TWENTY-five years ago next week, just moments after addressing a rally in Tel Aviv, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing extremist who opposed his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
Twenty five years on – as Palestinian terror continues to claim innocent Israeli lives and with the Palestinian leadership continuously refusing each and every offer on the table, scuppering numerous attempts over the decades to secure a negotiated settlement – there are many who say the war hero who shook hands with his one-time enemies was sadly misguided in his endeavours.
As rockets rain down from Gaza and incitement from Ramallah encourages car rammings in the West Bank and stabbings on the streets of Jerusalem, Rabin’s claims that “we have found a partner for peace among the Palestinians” and that “the PLO has ceased to engage in terrorism” may seem as hollow today as they did to his critics at the time.
Nonetheless, the vision he expressed, of an Israel no longer at war with its neighbours, is one we still share and cherish.
As Rabin said in his final speech, “Peace is first of all in our prayers, but it is also the aspiration of the Jewish people.”
In recent weeks that quest for peace has taken a different turn. No longer, it seems, is a settlement with the Palestinians a precursor to peace with the rest of the Arab world. Last month we witnessed historic steps towards normalisation of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and in the past few days Sudan has also agreed to make peace with Israel.
The latter is particularly significant as Sudan fought Israel on the battlefield in 1948 and was the setting for the 1967 Khartoum Resolution which saw the Arab League declare, “No to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.” Now Khartoum has said “yes” to all three.
Today, we are witnessing the dawn of a new Middle East.
While the Palestinian leadership has so far condemned the progress that Israel made with its erstwhile enemies, we can but hope that they too will finally come to the table, fulfilling Rabin’s vision and recognising his words, “The path of peace is preferable to the path of war.”