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15 Years After Rabin Assassination, Eagerness to Negotiate Peace Wanes in Israel

  • Luis Ramirez

Israel's President Shimon Peres speaks during a memorial rally marking the 15th anniversary of the assassination of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Rabin's square in Tel Aviv, Israel, 30 Oct 2010

Israel's President Shimon Peres speaks during a memorial rally marking the 15th anniversary of the assassination of late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at Rabin's square in Tel Aviv, Israel, 30 Oct 2010

This week marks the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the warrior turned peacemaker who is remembered for leading Israel to sign the 1993 Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Now, some in Israel see Rabin's legacy fading as opposition grows against future land-for-peace deals with the Palestinians.

Thousands packed Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on one of the nights leading up to the anniversary of the moment in 1995 when Yitzhak Rabin was shot in the back by a Jewish extremist who opposed the peace process.

President Shimon Peres told those attending the rally the yearning for peace is very much alive.

He said that in this square, the enemies of peace murdered Rabin and tried to murder peace. He said they did not succeed in taking what he said is Israel's prized possession, which is hope and the desire for peace.

But turnout at the rally, although large, was less than in previous years and organizers say it may have been the last one.

Some observers say that with Rabin died much of the Israeli peace movement and the willingness of many Israelis to make deals with the Palestinians.

U.S.-mediated direct talks this year stalled less than a month after they got under way. The Palestinians say they will not return to the table unless Israel reinstates a moratorium on construction of settlements that expired in late September.

Israel imposed the freeze on itself at the insistence of the United States, and not out of public pressure.

Public-opinion polls in recent months have consistently shown more than half of Israelis support continued construction of settlements in the West Bank. Many see maintaining a strong Israeli presence in the territory as crucial for the survival of the Jewish State.

Before the Oslo accords, many Israelis believed that negotiation and mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians would eventually lead to a final peace agreement. Fewer people hold this view today.

Hebrew University Political Science Professor Shlomo Avineri says the biggest shift in attitudes toward peace has occurred, not among Israel's leftists, but among those in the center.

"Today, many Israelis, the people at the center - and it is the people at the center who decide elections and political outcomes - are a little skeptical of whether the Palestinians are ready for the kind of peace and the kind of compromises Israelis are willing to make," Avineri noted.

That skepticism has been fueled by events in the 15 years since Rabin's death. These include the failed negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and the bloody Palestinian uprising and wave of terrorism that followed, as well as the takeover in 2006 of the Gaza Strip by the Islamist militant group Hamas, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state.

Many in Israel believe the West Bank could become a militant stronghold if Israeli forces withdraw as they did from Gaza.

Israel's previous administration under Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima Party negotiated for two years with the Palestinians, offering concessions that were rejected by the Palestinian leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate.

Avineri says the failure of that round of talks led many Israelis to further lose hope in the peace process and throw their support behind hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who only reluctantly agreed to engage in talks this year.

"The skepticism has to do not with personalities, not with the assassination of Rabin as such, but with the fact that even the more moderate Israeli positions and the moderate Palestinian positions are still very far [apart]," Avineri added.

Eitan Haber, a close aide and speechwriter for Yitzhak Rabin, is the man who announced his death in November 1995. He says Rabin's legacy is the example he gave of a strong leader who can be a soldier and defend his nation, yet also be one who can overcome differences and make peace.

Haber says he does not believe in peace without victims or in everlasting quiet, but he does believe that if there is a leader from the right or from the left who can say "This is peace" and achieve an honorable peace, that peace will be accepted by Israelis of all political persuasions.

He hopes such a leader will emerge in Israel during his lifetime.

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