25 years after assassination, Rabin-lit hope for peace with Palestinians dims

Israeli mindset has shifted due to terror attacks, Hamas control of Gaza and, more recently, normalization deals with Arab states

Israelis light candles, as part of a display of 25,000 memorial candles in honor of the 25th Memorial Day for the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on October 29, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis light candles, as part of a display of 25,000 memorial candles in honor of the 25th Memorial Day for the assassination of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on October 29, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Twenty-five years after prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, enthusiasm appears to have waned among a generation of young Israelis who pledged support for the peace he sought with the Palestinians.

On November 4, 1995 — two years after his famous White House handshake with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sealed the historic Oslo accords — Rabin was gunned down during a peace rally in Tel Aviv.

His murder by a Jewish extremist opposed to Oslo, Yigal Amir, triggered an outpouring of grief, with young Israelis flocking to light candles in the plaza outside Tel Aviv city hall — since renamed Rabin Square.

Adopting the motto to “neither forget, nor forgive,” waves of young Israelis who asserted their demand for peace came to be known as “the Generation of Candles.”

Noa Rothman, the granddaughter of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in Tel Aviv on July 17, 2019. (Gili Yaari/ Flash90)

For Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rothman, whose emotional eulogy at his funeral captured global attention, the thirst for peace expressed by Israeli youth a quarter-century ago has been beaten down by the steady refrain of skeptics.

“We repeated that there was no partner for peace and, in doing so, we sidelined the basis for rapprochement (with the Palestinians),” the 43-year-old told AFP.

Focus “shifted,” she said.

While the trauma of his murder persists, the Generation of Candles’ call to end the Palestinian conflict has dimmed, and for a new crop of young Israelis, ending the conflict is not a top priority, said Ilan Greilsammer, political science professor at Bar Ilan University.

Young people “have shifted their focus,” he said.

Factions of Israeli society continue to push for change, as evident in the sustained protests against right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“But they demonstrate against corruption and attacks on democracy,” not for peace, Greilsammer said.

“Peace with the Palestinians, which was central at Rabin’s time, is no longer so,” he added.

The professor cited a well-known list of factors that have fueled a “weariness” about peace, highlighting the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, with its strategic onslaught of suicide bombers targeting Israeli citizens, and the emergence of Islamist terror group Hamas as rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s presence in the West Bank, which Oslo was intended to greatly reduce, has instead seen the continuing expansion of Jewish settlement construction in the territory that Palestinians want for a future state.

As for Rabin’s Labor party, it now holds just three seats in the 120-member Knesset, a devastating collapse compared to the 44 seats it held in 1992, as Oslo was being negotiated.

“It is difficult to identify anyone who can advance (a peace push),” Greilsammer said.

‘Back on the agenda’?

On Wednesday, to commemorate the anniversary of Rabin’s death on the Hebrew calendar, a group committed to preserving Rabin’s legacy called “Hozrim Lakikar” held a ceremony in his honor in Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, US President Bill Clinton, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, at the Oslo Accords signing ceremony on September 13, 1993. (Wikipedia)

Group member Yotam Yakuba, 31, told AFP he was not surprised by the waning interest among young Israelis in seeking peace.

“The government in power succeeded in making Israelis believe that we did not need to make peace with the Palestinians,” that we could “live with the conflict,” he said, referring to the series of Netanyahu-led right-wing governments in power since 2009.

“I don’t think you can live in conflict forever,” Yakuba added.

Netanyahu has repeatedly boasted that recent normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain proved Israel’s relations with the Arab world did not hinge on the Palestinian issue.

The deals broke decades of Arab League consensus that there should be no normalization with the Jewish state until it makes peace with the Palestinians.

Itamar Banit, who attended a rally in Rabin’s honor in Jerusalem on Saturday, insisted that some Israelis were “trying to put the issue back on the agenda.”

Banit, who was 14 when Rabin was assassinated, refused to concede that the premier’s vision of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel was defunct.

“It’s true that we talk about it less, but the majority of Israelis still support a two-state solution,” he said.

L-R: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan participate in the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House, on September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

For Rabin’s granddaughter, the fact that there is currently no political momentum in Israel toward peace talks with the Palestinians does not render the cause dead.

“Just because an idea is not popular, does not mean it shouldn’t be defended,” Rothman said.

In January, US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace proposal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which envisioned an eventual Palestine state on most of the West Bank, while Israel would gain sovereignty over its settlements and other strategic areas.

Whereas Israel’s leadership welcomed the plan, the Palestinian rejected it entirely.

US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were last held in 2014.

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