haass118_J. DAVID AKEAFP via Getty Images_rabin arafat peace J. David Ake/AFP via Getty Images

Learning from Rabin

The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin 25 years ago by a right-wing Jewish extremist almost certainly was a turning point in the Middle East. A quarter-century later, Rabin's goal of a separate Palestinian state remains the only option that can ensure Israel's future as both Jewish and democratic.

NEW YORK – Assassinations are by definition significant because they involve the murder of a prominent individual for political purposes. But not all assassinations constitute turning points. World War I, for example, would likely have happened even without the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The stage was already set for what was to become The Great War, and something else would have provided the spark.

Nor is it obvious that the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy, as significant as it was, was a historical turning point. Some say that, had he lived, he would have limited US involvement in Vietnam, a war that in the hands of his successors ultimately claimed some 58,000 American lives. Obviously, there is no way of knowing. What can be said with some confidence, though, is that the US political system was sufficiently robust that the broad direction of domestic and foreign policy alike were not dependent on a single person.

By contrast, the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin 25 years ago by a right-wing Jewish extremist almost certainly was a turning point in the Middle East. The reason is clear: Rabin may well have been the only Israeli leader of his generation both willing and able to make peace with the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. He saw the need to compromise and was strong enough to take calculated risks and persuade a majority of Israelis that it was wise to do so.

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