Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
at the Knesset Memorial Session
for the late Yitzhak Rabin

Jerusalem, October 17, 2002

(translated from Hebrew)

Jerusalem, 17 October 2002

With the passage of time, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand how a despicable assassin could have emerged from our midst to murder the prime minister of Israel. We still find it hard to accept the reality of our loss – the loss of the experienced, guiding hand of Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory.

As time passes, and our perspective deepens, we see Yitzhak in his true greatness and versatility, as a man and as a leader.

Yitzhak originally wanted to be a water engineer. This ambition was well suited to the period in which he lived, the Israel of settlement and agriculture. It aroused his talent for planning, his desire to contribute. He knew that land is a fixed quantity, but water may be transported and that, by means of water, the land could be remapped and the wilderness be made to flower.

He therefore attended the Kadourie Agricultural School, where he excelled in his studies. But what he originally wanted was not to be, and what he was destined for could not have been foreseen. He was destined for a double trial, both fascinating and burdensome: to be a military and a political leader.

These two things, although encompassing a certain logical continuity, are also contradictory. To be a military commander demands certain characteristics; to be a political leader requires other talents.

To be a military commander means to build power, with iron patience, over an extended period of time; to train thousands of people, for weeks and years, to meet the test of battle, which is short and of limited duration. He must be ready to move from battle readiness to attack; from viewing the broad picture to focusing on the objective. He must be able to postpone many issues and concentrate on the primary one; to hold the reins of command with conviction, to exploit and unify integrated forces.

A military commander must make an accurate assessment of the situation, anticipate the unexpected, and draw conclusions as to where the enemy forces are concentrated. He must determine where to deploy his forces and to bring decisive victory.

The commander must determine the broad outlines of strategy and the minute details of tactics. He must deploy sophisticated weapons, display agility, devise unconventional tactics. He is like a conductor leading the different instruments together through the score. He must instill discipline and raise morale. He must be daring, in order to cause maximum losses to the enemy, and be cautious in order to minimize losses to his own forces.

The outcome of a military battle is therefore dependent to a great extent on the talents of the commander. He must stand at the head and carry his men along with him.

It is true that in wartime, the people are more united. They identify with the army and make allowances for its commanders. The choice between life or death heightens the solidarity of the citizenry.

Yitzhak proved to be an excellent commander of events, people and weapons, and as such was greatly admired.

The political sphere is very different. A politician must accumulate power but try not to need it; realize that the goal is constant, but not one-dimensional. He must understand that the achievement of peace is fraught with difficulties, and that preserving peace, in a world of constant change and changing national priorities, demands unceasing creativity. Politics is an eternal obstacle course, a semi-final playoff, as surprising as life itself. Sometimes it flows like a river to the sea, and sometimes from the sea to the river; but it is always full of surprises.

Politics is not heroics. It is the attempt to form a consensus among differing opinions. Life’s most difficult challenges are political and human partnerships. It is very hard to live without them, and you cannot maintain them without compromises.

However, one who professes support for human dignity must respect his fellow human being. And, in order to respect one’s fellow, one must prefer understanding to victory. Politics is a profession that demands humility and is sparing in fanfare. It demands persistence, despite the frustrations, and must be maintained through national restraint and international sensitivity. No matter what path is chosen, there will always be critics.

In politics, there are more compromises than decisions, more refraining from action than initiating action. In spite of this, it requires daring no less than judgment. It must change events, not only reflect them.

If war unites people, peace enables them once again to splinter into factions. Opposing perspectives, different traditions, habits that come from different sources – all of these are expressed through loud criticism, voiced as tempting alternatives.

In wartime, the media are naturally more restrained. They emphasize patriotism, and even agree willingly to censorship. In peacetime, in a democracy, criticism is not spared, and statesmen are described, while they are alive, as "politicians" lacking backbone and thirsting after flattering headlines.

And the truth is that, if victory is the mainstay of strategy, compromise is the foundation of politics. Victory is what enables compromise, which is the basis for human existence and human dignity.

In this sphere as well, Yitzhak proved himself to be a statesman, who was prepared to pay the price of statesmanship. He knew the dangers of the battlefield, and tasted the incitement and envy of the political playing field. He showed both willingness for self-sacrifice and steadfastness, combining mature restraint and fresh innocence. He was able to get "fired up" as a commander, and to restrain himself as a statesman. And, even knowing that it is impossible to attain as decisive a victory at the negotiating table as on the battlefield, he never stopped searching for an opportunity to sit at that table.

As a military commander, he achieved glory. As a statesman, he suffered vilification. The bullets that tore through his heart tore also the heart of our people, which knew how to stand fast in a military battle and to keep the embers of peace burning.

For we have known victories. And we have learned that victory is a transitory thing if peace does not come in its wake. We have seen that it is possible to assassinate a great statesman, to wound the soul of a nation, but we continue to wait for someone to lead us to peace. For we love life and do not reject compromise.

I have seen Yitzhak at moments of military decision, and I have seen him at moments of political choice. Both were as difficult as the judgment of Solomon. But I have seen him to be clear in his decision-making and determined in compromise.

I remember, for example, how hard it was to say to King Hussein of Jordan that we would return every drop of water, every clump of earth, and ensure his full rights to the Temple Mount. And Yitzhak did this with his eyes wide open, even taking our own water to fulfill the quota promised to our eastern neighbor.

I knew how hard it was for Yitzhak to shake Arafat’s hand. And, indeed, on the White House lawn, after he shook his hand, he turned to me and whispered in my ear, "Now it’s your turn." After he had suffered all seven levels of Hell, now it was my turn.

Many people criticized the Oslo Accords; today, their number has probably increased. But it is not the same criticism. No one is demanding that we return to the situation that existed before Oslo, that we reconquer Gaza, Judea and Samaria, and assume responsibility for the existence, administration and welfare of the residents, whose number, since Oslo, has almost doubled. The number of those who desire that we incorporate into the State of Israel all the lands of the ancient Land of Israel has also decreased. We realized that a "greater Land of Israel" geographically would be a broken land demographically.

The number of people who, with historical arrogance, believe that we are destined to rule another people against its will, ignoring its size, and claim that this is a continuation of the moral heritage of the Jewish people has decreased. People may continue to find fault, but we are also continuing to mature. Today, I would say that most Israelis are prepared to adopt the vision of President Bush, who espouses the solution of two states for two peoples. The Palestinian people would enjoy independence, and the State of Israel would exist securely within defensible and internationally recognized borders.

Looking back, one can see how far we have come, despite the difficulties, since the days of Oslo, and how, despite the intifadas, we have absorbed new immigrants, developed the economy, and grown stronger in our defensive capabilities. Oslo proved the link between politics and economy. After the agreement, our economy experienced unprecedented growth. Yitzhak knew how to use that growth to engender a change in national priorities: education first and foremost, and then equality and infrastructures.

Today, we have learned again that this link cannot be severed. The political situation is again influencing the economic situation – this time, unfortunately, in the opposite direction. And, whoever looks to the future can see the outlines of a different Middle East: either a Middle East of nuclear weapons, or a new Middle East of peace – a peace that started at Camp David, continued at Oslo, and whose next stage will be the end of the Palestinian conflict and the removal of the danger from Baghdad.

The choice is clear, painful and unavoidable. It always was and still is. Thus, as we remember Yitzhak, as a military commander and as a statesman, we feel his loss keenly and acknowledge how difficult it will be to achieve our future goals. We appreciate his contribution as a statesman who was ahead of his time, and who was cut down before his time by a criminal who betrayed his people.

His contribution will be recorded in history, not as an exhibit in a museum, but as a living symbol of the great future hiding just beyond the horizon.

 Speech by FM Peres at Knesset Memorial Session for the late Yitzhak Rabin-17-Oct-2002
 Speech by FM Peres at Knesset Memorial Session for the late Yitzhak Rabin-17-Oct-2002
Yitzhak Rabin 1922-1995