The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005
The Rabin Murder and Its Impact on Yesha

Following is my front/back page piece in this week's issue of The Jewish Press. This is the original version that I submitted. The published version, which has very slight editorial revisions and a different title than the one I chose (my title appears above) can be accessed here.

Some people, presumably believing they have a direct line to G-d, have declared the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina to be divine "punishment" for U.S. support for Israel's Gaza withdrawal. In fact, Judaism recognizes that it is appropriate to look inward and examine our own shortcomings when hardship occurs.

The offensive statements linking Katrina to Gush Katif remind me of discussions I had with a law school classmate when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated ten years ago. While not purporting to have the gift of prophecy, my friend, a religiously observant IDF veteran who has since moved to Israel, expressed the fear that Israel - particularly its religious Zionist sector - would be punished for the Rabin murder.

In his eulogy for Rabin, Rabbi Norman Lamm expressed concern that the murder "may leave in its wake consequences as disastrous as they are unforeseen and unforeseeable."

Certainly, the murder of Rabin had the opposite effect of the murderer’s intention. Contrary to conventional wisdom - that Yigal Amir killed the "peace process" - in fact he rendered Rabin a martyr and Oslo irreversible, and caused severe damage to the settlement movement.

In 1994, more than a year prior to the assassination, Yechiel Leiter, then a Yesha Council leader, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that if Rabin were murdered, it would spell the end of the Yesha movement. Leiter was largely right.

* * *

Yitzhak Rabin ran as a political centrist in the 1992 elections, opposing negotiations with the PLO or the formation of a Palestinian state, and insisting that Israel would retain the Golan Heights and much of Judea and Samaria. Rabin's impressive military credentials were utilized to assure Israelis that he would not be soft on terror.

This formula proved successful, particularly after several small right-wing parties failed to meet the minimum vote threshold for Knesset representation, wasting three Knesset seats slated for the political right, and granting Labor a narrow victory.

Initially, Rabin did take a tough line against terrorism. After the murder of five Israeli soldiers, Rabin deported 415 leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Lebanon in December 1992. But the move backfired when international censure caused Israel to allow the terrorists a safe return, though not before they had been trained in bomb making by Hezbollah.

When the 1993 Oslo Accords were followed by suicide bombings in Israel, Rabin said Israel's response would be "to fight terror as if there were not a peace process and to pursue peace as if there were no terror." But while Israel did continue the Oslo process, it also continued to subcontract fighting terror to Yasser Arafat, rather than confront Hamas directly.

While the Oslo Accords and his willingness to cede the Golan represented Rabin's political shift - and his political duplicity - Rabin's incendiary statements about his political adversaries were no less responsible for polarization in Israel during his second tenure as prime minister.

Six weeks after Oslo, Beit El resident Chaim Mizrachi was murdered in an Arab market. While strongly condemning the murder, Rabin added that settlers should not go out looking to "buy cheap eggs."

Reacting dismissively to peaceful protestors, Rabin said, "they can spin like propellers."

At an October 1995 event for North Americans who had made aliyah, Rabin was cursed at and booed off the stage, a reaction that shamefully had become almost routine at a time when posters of Rabin with a keffiyah superimposed on his head appeared throughout Jerusalem. In response, a furious Rabin showed disdain for the basic rights of his citizens, saying that "those who are waving signs can go back to their countries," declaring that the protesters "didn't fight for the land, didn't build it, came here only recently and don't have the right to judge its actions or its directions."

Rabin was heavily criticized for the methods he used in obtaining a Knesset majority for the Oslo 2 Accords. After several Labor Knesset members led by Avigdor Kahalani refused to support Oslo 2, Rabin gained a 61-59 majority only by relying on support from Arab Knesset members and by obtaining the defection to Labor of three members of the right-wing Tsomet party. The leader of the three, Gonen Segev, was made a cabinet minister; today Segev is in an Israeli prison for drug smuggling.

* * *

In light of the terrorism, his controversial political tactics, and his divisive statements, Rabin was not a popular prime minister. While the November 4, 2005, pro-Oslo rally in Tel Aviv attracted a large crowd, Rabin was then behind Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu in opinion polls, as was the case throughout the prior year.

But the assassination of Rabin that night galvanized the Israeli left and marginalized the right, particularly the religious Zionist sector and the Yesha movement. The notion took hold that any and all left-wing political stances - including those that Rabin had rejected - had to be implemented to support Rabin's memory and legacy.

Thus, Labor's abandonment of the settlement movement - which it created and cultivated in its first decade - and its willingness to divide Jerusalem and to withdraw essentially to the 1967 borders - have all been claimed to be in furtherance of Rabin’s efforts for peace. Similarly, support for a Palestinian state replaced Labor's long-standing position that any agreement would be with a Jordanian-Palestinians confederation and not a separate Palestinian state.

In last week's Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt wrote that under Oslo, Rabin pledged "an independent state for the Palestinians in return for peace with Israel." That is a widespread misperception. In fact, Rabin was always opposed to the formation of a Palestinian state, to any division of Jerusalem, or to any concessions on the Jordan Valley. His political red lines remained guided by the Allon Plan under which Israel would retain around thirty percent of Judea and Samaria.

In his October 5, 1995 speech to the Knesset presenting the Oslo 2 accords - his last speech before the Knesset - Rabin said that any agreement would be with a Palestinian "entity that is less than a state," that "we will not return to the June 4, 1967 lines," that Israel would keep "united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev, as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty," that "the security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term," that Israel would retain "Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities," and would establish "blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif."

A few months earlier, Rabin stated that if peace requires "giving up on a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, my reply would be 'let's do without peace.'"

It is possible that Rabin would have taken a difference approach in final status negotiations, just as Ehud Barak's position collapsed at Camp David and Taba. But it is noteworthy that Rabin's stance on Jerusalem and avoiding a return to the 1967 borders remained unchanged after he had recognized the PLO and signed Oslo and Oslo 2. Even after his political shift, Rabin maintained principled red lines in his vision for Israel's permanent eastern borders.

Indeed, following Barak's concessions at Camp David, Leah Rabin lamented, "Yitzhak is certainly turning over in his grave. He never would have agreed to compromise on the Old City and the Temple Mount."

It is for this reason that recently in Haaretz, extreme left-wing columnist Gideon Levy wrote that Rabin was "a cowardly statesmen" because "he did not dare to put the evacuation of settlements on the agenda."

* * *
Many immediately recognized the damage to the Yesha movement that would result from the Rabin murder. In his eulogy for Rabin, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein of Yeshivat Har Etzion said that the murder is "a special source of worry for those to whom the settlement of Judea and Samaria is important. This is paradoxical, since the fiercest opposition to his leadership arose from precisely those ranks. It is clear, though, that within his government, Yitzhak Rabin more than anyone else cared for and protected the settlements."

In a January 1996 piece in Commentary, Israeli-American writer Hillel Halkin wrote that Yigal Amir had delivered a "crushing blow" to critics of Rabin, in what Halkin described as not only an odious murder but also "a cataclysmic political blunder."

Less than seven months after the Rabin murder, Netanyahu did win the 1996 elections. Before the assassination, Netanyahu vehemently rejected Oslo and consistently garnered majority support in polls, but afterward, Israelis would not countenance a rejection of Oslo - which they perceived as a victory for Yigal Amir - and Netanyahu had to change his stance during his election campaign. Instead of demanding that Oslo be abrogated, Netanyahu accepted Oslo but called for reciprocity, with Israel making territorial concessions only if Palestinians fought terror.

Netanyahu's shift ultimately led the way to his implementation of Israel’s withdrawal from most of Hebron, which Rabin had agreed to under Oslo 2, to Netanyahu's meetings with Arafat, and to the Wye River accord.

The Netanyahu government was significantly to the right of the Rabin-Peres government and indeed to every subsequent Israeli government. But it also began the erosion in Likud's historical support for the Yesha movement. Contrary to the previous Likud governments led by Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir - and also the Labor governments of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and the first Rabin government - the Netanyahu government did not form new communities in Judea or Samaria. Indeed, no new settlements have been built by any government since the Rabin murder.

Had Yigal Amir not murdered Rabin, and Netanyahu defeated Rabin in the 1996 election, it is likely that Netanyahu would have followed a path similar to that of Begin and Shamir. After the assassination, domestic and international political realities made that impossible.

Even had Rabin won reelection in 1996, the settlement movement would be better off today than it is. Rabin was closer to the political center than Labor's other prominent figures, and after his assassination, Labor moved much further left. After three decades of rejecting a return to the 1967 borders and insisting upon an undivided Jerusalem, Labor was looking to avenge the murder of its leader and, particularly after again losing power to Likud, opposed anything that was seen as being in the interests of the right.

Rabin's party has undermined the principles laid out in his last Knesset speech. For example, when Netanyahu authorized the building of the new Har Homa neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, he was condemned by Labor, which had previously supported construction in post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods like Ramot, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol and Gilo.

Labor even opposed Netanyahu's insistence on Palestinian compliance with Oslo, rejecting the reciprocity doctrine. Under the Wye agreement, Israeli withdrawal from 13 percent of Judea and Samaria was to be implemented in stages, with dismantling of Hamas and Islamic Jihad a prerequisite for completion of the withdrawal. When the PA failed to take action against terrorism, Netanyahu refused to withdraw from more than 2 percent. But when Barak defeated Netanyahu, he immediately dropped the reciprocity principle, unconditionally withdrawing from the remaining 11 percent.

The following year, Barak completed Labor's abandonment of Rabin's principles when he offered to divide Jerusalem, give up all of the Jordan Valley, and withdraw nearly to the 1967 borders. As a result, the international community now expects Israel to withdraw from at least 95 percent of Judea and Samaria, in complete contrast to Rabin’s red lines.

* * *
Ironically, it is now Prime Minister Sharon who is most guided by Rabin's core principles, calling for the annexation to Israel of settlement blocs, for an undivided Jerusalem and for retention of the Jordan Valley. But as a result of the weakening of the settlement movement over the last decade, unlike Rabin, Sharon accepts a Palestinian state, and has dropped hints that he might be willing to cede Arab neighborhoods in outlying parts of Jerusalem and compromise over the Jordan Valley.

Today, the best approach of those who oppose sweeping territorial concessions is to try to reinstate a consensus among Israelis based primarily on Rabin's red lines: No return to the 1967 borders, an undivided Jerusalem, retention of the Jordan Valley, and continued development in the large settlement blocs and the settlements that are suburbs of Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, however, instead of enlisting in the battles of ideas and trying to win public opinion, many on the political right express their position by spewing invective against Israel's leaders, and, in some instances, calling for violence.

After the Rabin murder, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim stated that "a terrible sin has been committed ... We all tear our clothes in mourning and weep over a precious Jewish soul, devoted to his nation."

The "“terrible sin" was not only Yigal Amir's violent action, but also the fanatical hatred that accompanied it. Many who themselves are not extremist failed to condemn this hate. Those perpetrating outrages were dismissed as lone "lunatics." But as Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman said shortly after the Rabin murder: "The claim that this was the act of a lunatic is, at once, self-serving, ludicrous, and dangerous ... How many murderers must Orthodoxy produce before it will be persuaded that there is a growing cancer in its midst that needs to be treated, rather than a lunatic or two that can safely be ignored?"

The last year has shown that the extremism that culminated in the Rabin murder has not been fully eradicated. Just a few weeks ago, Elazar Stern, a religiously observant IDF Major-General who was involved in implementing the Gaza withdrawal, was accosted by dozens of fellow religious Jews when he came to the Western Wall with his family to pray.

If the battle over the future of Judea and Samaria will be fought by calling soldiers Nazis, attacking a Major-General, cursing Prime Minister Sharon and calling him a traitor, then that battle will end as the one for Gaza did.

If that happens, some will probably attribute blame for subsequent world disasters to the loss of Judea and Samaria, rather than wonder whether perhaps our own sins and failures are to blame for the loss of Jewish land.