanyahu, remembering his part in the incitement, was obviously in panic. He confided to the ambassador that if elections were to take place immediately, the entire Israeli right-wing would be wiped out.
But Shimon Peres, the new Prime Minister, did not call immediate elections, though several people (including myself) publicly urged him to do so. Netanyahu’s assessment was quite correct – the country was outraged, the right-wing was generally blamed for the assassination, and if elections had taken place, the Right would have been marginalized for many many years. The entire history of Israel would have taken a different turn.
Why did Peres refuse to do so? Because he hated Rabin. He did not want to be elected as the “executor of Rabin’s testament”, but on his own merits. Unfortunately, the public did not have the same high opinion of these “merits”.
During the next few months, Peres committed every conceivable (and inconceivable) mistake: he approved the killing of a major Hamas militant which led to a flood of deadly suicide bombings all over the country. He attacked Lebanon, which led to the Kafr Kana massacre, and had to withdraw ignominiously. And then he called premature elections after all. In his election campaign, Rabin was not even mentioned. Thus Peres managed to be (narrowly) defeated by Netanyahu.
I once wrote that Peres suffered his most grievous insult just a few minutes before the assassination. Amir was waiting at the foot of the stairs from the tribune, his pistol ready. Peres came down the steps, and the assassin let him pass, like a fisherman contemptuously throwing a small specimen back into the sea. He was waiting for Rabin.