November 2020 marked a quarter-century since Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. His life story is the story of the State of Israel. He fought to create and defend Israel in the 1948 War of Independence and led Israel to success in the 1967 war. He was Israel’s ambassador in Washington, led it twice as prime minister, liberated Jews from captivity in 1945 and 1976 (Entebbe), and embraced an opportunity for a chance at a longtime peace with the Palestinians in 1993.
That chance slipped away Nov. 4, 1995, when a fellow Jewish Israeli assassinated Rabin after a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
Rabin possessed essential qualities of an admired leader: credible, authentic, honest, visionary and strategic. He also was taciturn and incisive, suffered no fools, and smoked heavily. He possessed an air of authority but lacked the charisma associated with Ben-Gurion, Dayan and Begin. He was meticulous in preparation and thorough in strategic thinking, bold without being reckless. As the army’s leader, he prepared the pre-emptive military strike for the June 1967 war; as a political leader on his second run as prime minister, he accepted the 1993 Oslo Accords because it was a “future’s option” and was preceded by letters in which the PLO and Israel each recognized the legitimacy of the other.
Rabin did not promise the Palestinians a state or self-determination; he enabled their self-government, originally promised in the 1978 Camp David Accords but not implemented. From that declaration of principles, he wanted to see how the Palestinians would manage themselves and their relationships with Israel in a setting that could expand. He felt it was important to separate Israelis from Palestinians; hence, he became an advocate for building the barrier/fence that separated Palestinians from Israelis on the West Bank.
In September 1995 he categorized a Palestinian entity as pachot me-medina, less than a state. Rabin never endorsed the idea of a two-state solution, though he believed ultimately Israel would have to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians. Separating geographically from them was the same pragmatic concept that his successor Ariel Sharon applied when Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in August 2005.
In an extensive article in the Center for Israel Education website’s Issues and Analyses section, we have suggested other articles and resources, as well as off-site readings. Former Knesset member Nachman Shai, who worked with Rabin, offers his thoughts on the leadership of his one-time boss in this video, drawn from a session on Israeli leaders at CIE’s 19th annual Educator Enrichment Workshop on Modern Israel in June.
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