Looking for a new Rabin or Mandela

Looking for a new Rabin or Mandela

The difference that a specific person, a powerful personality, can have on the course of history really is remarkable. I still have vivid memories of the first images broadcast after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 by a far-right Israeli nationalist.

Rabin was the leader who had signed the Oslo Accords and who, with great difficulty, shook hands with his greatest foe, Yasser Arafat, on the White House lawn. But he was also a rare type of leader. It is not often in history that we come across people who were celebrated as generals on the battlefield and then proved themselves true statesmen who were prepared to do what it takes to accomplish peace. Rabin assumed this responsibility because he was more than equipped to understand what war means and how essential it is to prevent it. He also had the credibility to convince average Israeli citizens that he was acting in their best interest.

His assassination was not a spur-of-the-moment crime. It was the product of a deliberate operation to poison public discourse in Israel. The man who had fought and won battles saw placards depicting him like Adolph Hitler or Yasser Arafat. The present prime minister of Israel played a key role, of course, in this slide into extreme toxicity and violence.

When I first heard the news of Rabin’s assassination and tuned in to CNN, I remember thinking that what I was looking at ran much deeper than it first appeared; it was probably the beginning of the end of Israel as we knew it, the tombstone on any prospect for resolving the Palestinian issue. After Rabin, came chaos, complete toxicity in Israel’s political life, the rise of extreme elements and terrorist attacks by Palestinian organizations, putting an end to any hope for peace.

In the dark and dismal days of the present, it is difficult to see who could be the next Rabin for 2024, the leader who would risk a new peace deal. 

The absence of such a personality is also apparent on the other side. There is no Arafat to be seen, not even someone with equal credibility among the Palestinians. This is why many in the West believe that Marwan Barghouti may be the only solution right now. The Palestinian politician has been imprisoned as a terrorist by Israel since 2002 and could, theoretically, play the role of a “Palestinian Mandela” who would assume the responsibility of brokering an agreement and implementing it.

But you see what it comes down to? No one can imagine a positive outcome without a statesman like Rabin or Nelson Mandela, without one of those almost mythical figures who had such an impact on the course of history.

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