Israel and America on the Wrong Side of History

MELBOURNE – Shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination by a right-wing Jewish extremist in November 1995, I met him in Tel Aviv. I was visiting Israel as Australia’s foreign minister to argue the case for rapid implementation of the Oslo peace accords – all the way through to negotiated acceptance of Palestinian statehood. I concluded my pitch by saying, with perhaps a little more cheek than was appropriate, “But of course I’m preaching to the converted.” Rabin’s response is etched in my memory. He paused, then said with a little half-smile: “To the committed, not the converted.”

For all his deep emotional attachment to the idea of Israel embracing all of historical Judea and Samaria, Rabin knew that the only way to ensure a democratic Jewish state with viable, secure borders was to accept a Palestinian state alongside it, equally secure and viable. They would share Jerusalem as a capital, and find a mutually acceptable solution to the enormously sensitive issue of the return of Palestinian refugees.

Rabin’s murder was a catastrophe from which the peace process has never recovered. No Israeli leader since has shown anything like his far-sighted vision, commitment, and capacity to deliver a negotiated two-state solution.

Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert came close, but not close enough. And since then Binyamin Netanyahu has lived down to every expectation of his statesmanship. His routine capitulation to the demands of the most extreme elements of a manifestly dysfunctional Knesset, and his continuing support of his impossibly divisive and pugnacious foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, have earned him little praise at home or abroad. One need not be naïve or in denial about the Palestinians’ multiple problems and missteps over the years to recognize that most of the recent obstacles to progress have been erected in Israel.