Born on March 1, 1922 (Jerusalem, Palestine)
Died on November 4, 1995 (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Prime Minister of Israel
First as a soldier and then as a statesman, Yitzhak Rabin devoted his entire life to the Jewish nation of Israel, and participated in the decisive battles that won Israel's independence in the late 1940s. Rabin became the Israel's first native-born prime minister and he struggled to secure Israel's existence as a nation, developing a close relationship with the United States and seeking opportunities to negotiate peace with Israel's Arab neighbors.
"The debate goes on: Who shapes history—leaders or circumstances? My answer to you is: We all shape the face of history. We, the people... ."
Born to Zionists in Palestine
Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, in British-controlled Palestine, on March 1, 1922, the first of the Rabins' two children. Rabin grew up in Tel Aviv, where his father, Nehemiah Rubitzov (he took the name Rabin before marrying), worked at the Electric Corporation and his mother, Rosa, worked as an accountant. Rabin's parents both felt strongly about the importance of community service and volunteered their time to a variety of public causes including Zionism, the belief in the creation of an independent Jewish State. They had met in 1920 while defending a Jewish section of Jerusalem against an Arab attack.
During his youth Rabin was taught that collective agricultural settlements, called kibbutzim, were essential to the goal of securing a homeland for Jews. Although Rabin had grown up in a city, he decided to study agriculture in order to help establish such settlements. He entered the Kadouri Agricultural School in 1937, where he learned farming techniques. He also learned how to use weapons, in order to defend Jewish settlements and schools that were sometimes attacked by Arabs angry at the number of Jewish people living in Palestine. Continued riots between Arabs and Jews, and then the start of World War II (1939–45; war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Italy, and Japan) interrupted Rabin's education, but he eventually graduated and won a scholarship to study at the University of California at Berkeley. Although he hoped to continue his studies at some point, he turned down the scholarship because, as he wrote in his memoirs, "I was simply incapable of leaving the country, and my friends, during wartime." This decision changed the course of his life.
On guard for Israel
During World War II, Rabin lived on a kibbutz, where he worked as a police officer. He became especially skilled at setting ambushes to stop Arab attacks on his community. Haganah, the underground military force of the Jewish Agency (the governing Jewish organization in Palestine), soon took notice of Rabin. In 1941, when Haganah established a mobilized force named the Palmach (which was a Jewish acronym for "assault companies"), Rabin was among the first to be invited to join. He knew Jews would have to fight for their homeland, and agreed without hesitation. From 1944 to the creation of Israel in 1948, Rabin worked full-time in the Palmach. He rose quickly from foot soldier to battalion leader, to chief of operations by 1947.
Although Palmach had coordinated some of its missions with the British army during the war, by 1945 it began working against the British in order to save Jewish immigrants. During World War II, millions of Jewish people were put to death by Nazis, the German government led by Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) which attempted to take over large parts of Europe and to rid Europe of Jewish people and other non-Aryans, or white non-Jews. Many Jewish people tried to escape the Nazis by immigrating to Palestine, but many were denied entrance by the British due to pressure from Arab Palestinians. Rabin assisted in operations that freed hundreds of Jews from British holding camps before they could be sent back to Europe.
At war's end, the fate of Palestine rested in the hands of the United Nations. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations voted to partition, or divide, Palestine into two separate nations: one Jewish and the other Arab. This triggered a six-month period of violent conflicts between Jews and Arab Palestinians, which led to the War of Independence. The War of Independence started with the creation of the Jewish nation of Israel on Palestinian land in 1948, which prompted the Arab nations of the Middle East such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, to attack the newly created Jewish state. Rabin participated in all of the most decisive battles of Israel's War of Independence in 1948, and directed a campaign that drove Arabs back from the Negev desert. He also participated in the armistice, or ceasefire, negotiations between Israel and Egypt that led to the war's end in 1949.
With Israel's declaration of independence in 1948, the Palmach was absorbed into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the nation's new army. Rabin steadily rose through the ranks of the newly established military, and by 1959 he was appointed to the second-highest post in the IDF, chief of operations, and achieved the top position of chief of staff in 1964.
Rabin had just reorganized the IDF when Israel became immersed in a war in 1967. With new weapons from the United States, and newly organized defensive and offensive sections, the IDF was prepared to defend Israel. The IDF, however, learned of attacks planned against Israel and instead of waiting to defend the country, Rabin and the IDF went on the offensive. On June 5, 1967, Israel started what would be called the Six-Day War, a conflict between Israel and the nations of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, during which Israel nearly tripled its original size. During the war Israel regained access to the Western Wall, a monument in Jerusalem that Jews had lost during the War of Independence in 1948. "The Wall was and is our national memento of the glories of Jewish independence in ancient times," Rabin was quoted in Michael Kort's Yitzhak Rabin: Israel's Soldier Statesman. He went on to say: "Its stones have a power to speak to the hearts of Jews the world over.... For years I secretly harbored the dream that I might play a part not only in gaining Israel's independence but in restoring the Western Wall to the Jewish people, making it the focal point of our hard-won independence. Now that dream had come true, and suddenly I wondered why I, of all men, should be so privileged. I knew that never again in my life would I experience quite the same peak of elation."
A Politician in the Making
The military success of the Six-Day War enabled Rabin to turn his attention to other ways in which he could serve his country. He became Israel's ambassador to Washington, D.C., in 1968, and moved with his wife, Leah, and son, Yuval, to the United States. (His daughter Dalia remained in Israel to complete high school.) Rabin had decided to become an ambassador because it "was the job I thought I could do best," he remembered in The Rabin Memoirs. As tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors, especially Egypt, rose in the late 1960s, Rabin proved an able diplomat. He was a strong voice for Israel when it participated in peace negotiations. At the same time, Rabin never lost sight of Israel's immediate needs. During Rabin's tenure in the United States, Egypt waged a war of attrition (small, harassing attacks) against Israel in an attempt to win back land lost during the Six-Day War, and Israel needed outside help. Speaking with U.S. president Richard M. Nixon in 1970, Rabin, according to his memoirs, described Israel's position in blunt terms:
Whenever the U.S. is believed to be reducing her support for Israel, the Arabs revive their old hope of overcoming us by force. And the longer the war of attrition goes on, the more the Soviets will flaunt their insolence. They will interpret the United States' decision on arms as a sign of weakness. And if the Russians can station SAM-3s [Soviet missiles] and man them with their own technicians while America continues to deprive Israel of arms, they will take it to mean that they can go even further! Once again, Mr. President, I appeal to you as the only man in whose sympathy and understanding we have trust: Give us the arms we need!
During his five-year term as ambassador, Rabin worked diligently and successfully to secure good relations between Israel and the United States. He made U.S. president Nixon a close friend. After Rabin's last meeting with Nixon, the president told Israeli prime minister Golda Meir (1898–1978; see entry), "If you don't need him in Israel, you're welcome to leave him here! I'll be glad to have him!" Rabin recalled in his memoirs. The relationship Rabin built with the United States would serve his country well in the coming years.
Israel's first native-born prime minister
In March of 1973 Rabin returned to Israel. He was soon elected to a seat in the Knesset (Israeli legislature) and was appointed minister of labor in March 1974. At the time of his appointment, Israel was in the middle of the Yom Kippur War, a conflict started in 1973 by a surprise attack from Egypt and Syria. Controversy surrounding Israel's military failures and devastating loss of life at the beginning of the war prompted Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign. In April 1973 Rabin was elected to his first term as prime minister. Rabin's election as prime minister was a historic moment, for he was the first native-born Israeli prime minister. However, Rabin inherited many problems when he took over for the country was at war and his political party had been damaged by its inability to either reach a peace or win the conflict.
During his tenure as prime minister from 1973 to 1977, Rabin worked to revamp the country's tax code, develop the economy in order to increase job opportunities for the waves of immigrants moving into the country, and deal with terrorist activities from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and other Palestinian groups. He also tried to secure peace with Egypt. By 1975 Israel and Egypt had reached an interim agreement for peace, but Rabin determined to hand over control of Israel to another politician before a peace treaty would be finalized.
Rabin did not intend to withdraw from public life when he decided not to run for prime minister in 1977. Scandal forced him from office (see sidebar on next page), but he remained active in the Knesset and slowly rebuilt his political reputation. He relied on his military expertise to become a trusted consultant on matters of Israel's security. He was often called upon by government officials as well as the press for his expert commentary. By 1984 Rabin was once again appointed minister of defense, a post that earned him the nickname "Mr. Security." In this position Rabin dealt with the violent uprising of Palestinians called the First Intifada, brought on by Arab Palestinians living in Israeli territory who felt that Israel was treating them inhumanely, or cruely. To suppress the uprising, Rabin supported Israel's military use of "force, might, beatings," as quoted by Naomi Pasachoff in the book Links in the Chain. But he did not view violence or war as the ultimate solution to Israel's problems. He once wrote, of the conflict with the Palestinians, that "there is neither moral right nor practical benefit in the illusion of the efficacy of force to attain fundamental political objectives or conclusive political solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East," according to Yoram Peri in the afterword to The Rabin Memoirs.
In 1992 Rabin won election to a second term as prime minister. In the first year of his tenure, fighting between Israelis and Palestinians increased. Official negotiations held in Washington stalled, but secret talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in Oslo, Norway, were a success. In September of 1993, Israel formally recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Rabin shook the hand of PLO leader Yasser Arafat (1929–2004; see entry) on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C., on September 13. Israel's recognition of the PLO led to the Oslo Accords, a set of agreements forged in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians that gave Palestinians limited self-rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank under the governance of the newly created Palestinian Authority. For their historic efforts, Rabin, Arafat, and Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres (1923–; see entry) shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.
In 1977, just months before national elections, an investigative newspaper report revealed that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his wife had not closed their jointly held American bank account when they returned to live in Israel after Rabin's tenure as Israeli ambassador to Washington, D.C. At the time, Israeli law forbade Israelis from holding foreign bank accounts. The offense was viewed as a technicality by Rabin's supporters, for the account contained just a few thousand dollars and was only used by Rabin's wife. But it was seen as an enormous mistake by his political foes, who criticized him severely. Although formal charges were levied against his wife, Rabin publicly took joint responsibility for the wrongdoing. To show his shame, Rabin took a leave of absence from the office of prime minister and announced his decision not to seek reelection that year. The Rabins paid a fine of 250,000 Israeli pounds, more money than was in the account, to settle the matter.
Support for peace in the Middle East continued. On October 26, 1994, Rabin signed Israel's second peace treaty with an Arab country, Jordan, to end forty-six years of war between the two nations. At a peace rally on November 4, 1995, one hundred thousand Israelis gathered in support of Israel's "land for peace" plan, which called for Israel to withdraw from some of the lands it had acquired during the Six-Day War in 1967 and allow Palestinians to govern themselves. Rabin spoke to the crowd, a speech that was reprinted on the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies Web site, saying that "violence is eating away at the foundations of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned, denounced, and isolated. It is not the way of the state of Israel....This rally must send a message to the Israeli public, to the Jewish people throughout the world, and to many, many in the Arab world and the world at large, that the people of Israel want peace."
The message the world heard was mixed, however. As Rabin made his way from the podium to his waiting car, a twenty-five-year-old Israeli law student named Yigal Amir stepped from the crowd and shot Rabin. Rabin slumped in the back seat of his car as his driver sped to the hospital, but doctors were unable to revive him. Yigal Amir later admitted that he killed Rabin because he felt that the peace that Rabin was creating in the Middle East would eventually result in the creation of an independent Palestinian nation that would one day threaten the existence of Israel. Rabin is remembered in Israel as a soldier-statesman who opted for peace over violence as an answer to the many problems between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hawks vs. Doves
In times of conflict, and especially war, politicians are often described as either hawks or doves. Hawks take aggressive approaches to conflicts, advocating for war. Doves generally oppose war in favor of negotiations and compromise. Yitzhak Rabin served as an example of how these terms may describe a person's opinions or actions at a certain point in time, but are not good descriptors for a person as a whole. During the First Intifada of the late 1980s, Rabin instituted what he called the "iron fist" policy, to quash the uprisings. Kort wrote that it was Rabin's hawkish reputation as "Mr. Security" that he had earned during his military career and as minister of defense that won him election as prime minister in 1992, adding that Rabin's "reputation counterbalanced the general public's view of Labor [Rabin's political party] as dominated by leftist and dovish politicians [who] would give away too much and compromise Israel's security in negotiations with Arabs."
Rabin proved to be both hawk and dove. He worked to secure Israel's security using both military might and political diplomacy. Rabin explained to a crowd on the day of his death, reprinted on the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies Web site, that he "waged war as long as there was no chance for peace." But on that November day in 1995, Rabin said, "I believe there is now a chance for peace, a great chance, and we must take advantage of it." It remains up to Rabin's successors to take advantage of their opportunities for peace.
For More Information
Kort, Michael G. Yitzhak Rabin: Israel's Soldier Statesman. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1996.
Rabin, Yitzhak. The Rabin Memoirs. Berkeley: University of California, 1996.
"The Assassination and Funeral of Yitzhak Rabin." CNN.com.http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9511/rabin/umbrella/ (accessed on July 6, 2005).
Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies.http://www.rabincenter.org.il/site/en/homepage.asp (accessed on July 6, 2005).
"Yitzhak Rabin." Nobelprize.org.http://nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1994/rabin-bio.html (accessed on July 6, 2005).
RABIN, YITZHAK (1922–1995), military commander and politician, seventh chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, and prime minister in the years 1974–77 and 1992–95, member of the Eighth to Thirteenth Knessets. Rabin was born in Jerusalem. His mother was known as "Red Rosa." He graduated from the Kadoorie Agricultural School. He joined the *Palmaḥ in 1941, and participated in the Allied invasion of Syria that year. In 1944, as second in command of a Palmaḥ battalion, he participated in underground activities against the British Mandatory Government. On Black Saturday, June 29, 1946, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Rafa detention camp for six months. After his release he was appointed deputy to Yigal *Allon, who was commander of the Palmaḥ from 1945. In the early days of the *War of Independence, Rabin was appointed commander of the Harel Brigade on the Jerusalem front. Later in 1948 he was responsible, as Allon's second in command, for the occupation of Lydda and Ramleh, and the expulsion of their Arab inhabitants. He was next appointed chief of operations of the Southern Command until the armistice agreement with Egypt, and was a member of the Israeli delegation to the Rhodes armistice talks. However, he objected to the agreement reached, and left before it was signed. After the War of Independence Rabin was given various assignments, and graduated from the British Staff College in 1953. In the years 1956–59 he served as commander of the Northern Command, and in the years 1959–63 served as head of the Operations Branch in the General Staff, and deputy chief of staff. Rabin was appointed chief of staff in January 1964, and served for four years. As a heavy smoker on the eve of the outbreak of the *Six Day War he suffered from nicotine poisoning but recovered to lead the idf in its major victory over the Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces. Immediately after the war he was awarded an honorary degree by the Hebrew University at a ceremony on Mount Scopus, and delivered an impressive acceptance speech, noted for its humane spirit. He retired from active military service in January 1968, and was appointed ambassador to the U.S. Upon his return to Israel in March 1973 he decided to enter politics, and was elected to the Eighth Knesset on the Alignment list, right after the *Yom Kippur War. He was appointed minister of labor in the short-lived government formed by Golda *Meir, and when Meir decided to resign following the publication of the Interim Report of the *Agranat Commission in April 1974, he won the first of numerous contests for the leadership of the *Israel Labor Party against Shimon *Peres. The fact that he had not been involved in any way in the Yom Kippur War was the main reason for his victory. Rabin formed a new government in June 1974. Even though his first premiership was generally viewed as mediocre, during his term as prime minister, with U.S. assistance, the idf was rehabilitated, and the economy picked up, even though the rate of inflation rose. After disengagement agreements were signed with Egypt and Syria in January and May 1974 with the help of the "shuttle diplomacy" of Secretary of State Henry *Kissinger, an interim agreement was signed with Egypt in September 1975, together with a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. The Entebbe operation also took place in the course of his premiership. Towards the end of 1976 Rabin fired the ministers from the *National Religious Party, after they had abstained in a vote on a motion of no-confidence in the government, over the arrival of F-15 planes from the U.S. to Israel on a Friday afternoon, and the holding of a ceremony that allegedly resulted in the desecration of the Sabbath by those who participated in it. However, the historic coalition with the nrp was in trouble even before this event, due to a shift to the right by the young guard in the national religious camp. As a result of pressure by Attorney General Aharon *Barak, Rabin was forced to resign from the premiership in March 1977, following the revelation by journalist Dan *Margalit that his wife, Leah, continued to hold a bank account in Washington, d.c. from the time of his service as ambassador, contrary to the Israeli foreign exchange regulations. In the elections for the Ninth Knesset held in May 1977, Shimon *Peres led the Alignment and suffered a bitter defeat, in what came to be known as "the political upheaval." In 1979 Rabin published his memoirs, in which his bitterness against Peres emerged. Following the death of Yigal *Allon, Rabin decided to contend again for the leadership of the Labor Party against Peres, but at the Party Conference held in December 1980 he gained only 29% of the votes. In the National Unity Government that was in office from 1984 to 1990 Rabin served as minister of defense. In this capacity he got the idf out of Lebanon, canceled the Lavi fighter project, and led Israel's fight against the first Intifada. Even though his policy in the territories was viewed as a "hard fist" policy, he realized soon after the outbreak of the Intifada that there could be no military solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Prior to the elections to the Twelfth Knesset in 1988, he formulated a plan for holding elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This plan was adopted by the National Unity Government in May 1989 as part of the Shamir-Rabin peace initiative. Even though he favored the continued existence of the government led by Yitzhak *Shamir, he supported Peres' initiative to bring down the government in March 1990, following problems within the Likud in advancing the peace initiative. However, after Peres failed to form an alternative government, he called the ploy "the stinking ploy." In February 1992 he contested the leadership of the Labor Party with Peres for the third time, gaining over 40 percent of the votes to Peres' 34 percent (there were two additional contestants). In the Knesset he supported the adoption of the law for the direct election of the prime minister, but he won the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset under the old system. After forming a government with *Meretz and *Shas, he concentrated on changing Israel's economic priorities from massive support of the settlements in the territories to Israel's periphery, and on efforts to further the peace process. Though the Oslo process was initiated by Yossi *Beilin (who in the past Rabin had called "Peres' poodle") he gave the negotiations his backing in its latter stages, and on September 13, 1993, signed the Declaration of Principles (dop) with plo chairman Yasser *Arafat, which led to Israel's handing over to a "Palestinian entity" the city of Gaza and the Jericho area. This agreement was followed by two additional agreements, under which Israel handed over the Arab towns and cities in the territories to the Palestinians, and agreed to the establishment of a *Palestinian Authority. However, the talks with the Palestinians at this stage did not deal with the future of the Jewish settlements, Jerusalem, or the Palestinian refugees. Very close relations also developed at this time between Rabin and King *Hussein of Jordan, and a peace treaty was signed between Israel and Jordan in October 1994. Formal relations were also established with Morocco, Tunisia, and several Gulf states, and Israel participated in a succession of economic conferences held in various Arab capitals. Talks were also held with Syria, but despite Rabin's willingness to make substantial concessions, these talks led to naught. For his efforts toward regional peace, Rabin was the recipient, along with Peres and Arafat, of the Nobel Prize for Peace in December 1994.
However, rightwing circles in Israel objected to Rabin's peace initiatives, and willingness to give up control over parts of Ereḥ Israel. Demonstrations against him became increasingly vicious and threatening, but despite warnings by the General Security Services, Rabin refused to wear a bulletproof vest. On November 4, 1995, at the end of a mass demonstration in Kikar Malkhei Yisrael in Tel Aviv, which he addressed, Rabin was shot in the back by Yigal Amir, a Jewish rightwing fanatic, who acted on his own, with only his brother being privy to his plans. Rabin's coffin was placed at the entrance of the Knesset, and his funeral was attended by numerous heads of state and prime ministers, including King Hussein of Jordan and President Hosni *Mubarak of Egypt, who had never previously set foot in Israel. It was President Bill Clinton who coined the term "Shalom Ḥaver" ("farewell, friend") that continues to appear on stickers on many cars in Israel to the present day. The assassination was a major failure for the gss, which changed its entire strategy of protecting vips in Israel. Ten years after his assassination the people of Israel were still divided over Rabin's heritage.
Rabin's daughter dalia rabin-pelossof entered the Fifteenth Knesset on the Center Party list, and joined the One Israel (Labor) parliamentary group in May 2001. She did not run in the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset.
Among his books are The Rabin Memoirs (1979) and a collection of his peace speeches Ne'umei ha-Shalom shel Rosh ha-Memshalah Yiẓhak Rabin (1995).
Z. Galili, Yiẓhak Rabin 1922–1995 (Heb., 1996); D.P. Horowitz (ed.), Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy ofYitzhak Rabin (1996); A. Kapelyuk, Rabin: Reẓaḥ Politi be-Ezrat ha-Shem (1996); M. Na'or, Yiẓḥak Rabin: Ha-Ish, ha-Mefaked, ha-Medina'i, ha-Maẓbi, ha-Shalom (1996); R. Slater, Rabin of Israel: Warrior for Peace (1996); L. Rabin, Our Life, His Legacy (1997); M. Karpin, Murder in the Name of God: The Plot to Kill Yitzhak Rabin (1998); D. Kurzman, Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin (1998); Y. Pery (ed.), The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (2000); E. Inbar, Rabin and Israel's National Security (2001); A. Dalal, Ma'arekhet ha-Emunot shel Yiẓḥak Rabin Kelappei ha-Aravim ve-ha-Sikhsukh ha-Yisra'eli (2003).
[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]
Rabin, Yitzhak 1922-1995
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 article 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 his second term as prime minister, from 1992 until his assassination in 1995. Israel and Palestine remained in conflict over the establishment of Israel as a 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.
SEE ALSO Arab-Israeli War of 1967; Arafat, Yasir; Meir, Golda; Nobel Peace Prize
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.
Sarita D. Jackson
Yitzchak Rabin (1922-1995) served his native Israel as chief-of-staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Minister of Defense, Prime Minister from 1974 to 1977, and again from 1992 to his death in 1995.
Yitzchak Rabin was born in Jerusalem in 1922, the son of Russian-Zionist pioneers Rosa and Nechemia Rabin. At the age of 14, intent on becoming a farmer, he entered the Kadoorie Agricultural School at Kfar Tabor, graduating in 1940. Plans to go on to college work in irrigational engineering at the University of California were disrupted by World War II, however. Rabin joined the Palmach, the commando unit of the Jewish underground army, the Haganah, which later became the nucleus for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
In the beginning of his brilliant military career Rabin took part in several operations behind the lines against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon in 1941 on behalf of the British and in defense of Palestine. By 1944 he had reached the rank of deputy battalion commander in the Palmach. After the war Anglo-Jewish cooperation ended as British opposition to Jewish independence intensified. Rabin himself was involved in anti-British underground activity, and at one point in 1946 he was caught and sentenced to six months in a detention camp. He was released in early 1947 in time to participate in the final struggle over Palestine.
Promoted to deputy commander of the elite Palmach, Rabin fought with distinction against the invading Arab forces during Israel's war of independence in 1948. He played a role in the defense of Jerusalem, helping to keep open the vital supply road from Tel-Aviv and the coastal plain to the besieged city. In late 1948, now a colonel, he also fought on the southern front against Egypt. Then in the spring of 1949 Rabin served as military representative on the Israeli delegation to the Rhodes conference which resulted in a series of Arab-Israel armistice accords.
Having determined to pursue a military career, the post-1948 years saw Rabin advancing up the army hierarchy. He served successively as an armored brigade commander in the Negev, acting commander of the southern front (1949-1950), chief of tactical operations (1950-1952), head of the training branch (1954-1956), commanding officer of the northern front (1956-1959), and head of the manpower branch (1959-1960). During that period he was able to complete a year's study program at the British Staff College. Then from 1960 to 1963 Brigadier General Rabin filled two additional positions: deputy chief of staff and chief of the general staff branch. Finally, in January 1964 he was appointed chief-of-staff, remaining in that position until his retirement from the army in January 1968.
It was during his term of office as chief of staff that the 1967 Mid-East crisis occurred. Confronted by a military alliance of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the Israeli government authorized a preemptive war which began on June 6. Within six days the Israel Defense Forces, acting under Rabin's command and according to contingency plans drawn up under his instructions, had gained a spectacular victory. The Six Day War ended with Israel in control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, and all of the West Bank territories of Judea and Samaria up to the Jordan River. And Rabin found himself a national hero.
This newly-acquired prestige led to his being appointed Israel's ambassador to Washington in March 1968. During his time in the United States Rabin was involved intensely in various Middle East peace efforts—none of which was successful—and deepening American-Israel relations, especially in terms of U.S. military assistance to Israel during the Johnson and the Nixon administrations.
In March 1973 Rabin left the United States and returned to Israel in order to enter politics, joining the dominant Labour Party. The national elections that year were interrupted in the fall by the surprise Egyptian-Syrian attack. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, in which Rabin had no official or military role, the elections were finally held in December 1973. Although Labour's parliamentary strength declined, Rabin gained a seat in the Knesset and was appointed minister of labor in the new cabinet headed by Golda Meir. However, the government lasted only a month due to Meir's decision to resign, which led to formation of a new government and selection by the Labour/Alignment of a premier-designate. In April 1974 the party's central committee turned to Rabin, entrusting him with the task of putting together a viable coalition, which he succeeded in doing by late May. The Rabin government was approved by the Knesset on June 3, 1974, making Rabin the fifth, and youngest, premier; he was also the first native-born Israeli to achieve that high position.
Rabin's stay in power only lasted until 1977 and was a troubled one from the outset. In the Knesset his fragile three-party coalition had only the barest majority—a single seat—meaning it could fall at any moment. Domestically, the Yom Kippur War's aftermath caused demoralization and created structural problems in the economy under the weight of the defense burden. Diplomatically the years 1974-1977 coincided with Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy and efforts at pressuring Israel, thereby straining the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Nor did it help that sharp interpersonal rivalries within the cabinet further weakened the government's effectiveness. Finally, early in 1977 a coalition crisis led to the government's downfall. In the subsequent elections Labour and the Alignment were turned out of office; although re-elected to the Knesset, Rabin was soon replaced as party head by his arch-rival, Shimon Peres.
Nevertheless, upon formation of the National Unity government in September 1984, based on a unique power-sharing system of rotation between the Alignment and the Likud, Yitzchak Rabin was the agreed-upon candidate for the post of defense minister. Chosen to serve for the full four-year period, Rabin succeeded in improving his working relations with Prime Minister Peres and in gaining broad public confidence. He concentrated his efforts specifically on extricating the Israel Defense Forces from southern Lebanon, on reorganization plans for the defense forces, and on strengthening strategic cooperation with the United States.
Rabin's strong response to Palestinian insurrections gained him enough political support to make another bid to be prime minister in 1992. His victory came on promises of ending the conflict with the Palestinians. Secret talks with Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat led to a conference in Oslo, Norway where an agreement was reached in 1993. In 1994, Rabin led negotiations with Jordan's King Hussein which led to peace between those two countries. In December 1994, Rabin was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace, along with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chariman Yasser Arafat. On November 4, 1995, as he was departing a peace rally in Tel Aviv, Rabin was assassinated by a 27-year-old Jewish law student, Yigal Amir.
Robert Slater's Rabin of Israel (1993) is the most complete treatment of Rabin's life. A more personal perspective is offered in Rabin: Our Life, His Legacy (1997) by Leah Rabin, his wife. Rabin's own autobiography, The Rabin Memoirs (1979) and his book Yitzhak Rabin Talks with Leaders and Heads of State (1984) are the best sources of additional material. See also Bernard Reich, Israel: Land of Tradition and Conflict (1985). □