Former Post managing editor Avi Hoffman takes the opportunity to lambaste the indulgent prison treatment of Yigal Amir, the assassin who murdered Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. First, though, he credits Amir with sole responsibility for the destruction of Oslo's prospects for Middle East peace:
Yigal Amir is one of the most successful assassins in history. Ten years ago Amir's victim, Yitzhak Rabin, was riding a wave of glory.
Great and small nations of East and West were enthusiastically endorsing the Israeli premier's peace process with the Palestinians. Rabin was firmly navigating his country and the region into the promising waters of the "New Middle East." Rabin was the star of the Amman economic conference. Delegations from the Far and Near East, North Africa, Europe and the Americas vied for his attention. His keynote address was the main focus of the event.
Relations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world had never been better.
Then Amir shot Rabin in the back.
As the murderer had intended, the peace process crumbled. Palestinian terror escalated into new levels of outrage. Palestinians and Israelis were thrust into a vortex of terror and counter-terror.
It probably didn't bother the assassin much that hundreds of Arabs were killed in the collateral fallout from Rabin's killing and the death of the peace process. But it might have given him some pause that hundreds of Jews were killed as well.
The story of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin is the stuff of high tragedy. What if Rabin had not been killed? Would he have succeeded in bringing peace to his people and the region?
So everything was beautiful on the road to peace under the leadership of the beloved wise leader Yitzhak Rabin, until Yigal Amir gunned him down, plunging the region into unstoppable violence. Right?
Set aside the rhetorical question of how genuine that peace could have been if it depended on the leadership of a single man. Sticking to the facts: the situation of 1995 Israel was far from Hoffman's description.
By late 1995, the Oslo agreement was already viewed by most Israelis as a failure. Suicide terror bombings in Israel had begun with the 1994 launch of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and Jericho; 1995 had seen bombings outside Netanya, in Kfar Darom, in Ramat Gan and in Jerusalem. Arafat took no action to stop these attacks, and frequently spoke in praise of them. Clear majorities of Israelis opposed the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the remaining Palestinian cities, as called for in the Israel-Palestinian agreements.
Internationally, Israel and Israeli leaders may have been feted at conferences, but when negotiations broke down, Israel was always the one held accountable for not being "generous" enough. As long as there were more concessions on offer, they loved us. We may have won friends, but not allies.
Meanwhile, Rabin's government had also lost its majority in the Knesset; it governed with minority support. The second phase of the Oslo plan, including the withdrawals from the rest of the cities, passed the Knesset by a single vote, thanks only to two right-wing legislators Rabin had bribed with plum cabinet appointments.
On the popularity front, Rabin trailed steadily in the polls behind Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu throughout 1995: see here, here, here, here and here. We all know the limitations of polls, especially more than a year before the elections, but the mood was clear: Israelis had turned against Oslo and Rabin, disillusioned by the upsurge in terror and the repeated bad faith displayed by Arafat and his minions.
In short, it was not Amir who destroyed the peace process. It was already in tatters by the time he made his move. This does not make his action any less heinous, but clearly the Oslo process was already doomed by that time. If anything, the public backlash against Rabin's murder lent new support to the policies he had backed and anger at the opposition, who were tainted by Amir's association. Netanyahu immediately plunged in the polls, and only managed to pull even with Peres due to another wave of deadly suicide bombings - bombings triggered not by Amir or by the death of Rabin, but in response to Peres's decision to assassinate Palestinian bombmaker Yehya Ayash. Would Rabin have done any less?
Update (Sept. 16): Arguably, Amir saved Oslo. Had Netanyahu defeated Rabin, it would rightly have been seen as a public repudiation of the entire Oslo process. After the assassination, though, rejecting Oslo became tantamount to giving the murderer a victory. Instead, Netanyahu campaigned on a platform of insisting on reciprocity in Oslo's implementation, thus granting the agreement the Likud's retroactive stamp of approval.
For a different recollection of late 1995, see Emanuel Cohn's commentary from the same day:
Gaza, 1995. Though my tank brigade is stationed in the Jordan Valley, I am deployed to Rafiah. Rafiah lies in the Southern Gaza Strip, on the Israeli-Egyptian border. Together with some of my colleagues, I am charged with the mission of delivering weapons to the Palestinian Authority. Some of my fellow soldiers refuse this job, but I volunteer for it.
Read the rest. That's the 1995 I remember.
Postscript: Regarding Hoffman's main topic, I have no sympathy for Yigal Amir or his rights in prison. But the rule of law - worshipped dutifully by the Israeli left - demands that prisoners be treated equally, punished in accordance with their sentences as determined by law and the courts, however detestable their acts. This whole farce would be spared us if only Israel could mete out the only appropriate and just punishment for premeditated murder: the death penalty. But that, apparently, would be inhumane. The criminal deserves civil rights he never accorded his victim. Go figure.
Keywords: Israel, terrorism, peace, Palestinians