on the Fifth Anniversary of the Assassination
of Yitzhak Rabin
November 8, 2000
With longing for Yitzhak, the man, and with a deep sense of sobriety, given the circumstances of the day, we are marking the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in the shadow of a wave of violence instigated by the Palestinians on Rosh Hashanah. This morning a young Israeli woman, Noa Dahan, was murdered near Rafah by Palestinian gunfire, and last night gunfire was again aimed at the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. This situation cannot continue. Israel will put an end to it by political or other means. I would like to hope that the meetings scheduled in Washington with the president of the United States in the coming days will bring about a cessation of the violence and the full implementation of the Sharm e-Sheikh understandings.
The violence will not accomplish anything. It will not alter our policy, and it will not weaken our determination to attain peace and security for Israel. We stand, and will continue to stand, clear-eyed and united before the challenges that face us and fully committed to our purpose. In my remarks this evening, I wish to present to you the main principles of Israel’s policy of peace and security, which is the continuation of the course inaugurated by Yitzhak Rabin with certain adjustments demanded by the change in circumstances over time.
The gist of our vision is a Zionist, Jewish, and democratic state living in security and peace with its neighbors; a "model society" that affords its citizens social justice, economic prosperity, and safety; a state living in coexistence, cooperation, and amicable relations with all its neighbors. This has been our dream for generations, and it is the essence of the Zionist vision. The means for realizing it is the one determined by Yitzhak Rabin: concluding agreements for peace and security with our neighbors – above all with the Palestinian national movement. This is the political and strategic aim we are striving for. We are operating within a dynamic arena that is fraught with danger and within a fleeting window of opportunity. Israel’s security and future demand that we exhaust every possibility to achieve a state of peace and security with our neighbors before, heaven forbid, the skies of the region are dimmed by a tide of terrorism and the use of nonconventional weaponry. This is precisely what I promised to do. This is precisely what I have done. I never committed myself to anything beyond that.
Peace has a high and painful price that we must be prepared to bear. But we are not prepared to entertain the notion of peace at any price or at the price of capitulation and self-abnegation. It takes two to make peace, just as it does to tango. If the other side does not want to dance, we cannot tango alone. Violence, by contrast, requires the initiative of one side only.
We have no reason to take ourselves to task. We made a supreme effort, going as far as we could to achieve peace – and we brought it within reach. We have not actually conceded anything, since a peace agreement has not yet been concluded, and we will not abandon the effort to overcome the obstacles that remain on the path to peace. Peace will come. But it will not be attained through capitulation or by one side vanquishing the other. Neither will it be achieved by fiat or the exercise of force on our part, or through imposition on us by the international community.
The violence that has been forced upon us in the past weeks has a purpose: to generate support and make political and propaganda capital out of turmoil and the use of force. The arena of confrontation extends from the streets to television screens the world over. In this struggle, mobilizing international public opinion is no less important than tactical victories in the field. And with this in mind, the other side is making calculated, even cynical, use of teenagers and children, sending them out to clash with our soldiers in front of the cameras. In a situation of this kind, our political and military leaders must maintain their equanimity and exercise responsible judgment in order to produce a suitable response that will put an end to the violence while simultaneously protecting the lives, maintaining the morale, and preserving the unity of our citizenry in order to prevent the erosion of our staying power. At the same time, we must be careful not to play into the hands of our foes. That means we must reduce the risk of a regional conflagration, boost Israel’s standing in the world, and stick to the strategic objective of achieving peace.
This struggle demands, above all else, restraint, self-control, and the intelligent use of military force. A rash or impulsive response may spark a frenzy of violence that rages out of control. Some of the criticism and "good advice" being voiced in political quarters ranges from impolitic to irresponsible.
On my instructions, and in coordination with the chief of staff, the IDF has been combating the violence with prudence, operational skill, and maximum restraint. The commanders and soldiers in the field deserve praise for their professional, responsible and moral conduct. With your permission, I would like to make an appeal directly to our Palestinian neighbors on this special day. Today the State of Israel remembers with love a great leader who paved the way to peace with you, the Palestinian people, and – so tragically for us – paid for that with his life. Faithful to Yitzhak Rabin’s endeavor, we want to make peace with you – a peace of honor and neighborliness, a "peace of the brave", a peace that has no losers, only winners.
The wave of violence you have launched has caused suffering and loss to us both. This violence is unnecessary, pointless, and unjustified. It can achieve nothing that cannot be attained at the negotiating table without violence. It has served only to damage the basis of trust between us, and it has created obstacles precisely at a time when a genuine chance for breakthrough toward solving the century-long conflict between us was, for the first time, in sight. You should be aware that there will be no surrender to violence; that violence will not prevail. It begets only losers, on your side and on ours. We cannot bring back its victims; but we can still save those who may be victims to come, who are still among us today, young and well and eager to live. Let us spare them. Let us spare their families – Palestinian and Israeli – the terrible bereavement that knows no remedy, because neither of our peoples will be forgiven if we fail to do so. This was Yitzhak Rabin’s credo, and we stand committed to it. But now it is up to you, because you chose the path of violence, and it is you who must forswear it. There is no such thing as "harmless violence." There is no such thing as "partial violence." There is no such thing as "legitimate violence." There is no violence without response, and there is certainly no such thing as "peaceful violence." Violence is the antithesis of peace, and it cannot be a component of the peace process.
You, the Palestinian people, will be our neighbors forever, as we will be yours. Many Israelis appreciate and respect your desire to be the masters of your fate and to exercise your legitimate rights – as long as you do not deny our right to exist and as long as you eschew violence, incitement, and the fomenting of hatred toward us. But respect and understanding do not always mean agreement, and they certainly do not mean self-denial. Both our peoples have aspirations, rights, and legitimate interests, some of which are inimical to each other. Both have dreams and desires, some of which are incompatible. The tragic clash between our sense of justice and yours has led to tragedy and great suffering for your people and ours. Tens of thousands of homes have known bereavement as a result of our wars. We have no desire to rule over you or to deprive you of your expression of self-determination. Much to the contrary, it is our desire to reconcile our differences and achieve a historic compromise in which both sides will have to relinquish part of their dream in order to make room for the other to realize his most fervent desire. Only a compromise of that sort will enable us to bequeath our children a future free of enmity and bloodshed, so that they may prosper and live out their lives in liberty, security, and peace of mind.
There is only one way to achieve this: by renouncing violence and conducting free, direct, open, serious, and creative negotiations. The true resolution of the conflict between us will be attained not by fiat, force, or international intervention but as the result of a fair and cogent compromise between the desires and interests of our two peoples. This was Yitzhak Rabin’s credo, and it remains ours. It is the best course toward our shared future in this land, toward our children’s future. We must not abandon it. Now is the time – there is not a minute to spare – to resume our pursuit of it, with courage and determination, until we achieve peace.
In June 1967 Lieutenant-General Yitzhak Rabin led the Israel Defense Forces in the most celebrated military operation in our history. The State of Israel embarked upon the Six-Day War in order to defend its existence and obtain security, not to acquire territory. On June 9, 1967, a week after the war had ended, the national unity government headed by Levi Eshkol (which included Menachem Begin) voted to propose to Egypt and Syria that peace accords based on Israel’s withdrawal to the respective international borders and the adoption of security arrangements. This proposal was conveyed to the U.S. government by Foreign Minister Abba Eban. A few days later, the United States relayed the Syrian and Egyptian replies to Israel. They adamantly rejected the Israeli proposal and demanded Israel’s unconditional withdrawal from the territory it had captured during the fighting. Thereafter, these replies were reinforced by the "three noes" of the Arab summit meeting at Khartoum: "No recognition, no negotiations, no peace with Israel."
The IDF’s victory in the Six-Day War, under Rabin’s command, was so intoxicatingly powerful that it propelled many good folk among us into the realm of dreams – to parts of the homeland from which we had been separated by a hostile border and to which we returned, in the words of the psalmist, "like dreamers." The settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights was spearheaded by young idealists brimming with conviction (many of them followers of the Labor and religious-Zionist movements). It was a natural expression of our love for and historic bond with this land, which has been our patrimony and homeland since antiquity.
As long as peace with our neighbors was merely a dream, and any chance of it coming true was improbable because of Arab intransigence, it was possible to ignore the need to compromise and cling to the belief that the dream would always prevail over reality. The first shock came with the withdrawal from Sinai to the international border: the evacuation of the Yamit area and of Ofira at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula at the beginning of the 1980s, in the framework of the peace treaty with Egypt. But the autonomy plan appended to that agreement was not carried out due to the opposition of the Palestinians, who were similarly held in thrall by a dream that was the mirror image of our own.
The delay in initiating talks with the Palestinians accelerated the creation of "facts on the ground," some of which are incongruent with a realistically contoured final and peacetime border for the State of Israel. Coming to grips with reality has been a gradual and difficult process, for both sides, though in the course of time we have grown wiser and so have they. Today we know that the road to peace is littered with the scraps of shattered dreams, and that the vision of the Greater Land of Israel, like that of an undivided Palestine, is bound to remain a dream. If it wishes to attain peace and preserve its character as a democratic, Jewish state, Israel cannot retain all the territory it captured in 1967 and rule over another people. There is no longer any genuine debate between the right and left in Israel over the imperative of a far-reaching and painful compromise with the Palestinians. The only disagreement is over how far that compromise must go in order for it to yield peace. The decisive majority of Israel’s citizens accept the principle that the territories conquered by the IDF in 1967, under the command of Yitzhak Rabin, are in part being held in trust until the conclusion of peace treaties through negotiations with our neighbors. This is a return to the original aim of the Six-Day War as a battle for survival. But the substantive and fundamental disagreement was then, and remains, between Israel and the Palestinians.
Four points of contention between Israel and the Palestinians were deliberated at Camp David: borders, security arrangements, the refugees, and Jerusalem.
The Palestinian position on the final borders is well known: they demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 frontier. This position is based on the Palestinians’ interpretation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (a reading we do not accept) and on the precedent of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty (which we deem irrelevant to this case). The negotiations at Camp David outlined a possible accommodation on this issue: The borders will be determined to no small degree by the contours of Jewish settlement that have evolved over the years (and this will be the historic achievement of the settlement enterprise in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza). An absolute majority of the Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria will be embraced by settlement clusters that will come under Israeli sovereignty, while the areas that come under Palestinian sovereignty will be contiguous, and every effort will be made to satisfy the prime Palestinian demands.
The second issue, which is closely related to that of borders, is security arrangements. Israel requires a security and settlement presence along the Jordan River. Whoever believes that "peace is security," so that there is no need for special security arrangements in peacetime, has no idea of where he’s living. The State of Israel stands, with its back to the sea, facing on a region that is volatile, armed, and awash with advanced weaponry – a region with a history of instability that is seething with treacherous currents. Suffice it to mention the unforeseen revolution in Iran, Saddam Hussein’s sudden descent upon his sister state of Kuwait, the calls heard even at the recent Arab summit for a "holy war" against Israel, and the Palestinian Authority’s abrupt volte-face from negotiation and near-agreement to violent confrontation.
Israel’s security border must run along the Jordan River, with full demilitarization (except for light weapons) of the areas evacuated by the IDF and the institution of arrangements for inspection and control, access and movement. In this vital sphere, as well, significant progress was made at Camp David on reconciling Israel’s security needs with the Palestinians’ demands.
We should keep in mind that signing a peace treaty is not the equivalent of waving a magic wand that makes all risks disappear. And we must we wary of deluding ourselves about where the Palestinians and the other Arabs stand. One school is prepared to accept Israel’s existence – though not the justice of its creation – and it is on this core group that the peace-making effort is based. (The assumption was that it included Yasser Arafat. But not everyone in Israel is convinced of this, and the latest events have done nothing to substantiate this premise.) Yet there are also rival schools in the Arab world, ranging from the proponents of the "doctrine of stages" – whereby each successive agreement with Israel is regarded as another stage toward the restoration of "all Palestinian rights" until Israel as a Jewish and Zionist entity is ultimately eliminated – to those who oppose any accommodation and demand an incessant "holy war" until Israel is destroyed and all the Jews are removed from the soil of Palestine.
Even the Palestinians’ resignation to Israel’s existence has not been internalized at a normative level. The Palestinian educational system, media, religious leadership and preachers in mosques continue to foment abysmal hatred for the State of Israel, Zionism, and the Jews as a nation. These truths should not make us despair of bringing about change and attaining peace, because there is no substitute for peace. What they do demand of us is realism, forbearance, and primarily the preservation of Israel’s might and qualitative edge, as well as insistence upon rigorous security arrangements as part of any peace agreement. The third issue – that of the refugees – is a tougher one to solve because of the long-cultivated myth of "return" that holds the Palestinians in its thrall, the prolonging of hardship in the refugee camps, and a half century of dependence on international aid that stopped short of any rehabilitation effort.
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the conflict can understand that the demand to acknowledge the 1948 Palestinian refugees’ "right of return" is an unrealistic one, and there’s no chance whatever that Israel will accede to it. (Israel will not accept any responsibility, legal or moral, for the creation of the refugee problem. It should be recalled that this problem arose as a result of a war initiated by the Arabs because of their rejection of the 1947 U.N. partition resolution and their declared intention to destroy the Jewish community of Palestine and crush the State of Israel at its birth. After that war, Israel absorbed an even greater number of destitute Jews from Arab lands. It called them brothers, not refugees, and helped them rebuild their lives, so that that today they and their children and their children’s children are proud and productive citizens of the State of Israel.)
At the same time, Israel is not oblivious to the suffering and hardship borne by the refugees as a result of the conflict, and it is prepared to participate in and contribute to a regional and international effort to rehabilitate the refugees outside of its borders. At Camp David, progress was made on this issue, as well. But I fear that the Palestinian leadership has does not appreciate, or has not given expression to its realization, that the refugee problem cannot in any way be solved within the bounds of the State of Israel. (At most, Israel will be prepared, as a humanitarian gesture, to agree to the unification of a small number of families.)
The most complex and sensitive issue – surpassing in difficulty even the refugee problem – is Jerusalem. The disagreement over Jerusalem, more than any other, is what stymied the Camp David summit.
I suspect that I don’t have to explain Jerusalem’s standing in the Jewish and Israeli consciousness. The city’s unification in 1967 and our return to the holy places, under Jewish sovereignty after 2,000 years, were a kind of "big bang" that reverberated on the deepest of Jewish heartstrings. The unity of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel, became the keystone of our national consensus.
Deliberating the Jerusalem question in the negotiations on a permanent settlement was prescribed by the agreements Israel has signed with the Palestinians, as well as by the situation on the ground. It was impossible, and would not have been proper, to leave Jerusalem as an unresolved issue because it is not a marginal matter; it stands at the very heart of the conflict. In the eastern part of the city live some 200,000 Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel and are organically tied to the Palestinian "hinterland" in Judea and Samaria, for which East Jerusalem serves as a religious, cultural, and economic center. Maintaining our sovereignty over Jerusalem and boosting its Jewish majority have been our chief aims, and toward this end Israel constructed large Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city, which house 180,000 residents, and large settlements on the periphery of Jerusalem, like the city of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev. The principle that guided me in the negotiations at Camp David was to preserve the unity of Jerusalem and to strengthen its Jewish majority for generations to come.
The chief demand that blocked an agreement at Camp David touched upon the most sensitive part of Jerusalem: the historical heart of the city that is sacred to three religions.
The most ominous tendency exhibited by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority in this regard is his attempt to galvanize religious fervor to impact on dispute that can be resolved by pragmatic means that will honor the feelings and answer the needs of the followers of all the faiths involved. His pretensions to be the guardian and liberator of the sites holy to Islam and Christianity are, at the very least, anachronistic. Invoking the Al-Aqsa Mosque as a pretext for violence and religious incitement seems a bad mistake to me. The mosque is in Muslim hands, and Israel does not have, and never has had, any desire to control so much as a single stone of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Jewish people has no quarrel with Islam. On the contrary, we feel a deep respect for the splendid Islamic civilization, under whose dominion Jewish history has known chapters of glory and rich cultural creativity, from Andalusia to Turkey, Egypt to Iraq. But even at the height of the "Golden Age" in Muslim Spain, the Jews never stopped dreaming of Jerusalem. As the poet Yehudah Halevi wrote 900 years ago: "My heart is in the East, and I am the farthest reaches of the West," "scene of beauty, joy of the world, city of a great king, for you my heart longs from the marches of the West."
The Jewish holy places in East Jerusalem are the pivot of Jewish history, identity, and faith. Jews have been turning to the Temple Mount in prayer three times a day for thousands of years. We recognize that Jerusalem is also holy to Islam and Christianity. But just as we cast no doubt upon the devotion of the adherents of other faiths to the holy places in Jerusalem, so we expected that no doubt will be cast upon the depth of Jewish devotion to Jerusalem and the Jewish holy places. The dispute over the holy places in Jerusalem can be resolved. But its solution is predicated upon tolerance and respect for the feelings of the adherents of all religions.
Thirty-one years ago, during the War of Attrition, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan delivered a famous address to the students of the IDF’s Command and Staff College. Entitled "Fear Thou Not, O My Servant Jacob," it was Dayan’s reply to the classic Jewish plaint: "Where will it all end?" or, put in sharper terms, "What will become of us?"
This anxiety, which has long attended the Jewish life, was about both physical security (individual and communal) and the spiritual continuity of the Jewish nation. The answer to it that Dayan found in Jewish sources is the dauntless struggle that our nation has conducted throughout the centuries. In his words, and I quote: " ‘Fear thou not’ does not mean don’t worry. It is not an insurance policy from the Creator implying: ‘You have nothing to worry about. Trust me, the Creator of the Universe, to solve your problems.’ On the contrary, ‘Fear thou not, O my servant Jacob’ means: ‘Jacob, don’t be dismayed; don’t be faint hearted. You are destined to live in constant struggle, and you must not fail out of cowardice.’ " End quote.
Dayan’s answer was the right one for his time, and it will remain the right one as long as the Jewish people are steeped a struggle for its existence and security. Now, too, we require patience, perseverance, and fortitude to prevail in a struggle that may be long and fraught with difficult tests. But at the time Dayan made that speech, there was no prospect of peace on Israel’s horizon.
Today the answer that Dayan offered 30 years ago no longer suffices. If we return to the sources, we will find that in the continuation of the verse quoted by Dayan, the struggle has an goal, and the "Fear thou not" has a purpose: "… And Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid" (Jeremiah 30:10).
This is the quintessential Jewish hope, if you will, as well as the aim of Zionism: to bring the Jewish people to safe harbor; to finally – after centuries wandering, hardship, and war – know rest, security, and peace. Today this is possible. Peace with Egypt and Jordan have been a reality for years; it now remains for us to close and strengthen the circle of peace by concluding agreements with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon. And this is not some odd whimsy; the attainment of peace and security is no longer an illusion or fata morgana. It is a pragmatic political objective, though it make take a while longer to achieve. But attaining it requires a combination of courage, determination, patience, willingness to sacrifice, unity, stamina, and the ability to distinguish between what is important and what it not.
In his famous speech delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War, Yitzhak Rabin framed the secret of the IDF’s victory in the following way: "Our fighters’ supremacy resulted not from an iron will but from a stronger sense of mission, of the justice of our cause, a deep love of the homeland and a understanding of the hard task assigned to them: to protect the existence of the nation in its homeland; to preserve, even at the cost of their lives, the right of the Jewish people to live in its country – free, independent, in peace and in tranquility."
Soldiers under his command gave their lives for this objective. He, too, gave his life for it – as a "soldier in the army of peace."
Doing everything possible to attain that goal now is the prime duty and supreme test of leadership. This is Yitzhak Rabin’s legacy. This is the course we are pursuing.
"Fear thou not, O my servant Jacob," the struggle for peace and its price, and despair not of reaching the goal of peace and security. For "Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid."
|Yitzhak Rabin 1922-1995|
|Outbreak of Violence in Jerusalem and the Territories – Sept/Oct 2000|