07 February 2023

Yitzhak Rabin's great career

Leah and Yitzhak Rabin
Jewish Boston

Years ago, I wrote a post about the terrible loss of Yitzhak Rabin (1922–1995) .  From his humble beginnings, Rabin’s family path exactly followed my own family’s and that may be why my parents admired him so warmly. Rabin’s parents, who came from the Ukraine, raised their children with a strong sense of Zionism, socialism and workers’ rights.

A book has been published called Yitzhak Rabin: Solider, Leader, Statesman, written by Itamar Rabinovich, by Yale University Press (2017). This re­vealing account of Yitzhak Rabin’s life, character and efforts drew both on original research and on the author’s memories as a close aide. The book covered Rabin’s military career before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948; the stunning victory in the Six Day War in 1967 when he served as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Forces; his term as ambass­ador to the USA (1968-72); his first term as prime minister (1974-77); and his role as Minist­er of Def­ence in the late 1980s.

Itamar Rabinovich asked how did Rabin move from be­ing a hawkish general and prime min­ister of a state whose political identity was forged in war, religious nationalism and the threat of destruction? How did he commit him­self to relentlessly struggling for peace?

The author analysed Rab­in’s relat­ionships with powerful leaders including Bill Clin­ton, Jord­an’s King Hussein and Henry Kiss­inger, and the political developments that shaped his tenure. There was also a focus on Rabin’s relat­ion­ships with imp­ortant Israeli pol­it­icians. Rabin and Shimon Peres dom­inated the Labour Party for many years, and the two men shared a long rivalry. Their rivalry during Rabin's first gov­ern­ment led to vigorous diff­erences regard­ing settlement the Occupied Territories. Rabin also disagreed with Abba Eban, Foreign Minister (1966-74).
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Ar­af­at, 
on the White House lawn with President Bill Clinton. 
Sept 1993, BBC

Already before Rabin began his second term as prime minister (1992-5), he saw that Israeli morale was declining. He noted the large numbers of Tel Aviv residents who left the city in 1991, due to the Gulf War Scud missiles that rained on the city. And he was devast­ated when the ter­rorists massacred Jewish school children in Jer­us­alem.

Rabin’s decision to push peace plans was extended to the most urg­ent of Israel's neighbours i.e Syria under Hafez al-Assad. Rabin's state­ment, which was con­vey­ed through the USA Secretary of State Warren Christoph­er, sug­g­es­ted a complete Israeli with­drawal from the Golan Heights; in exch­ange there would be a full peace, free-standing and started before Israel's full with­drawal. Rab­in­ovich blamed the Americans for mishandling Rabin’s peace proposal. Warren Christ­oph­er, for his part, believed Asad's reply was less negat­ive than Rab­in said it was. Rabin and Clinton’s team argued for the first time.

When Syria would not sign a peace agreement, Rabin turned his at­t­ention to the Palestin­ians under Yasser Arafat. Consider the Oslo Peace Process, the signature policy of Rabin’s second term as prime minister. This process recorded the emergence, the dev­el­opment and eventual breakdown of the peace negotiations bet­ween Israel and the PLO, from 1991 on. In Sept 1993 the two men sign­ed a historic declaration of princ­ip­les, pledging to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

I was very wary about reading more about Rabin’s assassination at the hands of a Jewish right wing killer. But there were still ques­tions to be asked and answered since 1995. What were the implicat­ions of Rabin’s policies? What were the effects of his assass­inat­ion? How did Netanyahu and the right wing win the next election, so soon after Rabin signed the Oslo Accord in 1993 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994? Why did Oslo fail? Had Rabin lived, might Israel have changed direction? Was Yasser Arafat’s unexpected death in 2004 the result of assassination as well?

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Foreign minister Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, 1994.

Rabin’s second term as PM was momentous and to some extent dictates Israel's polit­ical debates even now. The Oslo process, which began in 1993, might appear to be dead, but its goal in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by partitioning the land is alive (UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967). The Israeli govern­ment currently under Prime Minis­t­er Binyamin Netanyahu opposes it, but the two-state solution is the only viable option for the safety of Jews and the acceptance of a Jewish state by the rest of the world.

Danielle Celermajer suggested that all readers respond to this biography according to their pre-existing position on Israel. If they regarded the 1948 War of Indep­end­ence as an act of force­ful colonialism, then Rabin’s role in building the newly developed Israeli Defence Force would have been criticised. After all, he led the IDF as chief of staff in the 1967 Six Day War. If they saw the Oslo Accords as a betrayal of the Jewish people on right wing pol­it­ical grounds, the Prime Minister Rabin would have been seen a traitor. If read­ers believed Mid­dle Eastern terrorists wanted to wipe Israel off the map, they would have supported Rabin to the last day of his life. This political dove and a military hawk provoked very different responses.

Rabinovich served as amb­assador to the USA (1993-6) and headed the negotiation team with Syria under Rabin. Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing killer who opposed the signing of the Oslo Accords. Rabin had been attending a mass rally in Tel Aviv in Nov 1995. I still cannot believe the sense of loss now :(

The author continued under Rabin's suc­c­es­s­or, Shimon Peres, until he resigned when Netanyahu won the 1996 el­ection. How appropriate that Rabinovich’s book on Rab­in’s bold peace initiatives appeared on the Six Day War's 50th anniversary.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - thanks for this informative review - definitely a book I'd like to read and have ordered it ... to give me some thoughts to contemplate about the subject. I'm not sure when I'll actually read it - but I have it to read. Cheers Hilary

roentare said...

You write so well. The information is succinct and effective to read. I found the arguments on two sides of the argument as the source of never-ending conflict. It is such a mess.

Hels said...


I agree. Sometimes we have to broaden our historical reading. I knew all about Yitzhak Rabin but I knew nothing about King Tut, for example. Even if you are not familiar with this part of modern history, you will find that Itamar Rabinovich did an excellent job with "Yitzhak Rabin: Solider, Leader, Statesman"

Hels said...


It is an internal mess because Israel started in 1948 as a proud socialist state where everyone was equal, and health care and education were free. Today Israel has a right wing government where religion, the military and foreign affairs dominate. Yitzhak Rabin's prime ministerial terms came right in the middle, where he was trying to bring both sides of the body politic to pursue peace above all other issues.

bazza said...

Rabin was, by any definition, a great man. His loss has had a far-reaching affect on Israel but I believe that many Jewish people around the world are wary of Netanyahu and the complexion of the current Government.

Yael said...

This time is among the most difficult we have experienced here. There are no longer leaders like Rabin and his generation. The future does not look good.

DUTA said...

I'm against any murder, political or non-political. I was, of course, shattered by Rabin's assasunation.
Haven't read the above book, and don't intend to read it as I don't take interest in politicians and politics. I believe they are the main source of evil.

mem said...

Very interesting . I remember when Rabin was killed Your writing about it brings it into focus . What I find mind boggling is that such aa tiny country can have such a huge effect on world security and whatever goes down in Israel inevitably causes ripples throughout the world .
Personally I think as citizens all of us need to exercise our minds and think about politics because if we don't Trump happens , Hitler happens and Putin happens .

Joe said...

I hope Amir is never released for the rest of his life.

Hels said...


In the March 2021 elections, Israel's 4th election in two years, voter turnout was down throughout the country and more fragmented!! Yet a comparison to the 2020 round of elections shows how a more substantial downturn in voting in religious and rightwing strongholds resulted in a significant weakening of Netanyahu's Likud party (Prof Kenig). So even voters WITHIN Israel are wary of Netanyahu.

Hels said...


Agreed..Rabin and his generation were the most moral, peace-oriented and competent of all the parliaments that I remember well. We lived in Israel under Yigal Allon and Golda Meir but even back in Australia, Yitzhak Rabin seemed outstanding.

Re the future, I am hopeful the voters will return a more moral Knesset.

Hels said...


I know what you are saying.. but I don't believe politicians are the main source of evil. Unless the voters are brainwashed, ignorant or disenfranchised, it is the voters who would be the source of evil... and that isn't true.

I must ask my Israeli son if he has read the book.

Hels said...


In one way I agree with you about Hitler, Trump and Putin. In 1934, Hindenburg died and Hitler replaced him as the head of state AND government. Trump was a head of state and may be one again. Putin was a prime minister but is now a head of state.

So we should be totally grateful that parliament holds power in Britain, Australia etc etc and the head of state cannot overrule or sack the voters' legitimately elected representatives.

Hels said...


Amir's successful assassination followed three failed attempts in 1995. That these plots failed only made the killer more determined :(

In 2001 the Knesset approved the Yigal Amir Law, which prohibited a parole board from shortening gaol time for murdering a Prime Minister. All of Amir's appeals for release have failed since his life sentence was given, especially since former Prime Ministers reaffirmed that Amir would never be released! We will see if radical right-wing campaigns change the mind of more right wing Prime Ministers.

Ulpan Integraliah said...

Rabin was re-elected Prime Minister in July 1992 but from October, following the crash of flight 1862 El Al on the Dutch district of Bijlmermeer Amsterdam, he had to face a major diplomatic crisis. Rabin’s mandate took on a historic dimension when he signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, creating the Palestinian Authority and ceding partial control of certain areas of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to the Palestinians for the first time. Under his mandate, Yasser Arafat officially renounced the use of violence and recognized Israel in an official letter. Rabin recognized the PLO in return in September 1993. Rabin also signed the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty in 1994.

Ulpan Integraliah

Andrew said...

Most of your readers are far more educated than I am, so I will read their comments with care before commenting.

It seems like Rabin was a good man who achieved great things when in office. I've heard of the current leader's plan to reduce the power of courts, and that is of great concern.

What concerns me and has for years is Israel taking over Palestinian land for Jewish settlers. It is not like the settlers are even building nice housing and towns.

As I intimated, my view is simplistic and somewhat headline reading.

Hels said...


Thank you. Those are three amazing events, a magic moment in history:
1. Rabin signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, creating the Palestinian Authority and ceding partial control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to the Palestinians.
2. Yasser Arafat officially renounced the use of violence and recognised Israel and
3. Rabin recognised the PLO.

Hels said...


I too heard of the current leader's plan to reduce the power of courts, and it is of GREAT concern.

Parliament and the courts are quite separate. If the court's ability to strike down parliamentary laws or administrative decisions is overridden, it will have no ability to perform crucial oversight over Israel's political system. Parliament makes statute laws and the courts interpret the law!

Somewhat similarly, Trump knew to wait until three progressive judges retired, and made three uber conservative Supreme Court nominees in their place. That presumably changed their court for decades.

My name is Erika. said...

Sometimes it is sad when politicians who actually do something good for a nation (and for others too) have to leave office, only to be replaced by people with other ideas. I guess that in the long run it creates balance, but sometimes that long run goes on for a very long time. This was an interesting read, and the book sounds like a good one.We can all hope for peace in the Middle East. And worldwide too. We don't have to look too hard to find war-useless war in my opinion. And it seems like so many countries worldwide are trending backwards sometimes instead of into a more peaceful future. Perhaps we need more people with forward thinking or peaceful ideas.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa tarde e uma excelente quarta-feira. Excelente matéria minha querida amiga. Um dos maiores homens do século XX.

Hels said...


there are many countries worldwide that are NOT moving forward towards a peaceful future, and I can't see much changing. Often times they are civil wars, where the government/army oppresses and kills their own citizens eg Myanmar, Ethiopia, Syria, Somalia, Yemen. However we hear much more about wars between nations eg Russia/Ukraine.

Will it ever end?

Hels said...


a truly great leader, yes. But imagine paying with his life, murdered by a far right fellow-citizen :(

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Thank you for this important review of the career of Yitzhak Rabin. Your article triggered a very long-ago memory of a song, "Nasser Waits for General Rabin." I was able to locate this on Youtube:


although my memory of the song is not quite so bouncy or "silly". Perhaps there are other versions out there.

Hels said...


oh goodness, I remember the Six Day War so well, after having spent 1966 in Israel doing my Gap Year. But I don't think I was smart enough in 1967 to know much about General Yitzchak Rabin's role. Simple song memories apparently last longer in our minds than detailed newspaper coverage!