Yitzchak Rabin & the hope for peace

On November 4th it will have been exactly 18 years since the assassination of Israel’s 5th prime minister. Yitzchak Rabin had been addressing a mass rally in Tel Aviv after which an extreme right-wing Jew fired three shots directly at Rabin, two of which hit him and led to his death less than an hour later at the nearby Ichilov Hospital.

Rabin’s murderer had opposed the prime ministers signing of the Oslo Accords – a document that laid out a framework to resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Yizchak Rabin had strived to achieve peace and reconciliation between his people and their neighbours but almost 18 years on we are still waiting to see his vision achieved.

Why is making peace so difficult? International conflict brings with it so many negative consequences including physical injuries and casualties, disruption of trade and business, destruction of infrastructure and constant feelings of insecurity.

Some conflicts are resolved relatively quickly but Israeli-Palestinian conflict is has raged on despite continued efforts to make peace.

I suppose a more specific question to ask is; why is it so difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace?

Though many issues prevent Israelis and Palestinians from reaching a consensus there are widely accepted to be six unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict that present the biggest challenge to peace. These are:

  1. Final borders
  2. Settlements
  3. Jerusalem
  4. Security Needs
  5. Refugees
  6. Water resources

Humour me for a moment. Pick one of the issues listed above and try to think of the conflicting perspectives Israeli’s and Palestinians might hold on it. Try to think of both an Israeli and Palestinian perspectives on the issue.

Take Jerusalem as an example. The city contains sacred and holy sites for both Jews and Muslims. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital and this part of the city already has a majority of Muslims. They promise to provide free access to all religious sites – Jewish and non-Jewish – if they gain control over them. The Israelis promise the same and emphasis their right and the importance of a united Jerusalem. How can we resolve these two conflicting views on Jerusalem? How can we resolve the conflicting views on the remaining five issues?

I do not have the answers but it is important to be aware that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict will be very challenging and that there are no simple solutions. Yitzchak Rabin understood this…John Lennon did not.

Lennon outlined his vision for world peace in the lyrics to the his song Imagine:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Rather than promoting acceptance and tolerance Lennon’s approach requires people to remove and divest of their differences. For him, achieving peace requires people to give up any form of individualistic identity thus rendering disagreement near impossible. Lennon was indeed a dreamer and the reality is that peace can only come from making tough choices and engaging with those who hold differing views.

Yitzchak Rabin was willing to do this because he understood that only through engagement with the Palestinians and a desire on both sides to compromise and find mutual ground could the conflict come to an end. It is tragic that his life was cut short and he was unable to fulfill his vision for peace. Today the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is full of dreamers and extremists but we must try to take practical measures towards ending this war.