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At a time when Israel’s global economic and political prominence was on the rise, the nation’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was tragically gunned down. The three shots fired into Rabin’s back on the night of November 4, 1995, also pierced through a newly emerging Israel. As Israel began to forge significant political bonds with its Arab neighbors after years of territorial conflict, an Israeli law student, Yigal Amir, assassinated Rabin out of religious conviction. Rabin’s premature death left questions as to whether or not his objectives for a peaceful, economically strong Israel would be fully realized. This research paper discusses Rabin’s political and societal contributions to Israel, his relationship with Palestine, and the impact of his untimely death on Israeli politics and its relations with Palestine.
During Rabin’s early years, Israel struggled for national independence. Rabin was born in Jerusalem on March 1, 1922. A little over twenty years later, Rabin fought in the 1948 War of Independence, from which the Jewish population in Palestine could claim Israel as an official state. In 1968, Israel successfully fought against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan during the Six Day War, in which it gained control of the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
Not long after, Rabin entered politics with minimal political experience. In 1974, the incumbent prime minister, Golda Meir of the Israeli Labor Party, stepped down after vociferous public calls for her resignation after Israel’s failure in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Israel suffered a large number of casualties and the loss of limited territory
in the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and Syria during this war. Since Rabin was free from blame, he won the election for prime minister and took the oath of office on June 3, 1974. He faced numerous challenges as a political leader during a tumultuous time in Middle East history.
As prime minister from 1974 to 1977, Rabin contributed greatly to Israel in both the domestic and international arenas. He strategically forged a closer relationship with the White House and the U.S. State Department, a process that began during his tenure as Israeli Ambassador to the United States. This relationship was made evident when Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Israel. The visit was also a way for Nixon to resurrect his falling public stature during the Watergate trials, according to Rabin’s memoirs. This bond became significant as Rabin sought and garnered U.S. support for arms sales to Israel. Rabin also succeeded in finalizing a 1975 interim agreement with Egypt, in which Israel agreed to pull back from the Sinai Peninsula.
Rabin exhibited more skill in
term as prime minister, from 1992 until his assassination in 1995. Israel and Palestine remained
in conflict over the establishment of Israel
separate state. Yet Rabin and Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian
Liberation Organization (PLO), signed the Declaration of Principles (DOP), which aimed to terminate Israel’s occupation of the
Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The Jewish and Arab leaders later signed the Oslo II agreement,
in which Israel
agreed to withdraw from seven West Bank towns and the Palestinians agreed to hold elections. The historically significant cooperation between
the two leaders created opportunities for political
and economic ties with the rest of the Middle East and nonregional states.
The Arab-Israeli tensions resulted in divisions within Israel itself. Rabin sought to resolve Israel’s conflicts with its Arab neighbors, especially Palestine, through political negotiation. However, some Jewish citizens such as Amir felt betrayed by the Oslo II accords. Amir saw the agreement as handing over land given to the Jews by God to Palestine. He felt that what he perceived as betrayal could only be rectified through murdering Rabin.
A focus on the free market contributed to Israel’s economic growth. Israel’s economic policy shifted away from socialist ideology towards a liberal economic policy, and in the early 1990s Israel experienced an annual growth rate of over 5.5 percent. At the same time, unemployment dropped below 7 percent. Israel’s economic stability attracted more foreign investment.
Ultimately, Rabin’s premature death had a long-lasting effect on Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Middle East. Many years later, Israel still struggles with questions of its identity, democratic order, the future of occupied territories, and the chance for peace with Palestine.
- Horovitz, David. 1996. Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin. New York: New Market Press.
- Kurzman, Dan. 1998. Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin. New York: HarperCollins.
- Peri, Yoram, ed. 2000. The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Rabin, Yitzhak. 1979. The Rabin Memoirs. Boston: Little, Brown.
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