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Storyville: Yitzhak Rabin

THURSDAY 30th October 2003

Part two of the series examines former general and statesman Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated in 1995 while in the midst of implementing the doomed Oslo peace accords.

Profile

"I consider myself to be in the army of peace today." In a speech to the United States Congress as long ago as 1974, soldier turned statesman Yitzhak Rabin described his own campaign to bring harmony to the Middle East. A former general, the Israeli leader shook hands with many enemies of his military past, and ultimately fell in the name of reconciliation.

Agriculture to army

An introverted, independent child, young Rabin was nevertheless influenced by his mother Rosa, a central figure in Tel Aviv's underground Jewish army. He soon abandoned agricultural school to join the Palmah, an elite military unit that would take on Arabs. After fighting in World War II, Rabin commanded a brigade during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, where his tactical expertise earned him the accolade of "Analytical Brain" and many calls to join the government.

As Israel's chief of staff during the 1967 Six-Day War, he suffered a nervous collapse but led Israeli forces to victory over three Arab armies in less than a week. Following this great triumph, Rabin was finally persuaded to take a political role, that of United States Ambassador. Despite being what Henry Kissinger called "a diplomat without any diplomacy", Rabin befriended Richard Nixon, and secured US arms packages for Israel.

Election victory

Rabin returned home just in time to witness the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli troops prevailed, but the country's devastation forced Prime Minister Golda Meir from office. When Rabin defeated Shimon Peres in the elections, he became Israel's youngest prime minister, and the first born on home soil.

From the outset, he made peace his priority. The Palestinians' Intifada uprising of 1987, as well as Rabin's own battles with Jewish settlers, made clear the size of his task, but he persevered. After his re-election in 1992, the Oslo peace accords culminated in an historic handshake on the White House lawn, between Rabin and the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat.

Critics on both sides included many Jews, who found these overtures a slap in the face and a major blow for Zionism. The bitterness of those opposed to compromise found a target in Rabin and, in November 1995, a Jewish fanatic assassinated him in the middle of a peace rally. Yitzhak Rabin's death, and the continuing years of turmoil and terror in the Middle East, have rendered hollow his words back in 1993, "Enough of blood and tears. Enough."