Many consider Yitzhak Rabin a “great leader,” but what does that mean? What did he accomplish, except for signing the Oslo Accords, and bringing Arafat and the PLO to power? The “two-state solution” was, in retrospect, an historic mistake, and Rabin is responsible for this disaster. He may have meant well, but he was wrong. The difficulty in evaluating Rabin is his enshrined status as a “hero” in Israeli society; that needs to be reconsidered.
This reexamination, therefore, is divided into two parts: his military record and his political leadership.
In his early 20’s, Rabin joined the Palmach, a pre-state militia associated politically with the left, and, in 1945, he helped rescue Jewish refugees being held in the British detention camp at Atlit. In early spring of 1948, he commanded the Harel Brigade, tasked with defending Jerusalem and protecting convoys trying to break the siege.
During a battle near Kiryat Anavim in April, 1948, Rabin left to summon help and then went to Jerusalem to sleep, leaving his men in the field. According to military historian Uri Milstein, “Had Rabin not fled … he could have and should have … organized and led his [battle] shocked troops … to [counter]attack … and defeat the enemy...” (The Rabin File, Gefen Publishers, Jerusalem (1999), p.223).
Following a series of failures, Rabin was relieved of his command on May 11. Six weeks later, he was given command of the unit that fired upon and eventually sank the Altalena, an Irgun supply ship carrying desperately needed weapons (June 22, 1948). Sixteen Irgun members were killed as they struggled to escape the burning vessel; several Palmach fighters were also killed.
The question remains: What did he do that was “heroic?”
As Chief-of-Staff, Rabin was responsible for preparing the IDF strategically and operationally and is therefore credited with Israel’s astounding victory in 1967, but he opposed IAF commander Maj-Gen Moti Hod’s plan for a first-strike attack against Egypt. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan also opposed the attack, but Hod appealed to PM Levi Eshkol, who gave his permission.
Rabin’s nervous breakdown on the eve of the Six Day War effectively ended his military career. A year later he resigned and was appointed Ambassador to the United States. Returning to Israel just before the Yom Kippur War, he expected to be involved, or at least consulted – but ignored, was bitterly disappointed.
After joining the Labor Party, he became a Member of Knesset and Minister of Labor. In 1984, he became Defense Minister in the Likud-Labor government and in 1985, under Shimon Peres’ term as Prime Minister, he agreed to a disastrous release of 1,150 terrorists, which led to a wave of Arab riots (Intifada) in 1987. Although it was Peres’ decision, Rabin did not oppose it. His failure to understand and deal effectively with Arab violence and terrorism before and after the Oslo Accords has been lost in the brain fog of “peace hero.”
Many consider Yitzhak Rabin a “political hero” for signing the Oslo Accords. But, if relinquishing territory and empowering the PLO/PA and other hostile forces justify calling Rabin a “political hero,” than other Prime Ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, should also be called “political heroes” for making similar concessions. That they are not raises the question: What is “heroic” about signing and implementing the Oslo Accords?
The Rabin-as-hero myth was concocted to convince Israelis that making concessions will bring peace. The government-sponsored multi-million dollar Rabin Center, for example, depicts his life as one of courage, dedication and self-sacrifice; its main focus, however, is not on what he did, but on the “peace process” and how he died.
Rabin believed that he could resolve Arab and Palestinian hatred of Israel by making a deal with the world’s foremost terrorist, Yasser Arafat. Knowing the magnitude of this risk, however, why did he take it?
According to an authoritative source, Rabin had nothing to do with drafting the Oslo Accords. More interested in the Syrian gambit, he allowed Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to act independently and outflank him. Once the Oslo Accord was on the negotiating table, there was little he could do.
Overwhelmed by international pressures and secret negotiations led by Shimon Peres and his staff, and seduced by the Clinton administration, the State Department, Henry Kissinger, his mentor, and others, Rabin caved.
Physically and emotionally strained due to alcohol and cigarette addictions, facing defeat in an upcoming election, he may have thought that the Oslo Accords would rescue him from ignominy. But, even his shared Nobel Prize with Peres and Arafat wasn’t enough. President Clinton called him his “haver,” but at home he was mistrusted and disliked by many.
Why did Rabin concede? Was he manipulated, persuaded that he would achieve “peace” and fame? It didn’t take long for him to have second thoughts as terrorism swept the country. Applauded by the media and international community, however, he could not turn back. He had made commitments; he had obligations.
Although some have said that Rabin did not intend the agreements to lead to a Palestinian state – but rather an “autonomous entity” – he left no record of his vision, or disagreements.
Rabin’s death was the catalyst for a propaganda campaign designed to catapult him into national reverence and to destroy his opposition. Had he lived, however, according to polls, he would have been defeated in the next election, as Shimon Peres’ loss, despite sympathy for Rabin, indicates.
Rabin’s legacy was the “Oslo process” which shifted national momentum from Zionism and Jewish sovereignty to Palestinianism and the “two-state” delusion. Candles lit in memory of Rabin, therefore, are also apt tributes to the Jewish victims of that policy. Thousands of names cry out silently to also be remembered.
Rabin’s tragic death should not obscure his poor judgment and mistakes and the Arab goal of destroying Israel. Correcting those errors should be Rabin’s true legacy.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist. His book of short stories, “As Far As the Eye Can See,” was published by the New English Review Press in September.