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The tragedy of Yitzhak Rabin

Israel’s gruff soldier-statesman was the last best hope for peace, says Avi Shlaim

Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman by Itamar Rabinovich (Yale University Press, £16.99)

On the evening of 4th November 1995, at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv, a Jewish fanatic named Yigal Amir shot and killed the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In Rabin’s jacket pocket was a neatly folded sheet of paper with the words of the song he had just sung—“The Song of Peace.” It was later found stained with the 73-year-old’s blood, pierced by a bullet.

Amir wanted to punish Rabin for signing the 1993 Oslo Accord with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)—and to derail the peace train altogether. Few political killings in history have been so successful. Twenty-two years on, the dream of a secure Israel and viable Palestine is a distant fantasy. The increasingly right-wing stance of the current Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the drastic increase in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, the weakness of Abu Mazen’s Palestinian leadership, and the periodic outbursts of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza have resulted in precious little trust on either side. Factor in Donald Trump—who campaigned on the provocative promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and who in a meeting in February with Netanyahu distanced himself from the two-state solution—and the lack of brave and intelligent leadership on all sides is all the more conspicuous.

It’s no wonder, then, that Rabin now has the aura of a secular saint. The epitaph on his grave—“Peacemaker”—is well deserved. Yet it does not take account of the long journey that preceded the transformation of one of Israel’s toughest military hawks into a prominent political dove.

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In Prospect’s April issue: Ross McKibbin, John Curtice and Lisa Nandy examine the state of the Labour Party and question its survival at the next general election. McKibbin takes a long view and suggests that the party’s problems started long before Jeremy Corbyn, Curtice argues that breaking the party is unlikely to go as well as some may think and Nandy argues that tackling unaccountable power could help restore faith in the party. Nicholas Timmins says the NHS has always experienced financial crises so is this time any different? Lucy Wadham charts the rise of France’s Front National. Also in this issue: Owen Hatherley explores Edinburgh’s architectural conundrum, Freya Johnston on Jane Austen and Avi Shlaim on the tragedy of Yitzhak Rabin—the last best hope for peace.