Of all the tributes Monday to Yitzhak Rabin’s achievements, the most profound came not from the rhetoric on the podium but from the simple presence of Jordan’s King Hussein and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in this disputed holy city.
The two leaders plus officials from four other Arab countries, risking displeasure at home and throughout the Arab world, ignored their long boycott of Israeli-controlled Jerusalem to join mourners here. And for many Israelis, it was living proof that the embattled peace process championed by their slain prime minister had broken, if only briefly, their long isolation in the Middle East.
“The agenda of these Arab leaders is not the future of Jerusalem. That will be decided on another day,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a professor at the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. “But their message was that this assassination will not stop the peace process. It is a message for the Israeli people, really.”
The moment was particularly poignant for Hussein. Monday marked his first visit to Jerusalem, which lies just a few hours’ drive from his palace in Jordan, since the Rabin-led Israeli army captured the eastern half of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
“Let’s not keep silent. Let our voices rise high … as did my grandfather in this very city when I was with him as a young boy,” King Hussein said before the thousands of Rabin mourners.
Hussein’s grandfather was assassinated in 1951 on the Temple Mount by a lone Palestinian gunman as his grandson looked on. Some say Hussein himself, then just a teenager, was struck by a bullet that ricocheted off a medal on his chest.
“… When my time comes, I hope it will be like my grandfather’s and like Yitzhak Rabin’s.”
Advisers to both Hussein and Mubarak took pains to point out that the journey to Jerusalem did not constitute political recognition for Israeli control of the city, which is also claimed by Arabs. “It signifies the interest of both Amman (the Jordanian capital) and Cairo in the peace process,” one Arab analyst said.
“On a subject like this, one ceases to look at the political issues,” said Marwan Mouasher, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel. “The king was Rabin’s partner in peace and … he really wanted to come, regardless of the political repercussions. This does not change our position on Jerusalem.”
In all, representatives from six Arab countries - including Oman, Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania - attended the funeral.
Also among the mourners at the Jewish cemetery, where leaders of five wars with Arab states are buried, were top officials of the Palestinian Authority, which governs former occupied lands. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat did not make a personal appearance, although he had expressed dismay at the killing and had wanted to attend.
Egyptian leader Mubarak had never been to Jerusalem and had not visited Israel during his 14 years as president, despite repeated invitations. Asked if there was any political significance to his decision to attend the funeral, Mubarak said: “I don’t look at this as a political mission. I’m just here to convey my condolences. The Egyptian people know I am coming here to do a duty. The Egyptian people do not like blood and murder.”