This week Israel mentions the day of the assassination of its Prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, 18 years ago. Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist, that opposed to the Oslo Accords of the beginning of the 1990s. 18 years later, and the myth of Rabin as a peacemaker begins to crack: it’s a good opportunity for a brief insight into contemporary Israeli public opinion, and the dismissal of old narratives regarding the long lasting conflict with the Palestinians.
The old narrative of the Israeli left wing says that the peace process died together with Rabin. In short, the notion is that if only Rabin would live to see the Oslo Accords through, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would start to end. Since 1995, Rabin is repeatedly portrayed as a peacemaker that was taken in the midst of his quest for peace. To undermine this picture of Rabin was considered until lately, a taboo. Eighteen years and four prime ministers later, with a peace agreement nowhere in sight, public discourse in the Israeli society starts showing signs of a collapse for this narrative.
Both sides of the Israeli political map allow themselves to gradually dismiss the aura of the old leader and commander. On the one side, right wing personas and opinion leaders return to the pre-assassination rhetoric, condemning Rabin as a traitor, a criminal and an accomplice. The notion that the murder was prompted by political and religious incitement is highly accepted in the Israeli discourse. For this reason, any condemnation of Rabin after the murder was bound to be connected with the frightening forces that lead to such an act. But today, it is no longer a strict taboo to point out Rabin’s cooperation with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a miserable decision, or to undermine his political and personal integrity.
On the other side of the political map, it is no longer a taboo to point out that Rabin was not always, or actually never was, a romantic peace-warrior. Instead, his past as a fierce and merciless general and his image as “the Bone Breaker” of the first Intifada is being emphasized. He is also referred to as a symbol of the old generation of politicians, that began their military or political career before the establishment of the state, and that nurtured inequality and the “melting pot” idea, erasing cultural identities of minority groups.
The possibility for such a discourse shift originates in a series of changes in the Israeli political landscape. The continuous failure of the so-called “peace process” with the Palestinian Authority. The socio-economical discourse established since 2008, overshadowing the importance of a solution to the conflict. Radicalization of both the right wing and the left wing in Israel. All these are some of the factors that allow the image of Rabin as a peacemaker and the death of the peace process with him to be undermined.
But this might signal another change in narratives. The perception of the “two states solution” as the only possible and reasonable ending for the conflict is being dismantled, again not only from one side. The two state solution is still the primary one suggested by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. But within the Israeli political discourse, it is no longer a taboo to speak out other ways of dealing with the fragile situation.
For starters, the idea of maintaining the status quo rises up. It was there in the past, but now it is no longer being whispered, but shouted out. The idea is that this conflict is unsolvable, and that the best thing for Israel to do is to bear with the situation, including violent collisions. Another less realistic idea is the creation of a confederation of Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
The idea of “one state solution” is also raising its head. Being a big taboo in the past, reserved only for radical left-wing intellectuals, the idea of one secular and equal state is now on the rise. As unrealistic as it sounds, the notion is to create a one operational state with cultural, lingual and some political autonomy for the two national groups, similar to Belgium. The supporters of such an idea, with me among them, claim that this is possible. Maybe not in the next 10 years or even 20, but in order to get to a social political situation in which this dream can come true, one must first nurture the idea. Ideas have the power to change reality, any revolutionary knows that. As the generation that grew up without Rabin as a father figure, and without the two states solution binding our hands – our job is to kick the old taboos, and create new ideas – no matter how farfetched they look in the present.
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