What if Rabin Had Lived?

This week 20 years ago, Yitzhak Rabin’s government was sworn in to the Knesset, writes Ben Caspit. He managed to change Israel's national priorities and had he not been assassinated, the progress of peace would be quite different than under the current Netanyahu government.

al-monitor A worker fixes a new memorial sign for the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Nov. 3, 2005 Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

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settlements, prosperity, peace accords, peace, national priorities, high-tech, economy, us, rabin, pa, netanyahu, jordan, israel, benjamin netanyahu

Jul 24, 2012

This week 20 years ago, Yitzhak Rabin’s government was sworn in to the Knesset. Following the defeat of the Likud, Yitzhak Shamir retired permanently from political life. Rabin had prepared meticulously for his rise to power. He did not know if he would succeed in achieving peace.He later succeeded with Jordan, made attempts with the Palestinians and Syrians and paid for this with his life [assassinated by Jewish right-wing extremist].) But he knew that he would change the list of national priorities. And he certainly changed them on a major scale. Israel made a sharp U-turn; the face of Israel changed tremendously. We have already forgotten how Israel took off under Rabin. From near-pariah status, Israel became the darling of the world. How? By “changing the list of national priorities” and a genuine real attempt to seek peace. In one fell swoop, all the development allocations in the settlements were cut off. Rabin decided that the existing settlements would receive what they needed to natural increase, but that there would be no development, no more new neighborhoods or settlement spots, no outpost and no expansions.

All at once, the weighty billions of shekels were now directed immediately to the education budget (almost doubled), to infrastructure (Israel’s large [highway] interchanges were built then), welfare, employment, technology, border cities [where continued unrest compromised their development], to the development towns, toward narrowing the gaps between Jews and Arabs. Rabin’s government established academic colleges (before Rabin’s era, there were only Israel’s universities and one college, the College of Management Academic Studies). Rabin’s innovation led to the return of 55,000 Israeli students who were studying abroad. (Today, more than 100,000 students attend academic colleges.) The chief scientist’s budget was doubled. Salaries in the public sector were raised. The National Health Insurance Law was passed (Hospitals in the country’s periphery were strengthened (Nahariya, Beer Sheva, Zefat, Tiberias). The ''Sheves law'' [named after the head of Rabin's office, making building permits procedure more flexible] was enacted to solve the housing conundrum. Apartments were sold to young couples from state assets. Much money was invested in slums. The government returned to taking care of its citizens, to the large majority of its citizens living within the Green Line, the Negev, the Galilee, Jews as well as Arabs.

I am not one of those who think that Rabin was perfect. Far from it. He was a person with many shortcomings, he was not an accomplished orator like Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] — not even close to it. The truth is that Rabin really lacked personal charisma; he sometimes retaliated against others; he made difficult mistakes — but he knew how to make decisions, then carry out his plans. Rabin restored the shattered Israel-United States relations, even vis-à-vis Bush the father (he received the guarantees that were not given to Shamir; the validity dates of these guarantees were extended this very week) — but especially vis-à-vis Bill Clinton. Rabin’s choice of peace opened Israel to the world. Many don’t remember but Israel in 1992 was almost a country under siege. The peace process brought here 260 multinational and international companies in all the different fields; from Toyota to McDonalds, everyone streamed here. Israel's financial sector went sky high. Scores of kings, Presidents and prime ministers waited on line to visit the Holy Land. Eitan Haber [Rabin's bureau chief] was forced to mobilize his own relatives in order to populate the countless state dinners needed to host these foreign dignitaries. Rabin himself visited countries that no Israeli leader had set foot in previously: Indonesia, the Oman sultanate, and Korea is a partial list. Economic growth took off, unemployment plummeted, Israel's image changed completely and almost overnight rose to the world super league.

Personally, I went to New York in 1991 as a Ma’ariv emissary, and when I returned to Israel in 1995, it looked like a different country. Channel 2 [first commercial TV channel] was operating, cables for cable TV had been put into place, highway interchanges had been built, the high-tech industry had started to prosper, barriers were removed, Israel was released all at once from its long shackles, and joined the enlightened world. Relations with the United States became more strategic than ever, the Americans released “super computers” for our benefit that allowed us to upgrade the Internet server system, resources were found (that were diverted from the settlements) to plan and begin work on Road 6, to build Ben-Gurion airport 2000 project, to construct the city of Modiin. The flag of Israel waved over seven new diplomatic missions in seven different Arab countries.

No one knows what would have happened had Rabin remained alive, how the peace-adventure would have ended. Would Rabin have defeated the young Netanyahu in 1996? Where would he have led Israel? Yes, the Oslo process collapsed and many feel that it was proof that we had no peace partner. Even if that is true, we need to remember that Israel must continue to strive for peace under all circumstances. For Israel to retain a solid status in the international sphere, it must continue to have a real peace proposal (not just a hollow speech), similar to the proposals made by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  Fact: Olmert destroyed Gaza at the same exact time as he hosted six major European leaders in his parlor [not forgetting his search for peace]. Why not formulate a real Israeli peace proposal? If there really is no partner, as the right shouts, then there’s no danger that someone will say “yes” to us. And if someone should say “yes”? Then we’ll try it out. Slowly, cautiously, with solid guarantees. But don’t worry, this won’t happen — not with Hamas or the Moslem Brotherhood and the rise of radical Islam. Therefore, it is hard to know where Israel would have gone with Rabin if he had lived.

One way or the other, Israel in 2012 is different in its very essence from Israel in 1992 in additional spheres: true, there were rabbis in 1992, but today they run our lives. Today Israel is a less democratic state, much more religious, extreme, less open. In 1992, soldiers didn’t dare leave during [a performance of] women singers, and messianism had not lifted its head. Today, there is no point to even talking to Netanyahu about a real peace proposal.

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