DevMode
On that euphoric night in June 1992, listening to Rabin's victory speech, I felt a rush of misgivings which refused to be suppressed. The declarations "I shall make the decisions," "I shall navigate," were not those of a truly strong man. Such men speak more softly. And the grudging manner in which, only under pressure, did he acknowledge the contribution of Peres to the Labor party victory bespoke a meanness of spirit.
This boastful, overly assertive tone jibed ill with the man who dithered and gave in to the settlers in the mid-1970s in Sebastia during his first tenure as Prime Minister. This surrender marked the beginning of the Gush Emunim settlement drive. And Rabin's pettiness in dealing with Peres was a bad omen for the future, when this lack of generosity would later manifest itself in penny-pinching concessions during the negotiations with the Palestinians.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with one of Labor's venerable lead¬ers shortly after the party lost the 1977 elections. Talking of Rabin, the man, who knows him well, remarked: "Yitzhak always had a very good head on his shoulders. But his character ... his character ... " This is an attempt to sketch an outline for a portrait of Rabin's charac¬ter, that of the man who may, unfortunately, be the only one whom the Israeli masses will trust when it comes to making the necessary conces¬sions to the Palestinians (and the Syrians), when the time for decision comes. The point may be, regrettably, that Rabin is not a man capable of making those decisions.
He is known for having no intellectual interests, but also for his clear and cold analysis of situations. His authority among the military is high. He is famous for an enormous capacity for methodical work, for his mastery of detail, for his respect for people "who get things done," and his corre¬sponding contempt for those who "just talk" (hence his known weakness for the company of business leaders and senior officers), for his aloofness from people and lack of psychological insight. The world he inhabits is the world of power, where force is the first means to which one resorts. This is accompanied by a reclusive shyness, a certain brittleness, a tendency, on the one hand, to crumble when faced with what seems to be a superior force, and, on the other, to be brutal towards the weak. These inner ten¬sions and insecurities are apparently the cause of his well-known penchant for the bottle.
Thus, during the siege of Beirut in 1982, he visited the battlefront and advised Sharon (who hardly needed such advice) to "tighten the screws" on the besieged city, by cutting off basic utilities. When the Intifada broke out, he, the Minister of Defense in the National Unity Government, com¬pletely failed to grasp the significance of the spiraling events, and post¬poned for days his return from abroad. And when he did come back, it was he who unleashed the brutality of the troops by advising them to "break the bones" of the insurrectionists.

Dovish Conclusions

The curious things about Rabin's instinctive brutality is that, at the same time, he has had dovish convictions. They are not a new development with him. Even before he became Prime Minister in the 1970s, he said that he wouldn't mind visiting Hebron and Bethlehem on an Arab visa. In a closed meeting held at the time, he carne out firmly in favor of ceding the whole Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace. Rabin arrived at these conclusions on the basis of an analysis of the politico-military-demographic-economic analysis of the situation of Israel, not on any moral or ethical grounds. And his views are apparently shared by most senior officers in the army.
Still, when he did form his first government and could apply these ratio¬nal insights about regional realities, he never implemented them. The with¬drawal from the conquered Egyptian territory was accomplished only by his successor, Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The strange fact is that, to date, Begin and Sharon have been the only Israeli leaders who have had enough nerve and clout to evacuate Jewish settlements.
In his present tenure, Rabin was faced with several major crises during the first year and a half of his administration. It is most instructive to observe how he reacted to them.

Tests of Leadership

The first was the expulsion of the Hamas leaders, at the end of 1992, in retaliation for a terrorist outbreak. The action was decided upon in secrecy and carried out with tremendous speed, and Rabin hid the true scale of the deportation from most of his ministers. It appears that he took very few people into his confidence, and acted largely on the advice of the Chief of Staff, Gen. Barak, true to his inclination to rely first and foremost on mili¬tary counsel.
Here was an action which pandered to public opinion, which was under¬taken swiftly, secretively and decisively, against targets which were large¬ly helpless - and which backfired in a political and propaganda disaster. It was a result which most of the ministers who were not party to the plan could have predicted, not only the Meretz ministers, but also such bal¬anced, cool heads like the Minister of Justice, David Liba'i.
Another example of Rabin's readiness to use a heavy hand was after the Katyusha attacks by Hizbullah on the Galilee in 1993. Again, apparently on Barak's advice, Israel's artillery rained tens of thousands of shells on the towns and villages of southern Lebanon, causing a mass flight to the north by the inhabitants. The action was out of proportion to the provocation, and it is highly likely that the tacit agreements reached with Hizbullah could have been accomplished without this massive display of firepower, bringing terror and misery to tens of thousands. But this was the typical Rabin mode of operation: force used unstintingly, without recourse to diplomacy, as long as you have the upper hand and the opinion of the "street" behind you.

Hebron Massacre

Now comes the third major test, and perhaps the greatest of all - the one which was the turning point of the Rabin administration: the massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in February 1994.
It was, politically, a golden opportunity for Rabin to inflict a deadly blow on the settlement movement. Even Gush Emunim people, and those who sympathize with the settlers, were horrified by the slaughter. A feeling spread, that after this horror, there could never be a place for settlements in Arab territory, and certainly not in Hebron. The nation at large was alienated and disgusted with the settlement movement. The first thing that should have been done, and there was broad consensus on this, was to evacuate the small groups of fanatical settlers from the city of Hebron itself.
The army prepared for it. The government was almost solidly behind it. Everyone in Israel knows that the leadership of the settlement movement, rather than the Likud, is the toughest enemy of peace. Hitting the settle¬ment movement, and opening generous credits for those who want to get out of the settlements and back to Israel proper, would have been natural acts for a government which aims at peace and a rapprochement with the Palestinians.
But nothing happened. The hope for immediate action petered out. And as usual, after the atrocities committed by Jews in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, a curfew was imposed, not on the Jews who perpetrated the atrocity but on the Arabs who were its victims. Many more Arabs were killed and wounded in demonstrations after the massacre, which any sen¬sitive government would have had the sense to permit to run their course in order to blow off some of the pent-up steam of helpless fury. This does not excuse the acts of indiscriminate terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, but it explains much of the support they have gained among the Palestinian masses, even if they sabotage the chances for eventual peace.
Since then we began to hear of vast sums of money being poured into the settlements, despite all the talk of leaving them to "wither on the vine."
"Facts on the ground" are being prepared to cut off Jerusalem from any Arab territorial continuity. Rabin's actions are undermining any prospect of settlement with the Palestinians. And without such a settlement, as Rabin should know full well, all the highly touted peace agreements with the Arab countries will sooner or later become worthless.

Pining for Peres

A last example of Rabin's inept and doomed reliance on force is his behav¬ior after the recent abduction of the soldier Nahshon Wachsman by Hamas. Again, he failed to consult most members of the cabinet, but resorted to a "military solution." By the very summoning of Gen. Barak to organize a commando raid, he in effect doomed Wachsman. Even the fastest and most efficient commando raid could not be faster than the gun aimed at Wachsman's head. Both Rabin and Barak must have known this very well, and had written Wachsman off before the action started. Other questions arise: Why was there no attempt to contact the abductors by megaphone, before the attack commenced, to negotiate and reason with them? Why did Rabin not call on the imprisoned Sheikh Yassin to speak to the abductors, if the primary aim was to save Wachsman and not just to kill the kidnap¬pers? After all, in all such operations there is first an attempt to settle the matter bloodlessly. But Rabin apparently only knew how to handle the big stick - at the expense of Israeli soldiers. The callousness then is aimed not only towards the Arabs. Human life in general doesn't seem to mean much in this calculation. Diplomacy, the search for mutually acceptable solutions, which is the most important element in the present state of Israeli-Palestinian relations, appears a poor second in the way Rabin views the world. One pines for the slickness, adroitness and political savvy of Peres.
Up to a point, until April last year, one could see some reason and logic behind Rabin's actions, one could excuse his twists and turns as necessi¬tated by political maneuvering in the way of achieving the eventual peace and accommodation with the Palestinian people. But not any more.

Fading Authority

We see in these cases Rabin's essential weakness. Whereas he is quick and merciless with Arabs, he has shown weakness and vacillation when faced with determined resistance from the Jewish side, backed by the various branches of the religious establishment who are protecting those settlers who defeated him when the first settlements were established in the OPT, in his first term of office.
If Rabin had shown such pusillanimity in the case of Hebron, when prac¬tically all the cards were stacked in his favor - can anyone imagine him willing to confront the evacuation of settlements in his present, much weakened, political position?
I am very much afraid that Rabin has shot his bolt and failed. All the bright hopes for a new Middle East are beginning to fade with his fading authority.
Perhaps there is one thing which still brings hope that we win emerge from this dark passage - the feelings of utter disgust and despair at the endless conflict, the constant bloodshed, which pervade most of Israeli society. We are no longer in the 1970s, when the Gush was on the offen¬sive, before the Lebanese War and the shabby retreat from that country. We are also after the Gulf War, when Israel tasted for a few days a few drops of the medicine it has been serving steadily to its neighbors, and the memory of the shock of those nights still lingers. Everyone knows that if there is not peace, there will be war, and a bitter and costly one. In present day Israel, nobody, except the religious fanatics, is prepared for that.

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