On Rabin’s Yahrzeit; Memory & Politics

Posted on November 4, 2010 In Blog

On Rabin’s Yahrzeit; Memory & Politics

Today is the 15th anniversary – on the secular calendar – of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
When the anniversary date of the tragedy fell on the Jewish calendar, it was marked in Israel by a rally in Tel Aviv and commentary about the shifting Israeli perspectives on Rabin’s legacy.

On today’s secular calendar date, the reflections in the U.S. have an appropriately sober tone, but are more tied into thinking about the stalemated Mideast peace process.

The paradigmatic example of this is former President Bill Clinton’s essay on today’s New York Times op ed page.

After mourning the loss of his dear friend, Mr. Clinton writes: Rabin was a hard-headed idealist. His great gift was to keep the public’s trust while taking measured risks for peace. This approach was best reflected in his own guiding principle: he would work for peace as if there were no terrorism, and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process….If he could speak to us today, he would ask us to remember him not by mourning what might have been, but by looking clearly at the opportunities and obstacles to peace and getting on with the work at hand. There is a real chance to finish the work he started. The parties are talking. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has the necessary support from his people to reach an agreement. Many Israelis say they trust him to make a peace that will protect and enhance their security….The remaining issues can be resolved, and the incentives to do so are there. Israel has its best partner ever in the Palestinian government on the West Bank led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, with its proven ability to provide security and economic development. The peace alliance put together by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia offers Israel full political recognition and the prospect of security and economic cooperation with a host of Arab and other Muslim nations in exchange for an agreement. … Meanwhile, the United States government remains committed to maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of peace, a conviction shared and manifested by President Obama; Secretary of State Clinton; George Mitchell, the administration’s special envoy; and their colleagues.

This is a succinct summary of the tenets of the peace processors. But, like so many other firm adherents to the faith of the peace process, President Clinton asserts:
everyone knows what a final agreement would look like”

Do we really still believe that?

Do we really still believe that “everyone knows” how the issues of Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem and security in the Jordan Valley will be resolved?

It is these assumptions, among other factors, that have led to the stalemate and lack of progress since early 2009.

In stark contrast, read Ari Shavit in today’s Haaretz.

He lays out why it is likely that, in the wake of the midterm elections “shellacking,” President Obama may well invest more heavily in the Israeli-Arab peace effort. But, Shavit also writes this:

The dilemma is acute: political correctness or political reason; puristic policy trying to build a castle in the sky or sober policy trying to change reality on the ground.
In actuality, the most positive process taking place in the region is Salam Fayyad’s. A new, building, thriving Palestinian society is being formed in the West Bank.
Unless the Fayyad process is given a substantial political dimension, it will collapse. But it will also collapse if it is given an an unachievable political horizon.
It is time for the excessive optimism of the peace processors to be set aside and for a new approach to be taken – one that is grounded in achievable reality, not distant “horizons.”
President Obama will be doing a lot of such retooling on many fronts domestically, he ought to the same with regard to his Mideast policy.

By Nathan Diament