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Why Rabin Shook Arafat’s Hand

New book reveals PM’s motives

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Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands on the White House lawn.(The Knesset)

Slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to strike a deal with Yasser Arafat because, he told a top aide three days before he was assassinated, “[Arafat] and his [Palestine Liberation Organization] represent the last vestige of secular Palestinian nationalism.”

So we learn in a forthcoming book by that aide, Yehuda Avner. Rabin was extremely skeptical about Arafat’s desire and ability to make lasting peace, but, according to Avner, Rabin also felt that the alternative—the rise of Hamas and other jihadist groups, and the subsequent transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a political one to a religious one—was far, far less promising. “While a political conflict is possible to solve through negotiation and compromise,” Rabin argued, “there are no solutions to a theological conflict. Then it is jihad— religious war: their God against our God. Were they to win, our conflict would go from war to war, and from stalemate to stalemate.”

17 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords (and 15 years after Rabin’s death), that sounds nauseatingly familiar. The conflict is more religious than it was—on both sides—and peace remains elusive. Which does not prove that Rabin chose the worse or worst of his options: he very well may have had no good ones. However, it does mean that the path he took, from the perspective of the present anyway, failed.

Where Rabin was indisputably prescient was in his theory (anticipating that of Tablet Magazine contributing editor Jeffrey Goldberg in this piece) that Israel could actually find common cause with its Arab neighbors over shared enmity with Iran. He apparently told Avner that “Iranian-inspired Islamic fundamentalism” threatens Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia as much as it does Israel. He continued:

Iran is the banker, pouring millions into the West Bank and Gaza in the form of social welfare and health and education programs, so that it can win the hearts of the population and feed religious fanaticism.

Thus, a confluence of interest has arisen between Israel and the inner circle, whose long-term strategic interest is the same as ours: to lessen the destabilizing consequences from the outer circle. At the end of the day, the inner circle recognizes they have less to fear from Israel than from their Muslim neighbors, not least from radicalized Islamic powers going nuclear.

So if you see any “radicalized Islamic powers going nuclear,” do speak up.

Rabin Thought Peace With Arafat Was Only A ‘Long Shot’ [JPost]
Related: How Iran Could Save The Middle East [The Atlantic]

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Why Rabin Shook Arafat’s Hand

New book reveals PM’s motives

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