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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 11:31 GMT
Time to revive Rabin's message?
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

Mourner holds card showing date of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination
The fateful date has gone down in Middle East history
As Jerusalem was shutting down for the Jewish Sabbath on the last weekend of Yitzhak Rabin's life, I was sitting with an Israeli colleague in a traffic jam near the prime minister's official residence.

Young activists were demonstrating, going up and down the lines of traffic giving out leaflets. Some sort of rally was always happening at that particular junction, so we didn't pay much attention.

Leaflets were shoved through the car window. They were for a peace rally in the main square of Tel Aviv the following evening, Saturday 4 November 1995.

My Israeli colleague - who had been feeling the pinch since the peace process started - grunted cynically.

"The only way that's going to make a story is if Rabin's shot," he said.

We both knew that the Israeli security establishment had been getting worried about an attempt on Rabin's life. A few leaks had found their way into the Israeli press. An official had even briefed journalists about their worries.

Vicious abuse

Ever since the prime minister had shaken hands with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, some Israelis had been accusing him of treachery.

Then, in the autumn and winter of 1995, the main Palestinian towns in the West Bank, with the exception of Hebron, were going to be turned over to Palestinian control.

Yitzhak Rabin shakes hands with Yasser Arafat in Washington
An act of treachery? Rightwing Israelis thought it was
Rabin had been the subject of vicious abuse from the Israeli religious right, who believed that the land had been given to the Israelis by God, restored to them by a miracle in the 1967 war, and should never been handed to anyone else.

Posters were all over Jerusalem showing Rabin wearing a chequered black and white headscarf, just like Arafat.

At one demonstration, a placard had shown him dressed as an officer in the German SS. Groups of people gathered outside his flat in Tel Aviv to hurl abuse at him. Some rabbis had even put a curse on him.

In the traffic jam we talked about the chances of an assassination.

It seemed impossible because the people responsible for protecting Rabin seemed to be taking it seriously, and weren't they supposed to be the best in the world?

We decided not to send our camera to Tel Aviv the next night.

Unanswered questions

Rabin was assassinated as he was leaving the rally by a fanatical Jew called Yigal Amir. Rabin's bodyguards let him get so close that he was able to shoot Rabin in the back from point-blank range.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I'd say his legacy in terms of the Palestinan issue is virtually nothing
Brian Anon, Kansas City, USA

The consequences of the shooting dominated the lives of everyone in Israel and the Occupied Territories for years afterwards. You can argue that they still do.

Yigal Amir, who sits in prison serving a life sentence, is said to be well pleased with his night's work. He wanted to smash the peace process, to stop Israel handing over territory to the Palestinians.

Would Rabin have made a proper peace with the Palestinians? Or was the process that started in Oslo so fatally flawed that it would have collapsed anyway?

Of course, it is impossible to say. But I think that Yitzhak Rabin would have made a difference.

He had a unique position in Israeli political life. Israelis trusted him to negotiate for them, because he had always put their security first during his years as a politician, and because he had been one of their top soldiers.

Bridge builder

Rabin believed that even when things were going badly, it was important not to forget about peace.

After 18 soldiers and one civilian were killed by two bomb attacks near Netanya in January 1995, he reminded Israelis that peace was the long-term solution; the path of negotiation "would lead to the end of control over another people".

Rabin's grave
Israel has moved on since 1995, but Rabin is still mourned by some
After years of bloodshed, the current government in Israel believes that the best way ahead is by taking unilateral steps, not by making deals with Palestinians who it says cannot be trusted to keep their word.

Rabin, on the other hand, thought that making peace with the Palestinians meant that he had to build a relationship with their leader.

Ten years on, Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza has shown that he is capable of taking pragmatic steps even if they make some of his own supporters hate him.

But Mr Sharon and his ministers do not seem prepared to throw any life-belts to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is floundering politically.

Mr Sharon's defence minister, Shaul Mofaz told an Israeli newspaper that Abbas was not a partner for peace because he was not effective.

The message to Mr Abbas, who needs all the help he can get, is that he cannot expect the reward of talks until he cracks down on Palestinian extremists.

Yitzhak Rabin had a phrase for it - he would fight terror as if there was no peace, and pursue peace as if there was no terror.

His message has been forgotten by too many people in Israel in the last decade, and 10 years after he was killed for trying to make peace it is a good time to remember it.


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