Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Although Yitzhak Rabin Is No De Gaulle, He May Yet Become One

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Although Yitzhak Rabin Is No De Gaulle, He May Yet Become One

Article excerpt

Although Yitzhak Rabin is No De Gaulle, He May Yet Become One

Negotiating a diplomatic agreement may be described as an exercise in finding a mutually agreeable way to go from point A to point B. One of the weaknesses of the Middle East peace process worked out by Secretary of State James Baker is that it was set in motion before the parties involved had agreed on where point B was.

Each of the parties pointed to a different sector in the heavens. The Palestinians said point B was independent statehood. The Syrians said it was Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The Lebanese said it was Israeli withdrawal from the south of Lebanon. Mr. Baker said, "Not quite, but something along these lines," and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir grinned and remained silent, implying that the right answer was "none of the above."

When the Israeli electorate threw out Shamir and installed in his place Yitzhak Rabin, the global reaction was the equivalent of a huge sigh of relief. Shamir and the Likud-led government had been so abrasive, dogmatic, and inflexible that their ouster in itself was interpreted as an accomplishment. It was generally perceived as a well-timed and superbly executed assist to the peace process, and it unleashed a flood of optimistic expectations. Mr. Rabin encouraged such optimism by his pronouncements about an impending change in Israeli policies and priorities.

However, the Palestinians, more than any other party, need to assess the implications of Labor's victory for the peace talks. They must decide whether Labor and Likud are merely two faces of the same old Zionist coin, or whether Yitzhak Rabin is an Israeli Charles de Gaulle, capable of making "the peace of the brave."

It will be tempting to say that "the truth is somewhere in between." But that does not really explain very much, and the fate of the Palestinians depends on an accurate assessment.

Fortunately, neither Labor nor Rabin is a newcomer to the field of Middle East politics. Both have long track records.

It would be easy for Labor's victory to create the illusion of a false dawn. After 15 years of Likud rule, and of Shamir and Sharon, anything looks good. But since the peace process was not the principal issue, the Israeli electorate's disowning of Likud did not mean it was opting out of its conflicts with the Arabs.

In fact, it was Labor which originally conquered Arab territory, annexed Jerusalem, confiscated land, built Jewish settlements, deported people, closed schools and universities, imprisoned people without trial, demolished homes and did everything else that has more recently been associated with Shamir's repressive policies. Even when Likud was in power, Labor was partner to its worst practices.

When, under Shamir, Rabin was defense minister, he authored the policy of breaking the bones of Palestinians to suppress the intifada. Rabin also was the original and true author of the "limited self-rule" plan of negotiating interim arrangements with the Palestinians.

Known in Israel as the Rabin-Shamir plan, this is the plan which betrayed the fact that Israel was not negotiating in good faith, as Shamir admitted later when, after his defeat, he said that he had been prepared to stall for 10 years.

The Silver Lining

It would be as much a mistake to ignore the possibilities in Labor's return to power as it would be to exaggerate them. …

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