Commentary Magazine


Rabin Day: Business as Usual

That Israel will have to cede territory to the Palestinians, including most of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, is an established fact by now. The only serious debate–the one that isn’t about scoring points before elections, but rather about the country’s real security needs and policy concerns–is not about the “if,” but about the “when.” That is, about the conditions under which such concessions will be necessary. In plain language: how will Israel know that the other side is ready, and peace is indeed on the way?

In such debates, the skeptics–tagged “right wing”–will demand more proof, more verification before they cede the territory. The more hopeful, more optimistic–the “left wing”–will demand less.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has no time, now, either to be skeptical or hopeful. His time is up; soon, he’s going to leave office with no great achievements to show. So what did he do yesterday, the day Israel has dedicated to the memory of Yitzhak Rabin? According to the “Left,” he merely (the more pompous among them will add “courageously”) told the truth:

We must relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, and return to that territory which comprised the State of Israel until 1967, with the necessary amendments stemming from the realities created on ground.

According to the “Right,” he used a memorial ceremony to send a political message:

“I have to tell you, it was terribly hard to listen to a man who is a symbol of a failed and corrupt government and who is trying to preach about morality and the future of the Middle East. It was pathetic,” said MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud).

This has become the traditional way of celebrating Rabin Memorial Day. The Left uses the assassination as a tool–one of its few remaining tools–with which to drive home its political message, while the Right complains that the Left is thus preventing half, if not more, of the country from properly mourning. Israelis, signs clearly show, are getting tired of it. The number of people showing up for the rallies and the services is going down. The major TV channels no longer change their prime time programming to mark the day.

But the anger over Olmert’s speech comes for the wrong reasons. It’s not what he was saying that should make people unhappy with him–it’s the fact that he has said such sweeping things at all. He’s leaving office soon. And it’s not his place to commit Israel to any future concessions, no matter how great his desire to be remembered as consequential.