Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel was a soldier turned statesman who led his country into uncharted territory to make peace with the Palestinians and put an end to the wars, bloodshed, and terrorism that had plagued his country since its founding.
It was Gen. Rabin, the commander-in-chief of Israel’s armed forces in 1967, who had led the lightning strike that captured broad swaths of Arab territories.
Twenty-six years later, on Sept. 13, 1993, it was Prime Minister Rabin who reluctantly extended his hand to Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, to put a symbolic seal of approval on an accord that would lead to the return of much of that territory and to Palestinian self-rule.
In an extraordinary ceremony at the White House, Rabin came face-to-face with Arafat - the man who had been reviled for decades by Israelis as the mastermind behind one attack after another on their people, the man with whom the following year he and his foreign minister, Shimon Peres, would share the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The time for peace has come,” Rabin declared. “We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes … we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians - we say today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.”
Speaking as much to his own people as to the astonished world that was watching, Rabin explained in mournful tones how painful and how necessary it was for Israel to take this step.
“It’s not so easy - either for myself as a soldier in Israel’s war nor for the people of Israel. … It is certainly not easy for the families of the victims of the war’s violence, terror, whose pain will never heal, for the many thousands who defended our lives and their own and have even sacrificed their lives for our own. For them this ceremony has come too late.”
But he said Israel was not seeking revenge. It was seeking peace.
The tragedy was that some of Rabin’s own people were seeking revenge. As Rabin came closer to achieving his goal of peace, a wide schism opened within the Israeli populace. Much of the bitterness of those opposed to making peace with Israel’s historic enemies was directed at Rabin.
Rabin was the first of Israel’s eight prime ministers to have been born in the land of Palestine, a Sabra who had not experienced the long history of attacks on European Jewry and the horror of the Holocaust. With his election, Israel turned over its leadership from the fathers to the sons and he appealed for a new vision.
On taking office in 1992 for his second term as prime minister, Rabin said it was time for Israel to jettison its siege mentality.
“No longer is it true that the whole world is against us,” he said. He accepted his election as a mandate to make peace. One of his first steps was to put a freeze on all new construction in the occupied territories.
For their part, the Palestinians were ready to deal. With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the PLO was deprived of diplomatic, financial, and military support.
At the same time, the PLO was reeling from the loss of contributions from wealthy Arab states angered by Arafat’s support of Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
To achieve agreement with the Palestinians, Rabin followed the lead of Peres, a Labor Party colleague and longtime political rival. They had fought for decades over the leadership of the party and the country, but they joined forces in the search for peace.
To the opposition that branded Rabin a “traitor,” the prime minister replied that peace must be made with enemies, not with friends.