How 20 years since Rabin’s death has changed peace prospects

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    We look at Rabin's legacy today, two decades later, with Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East peace envoy, who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist based in Amman, Jordan, and Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist and author.

    Ari Shavit, 20 years later, do you wonder whether things could have been different had Yitzhak Rabin not been killed?

    ARI SHAVIT, Israeli columnist: Yes, I think there is a chance they would have been different, but I think that the romantic approach that we would have had a perfect ideal peace is somewhat flawed.

    Let me say, first of all, as an Israeli, that Rabin's murder is a traumatic experience in our nation's history. In the way, it's a combination of the murder of Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.

    Rabin wasn't a saint. He wasn't a sacred man. He had flaws. But he had an amazing — he wasn't only courageous, intelligent, and authentic person, but he really tried to end the conflict, the tragedy of the conflict. And he represented a benign, decent, benevolent Israel, something we all yearn for so much today.


    Daoud Kuttab, what of that do you accept and what do you reject?

  • DAOUD KUTTAB, Palestinian Journalist:

    Mr. Rabin was — as Ari said, was no angel. He was the person who spoke very toughly and acted very toughly against the Palestinian intifada. He encouraged the soldiers to break the arms of stone throwers.

    He was a very tough military man, but he did see — did clearly make a conversion in his last days, and he was really interested in trying to find a peaceful solution. And he had that combination of a security man that has been converted and understood the needs for a political resolution to the conflict.

    In that sense, I think he was a rare species that we do not see in these days in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.


    Dennis Ross, you wrote in an op-ed peace in The Los Angeles Times that the last thing that Dennis — that, I mean, Yitzhak Rabin said to you was, "Dennis, expect anything."

    Twenty years later, what did you expect that was fulfilled and what did you expect that wasn't?

  • DENNIS ROSS, Former Middle East Peace Negotiator:

    Well, 20 years ago, I didn't believe, A, that he could be assassinated, because I had a very hard time fathoming that Yitzhak Rabin, who was the embodiment of the Israeli experience, who fought his whole life for Israel, was someone who could be assassinated by an Israeli, number one.

    Number two, had I been able to fathom that, I wouldn't have believed that, 20 years from that moment, we would be where we are today. I would have believed that, somehow, even if we didn't have an agreement, we would have found some kind of greater basis for coexistence, some kind of greater basis for separation of these two peoples.

    There are, after all, two national movements competing for the same space. And I suspect that some kind of greater basis of stability between the two — to be fair, I also didn't expect that we would be seeing within the Middle East as a whole a breakdown of the state system, Arab states themselves being really put at risk.

    The region as a whole is not what I expected at that point, certainly, when I was thinking back 20 years ago.


    Ari Shavit, as you look back and you look forward, do you see — do you think that Israelis believe anymore, just in general — I know you can't speak for everyone — that a two-state solution is possible?


    I think that most Israelis still want a two-state way. They want to move forward. They want some sort of peace.

    But they are traumatized by the failures of all the previous attempts to bring about a comprehensive, complete, idyllic, utopian peace. And in this sense, the Rabin legacy, so to speak, is really relevant, because Rabin wasn't a utopian. The fact that he was a general, he was tough, he was a skeptic, he was — he didn't come with a kind of Mother Teresa approach to the conflict, that gave him a lot of credibility within Israel.

    And I think that would have given him the ability to deal much better with the conflict. And in a sense, what we need today in Israel is a Rabin-like of leadership, because the right went — became an extreme right, and the left endured some sort of romantic view of peace, which most Israelis do not buy.


    Daoud Kuttab, that's a tall order that Ari Shavit just laid out there.

    From the Palestinian point of view, where is the leadership coming from, and does it — can it — can it achieve what we just heard outlined there, or is that even something you want?


    My generation might still be interested in a two-state solution, but my son and their generation, they're not interested in two-state solution.

    They look at us as being stupid and being fooled by the Israelis who kept us going for a long time, and at the same time they were building Jewish settlements. I mean, since Rabin's death, we have had twice or three times the size of the Jewish settlements.

    So they're saying there should just be one state, and we should find some kind of a solution where there is equal rights for everybody. So there is a big problem right now among Palestinians, in the fact that they feel that the idea of two-state solution was just a farce, and that we were giving too many opportunities for this idea of peace talks, and they went nowhere. Yet we were losing our land in the meanwhile.


    Dennis Ross, you have been at more of these negotiation tables than you can probably count. Do you harbor any hope or expectation of interests converging? And does the U.S. play a role in that anymore?


    I'm pessimistic in the near term, because, in a sense, what Daoud just described as a reality on the Palestinian side in some ways is mirrored by the Israelis side, not in the sense of wanting a one-state outcome, but in the level of disbelief that exists on the part of both populations.

    Israelis don't believe that the Palestinians will ever accept a two-state outcome that accepts Israel as a state of the Jewish people. Palestinians don't believe that Israelis will ever accept a genuinely independent Palestinian state. And the starting point has to be change the realities on the ground, begin to restore a level of belief on each side that shows that a two-state outcome actually could be possible.

    I think the U.S. can play a role, but I also think one of the things that's going to have to change, given the weakness and dysfunction on the Palestinian side, I think that the Arab states are going to have to play a different kind of role. They're going to have to play a role where they provide a kind of cover for Palestinians to be able to make adjustments or compromises, and they also provide a response to the Israelis, where the Israelis feel, if they make basic compromises or concessions towards the Palestinians, the reciprocation will come as much, if not more, from the Arabs than it will come from the Palestinians.

    It's a tall order, and, basically, I don't think many in the region right now are looking at the U.S. administration to be able to manage something like that.


    Dennis Ross, Daoud Kuttab, and Ari Shavit, thank you all for sharing with us.

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