Yitzhak Rabin

Background

Britain gains control of Palestine following the First World War, promising the formation of a Jewish homeland that will not "prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities." As Jewish immigration to Palestine increases and conflict between the Arabs and Jews builds, Britain refers the issue to the United Nations (UN), which determines to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

The State of Israel is proclaimed by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, on 14 May 1948. During the subsequent 'War of Independence' with the surrounding Arab states Israel occupies Arab land not included in the partition plan. Israel occupies further Arab territory in the war of 1967. Tensions between the Arabs and Israelis continue to rise, culminating in the 'Intifada' (uprising) in December 1987. The only solution is a peace settlement with the Palestinians. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 1 March 1922 in Jerusalem, Palestine (now in Israel). Rabin's mother, "Red" Rosa, is a central figure in the Jewish socialist movement and military underground. The family live in Tel Aviv.

1939 - In May the British announce their support for the establishment of an Arab Palestinian state within 10 years. The British also propose limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine and restrictions on the sale of land.

Four months later the Second World War begins when Nazi Germany invades Poland. The war in Europe will last until May 1945 and will see the murder of approximately six million European Jews in what is known as 'The Holocaust'.

1940 - Rabin graduates from Kadoorie Agricultural School, in the Lower Galilee, but rather than taking a scholarship to study hydraulic engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, joins a Hanoar Ha'oved (Working Youth) training group at a kibbutz north of Haifa.

1941 - He joins the Palmach, the secret commando unit of the Haganah (the main Jewish militia), shortly after its formation and participates in actions against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon.

He is appointed deputy platoon commander in 1943, battalion commander in 1944 and deputy commander of the Palmach First Battalion in 1945.

The Palmach considers Arab Palestinians to be an obstacle to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Its mission is to expand Jewish-held territory with the use of offensive warfare if necessary.

While serving in the Palmach Rabin travels the country and gets to know it closely.

1946 - After the end of the Second World War the pre-existing tensions between the British and the Jews mount when the British try to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine. Britain decides to refer the problem to the UN.

Rabin, his father and others are arrested by the British in June and sent to a detention camp. When he is freed in November Rabin is immediately appointed commander of the Palmach's Second Battalion.

1947 - In October Rabin becomes the Palmach's chief operations officer, earning the nickname 'Analytical Brain' for his ability with tactical planning.

Meanwhile, on 29 November, the UN General Assembly agrees to implement the plan to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The plan fractures Palestine into six zones, three to be controlled by the proposed Jewish state and three by its Arab counterpart. The Arabs will also control the port city of Jaffa, which neighbours Tel Aviv within one of the Jewish zones. Jerusalem is to be under international control.

On 30 November the Palestinians call a general strike. Open hostilities between the Jews and Palestinians begin.

At first the Jews adopt a strategy of "active defence." By March 1948, however, with the British pullout from the region drawing ever closer and the threat of invasion by the surrounding Arab states looming, the strategy changes and the Jews go on the attack.

1948 - The Haganah finalises its so-called 'Plan D' on 10 March. The plan, which is designed to secure major transport routes and Jewish population centres, authorises Haganah brigades to capture or destroy Palestinian villages and expel their inhabitants.

The independent state of Israel is proclaimed on 14 May. The next day the surrounding Arab nations (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria) invade, beginning the 'War of Independence'.

Rabin directs the defence of Jerusalem and fights the Egyptians in the Negev in Israel's south.

He also leads an operation to open and secure the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, along which Israeli convoys have been coming under regular attack from the Palestinian villages and towns lining the route.

Speaking later of the experience Rabin says, "We started with military operations to make sure that the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would not be endangered by the big villages or towns that were along the road and where from came all the attackers on the convoys. ...

"It was not pleasant. The system was to attack the villages. To give warning to the civilians. To destroy the village and by the elimination of the villages along and adjacent to the road we were sure that there would be no attacks."

Between 400 and 600 villages are destroyed during the exercise. All the residents of the villages are driven from their land. About 60,000 Palestinians are forced from the towns of Lod and Ramle alone.

During the course of the war approximately 750,000 Palestinians are displaced in what they come to call the 'Nakba' (cataclysm). About 300,000 find refuge in the Gaza Strip. Another 450,000 settle in camps on the West Bank of the Jordan River. When the fighting stops only about 170,000 Palestinians are left in Israel.

1949 - A cease-fire is declared in 1949. Israel is left occupying about three-quarters of Palestine, including West Jerusalem, an area significantly larger than that designated by the UN partition plan. Jordan has the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt controls the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.

Following the war the Palmach is dismantled. Rabin continues his military career in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), rising to the rank of general.

Meanwhile, between May 1948 and December 1951 approximately 684,000 Jewish immigrants arrive in the newly independent state, doubling Israel's Jewish population.

1956 - Rabin is appointed as operations commander of the IDF's Northern Command.

1959 - He is made chief-of-operations. In 1961 he is promoted to deputy chief-of-staff. He becomes chief-of-staff in 1964.

Rabin, who is noted for his attention to detail, now begins to professionalise the military.

1967 - When Egypt moves 100,000 troops and 1,000 tanks across the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula in May Rabin starts preparing for a war. Believing the Arabs intend an all-out attack, he advocates a preemptive blow against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

On 5 June, two weeks after the Egyptian troop deployment, a massive air strike is launched against the Arab nations. Rabin coordinates the following 'Six-Day War'.

The Arab air forces are wiped out within hours. Left without any air cover the Egyptians are overwhelmed and pushed back across the Sinai and the Suez. When Jordan shells Jerusalem the Israelis take all of the city and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The Israelis also occupy the Golan Heights and most of the Gaza Strip.

With its victory Israel has tripled the size of the territory under its control, united Jerusalem and increased the number of Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied land to over one million.

About 16,000 Arabs, mostly Egyptians, and 800 Israeli soldiers have died in the war.

In recognition of his contribution to the victory Rabin is presented with an honourary PhD in Jerusalem on 29 June. Accepting the award he says, "The soldiers cannot rejoice wholeheartedly. Their friends fell next to them bleeding to death. I also know that the terrible price the enemy paid touched many of them very deeply. On behalf of all the soldiers I proudly accept your recognition."

Rabin does not consider the newly occupied territory to be a permanent possession of Israel. He sees it as a temporary acquisition for use in negotiations with the Arabs, arguing that Israel should withdraw from the territory as part of a general Middle East peace settlement.

At the same time, the legal counsel for the Israeli Foreign Ministry secretly advises the government that the building of settlements on the occupied land "contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

The UN Security Council calls for the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and the "acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area," passing a formal resolution to this effect (No. 242) on 22 November.

However, at a meeting in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the Arab states unanimously adopt a "three nos" resolution, stating there will be no peace with Israel, no recognition of the Israeli state and no negotiation with Israel over Palestinian territory.

Palestinians begin to form an organised resistance. The movement is led by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and its chairman Yasser Arafat. The PLO initially uses Jordan as its major base for operations but, along with large numbers of Palestinian refugees, is expelled from the country in late 1970 and 1971. Both the PLO and the refugees then shift to Lebanon.

1968 - Rabin retires from the IDF on 1 January. Soon after he is appointed Israel's ambassador to the United States. He forms a solid relationship with US President Richard M. Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger and is able to raise the profile of Israel on the international stage and secure arms packages from the US without any reciprocal commitments.

"Israel's willingness to cooperate closely with the US in protecting American interests in the region altered her image in the eyes of many officials in Washington," he later writes.

"We were considered a partner - not equal to the US, but nevertheless a valuable ally in a vital region during times of crisis."

1973 - Rabin returns to Israel in March and becomes active in politics under the patronage of Labor Party leader and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. At elections held in December he wins a seat in the Knesset (parliament) for the Labor Party.

On 6 October Syria and Egypt launch a surprise attack against Israel on two fronts. During 18 days of bloody fighting the Israelis drive the Syrians back and surround the Egyptian Third Army. A cease-fire is declared on 22 October and hostilities finally end on 25 October.

1974 - In March Rabin is appointed to Cabinet as minister of labour. When Golda Meir resigns in April he assumes the party leadership. In June he is appointed as Israel's fifth prime minister. He is the first native-born or 'sabra' Israeli and the first former general attain the post.

One of his first tests comes when members of the Israeli settlers movement attempt to establish an illegal settlement on West Bank land captured during the 1967 war. Rabin is opposed to the settlers' occupation of the land and has them evicted but is unable to prevent them from returning.

Finally, in a decision that will have a far-reaching impact, he reluctantly allows them to stay in a military camp on the West Bank. From there settlements will spread to cover every hill on the West Bank, with the Israeli population of the area rising to over 240,000 by 2006. About 40% of the settlements are on privately owned Palestinian land.

Settlements will also be established in East Jerusalem, bringing the total number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories to roughly 450,000.

1975 - The Lebanese Civil War, a conflict between Christian and Muslim militias, begins on 13 April. It is reported that Rabin sides with the Lebanese Christians, providing the Maronite Phalange Party with military equipment and training worth US$150 million.

On 4 September Rabin signs a disengagement agreement with Egypt which results in Israeli forces withdrawing from territory in the Sinai occupied in 1967.

1976 - In July Rabin approves the successful commando raid at Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue 105 Israeli and Jewish hostages taken there after pro-Palestinian guerrillas hijack an Air France passenger jet. Only two of the hostages are killed during the 58-minute operation and only one is left behind.

1977 - During the campaign for the general elections of that year Rabin is forced to step down as leader of the Labor Party when it was revealed that he and his wife have maintained bank accounts in the US in violation of Israeli law. He is replaced as party leader by Shimon Peres.

Labor is defeated by the Likud bloc at the elections. The new prime minister, Menahem Begin, favours the settlement of the occupied territories. Under his administration settlements rapidly grow in number and reach into areas with large Arab populations.

Meanwhile, during his term on the opposition benches, Rabin serves as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

1978 - Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sign the Camp David Accords on 17 September. The Accords provide for the return of the Sinai to Egypt, although the actual hand over does not occur until May 1982. In March 1979 Israel and Egypt sign a 'Treaty of Peace'.

1982 - In a bid to halt PLO rocket attacks on its northern border districts, bolster it's Lebanese Phalangist allies and squash Syrian influence in the region, Israel invades Lebanon on 6 June.

While the PLO is forced from Lebanon, Syria's influence remains undiminished and the invasion leads to the rise of Hezbollah (Party of God).

1984-90 - Rabin serves as defence minister in the Labor-Likud coalition governments of the period, initiating a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon in 1985.

When the 'Intifada' erupts in December 1987 Rabin at first takes a hard line against the uprising, saying, "The security forces' first priority is to stop by force and by beatings the violent demonstrations."

As the conflict drags on he begins to meet with average Palestinians and travel throughout Gaza visiting refugee camps. When Jordan relinquishes its sovereignty over the West Bank, giving the Palestinians greater responsibility for the area, Rabin realises that the Palestinians must be included in the peace process.

At the same time, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat accepts UN Security Council Resolution 242, acknowledging "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence" of Israel.

In 1989 the Israeli Government adopts Rabin's plan for a gradual reconciliation with the Palestinians.

However, when the coalition collapses in March 1990 following disagreement over a proposal to hold direct discussions with Palestinians about a peace plan, Rabin returns to the opposition benches.

1992 - Rabin regains the leadership of the Labor Party. In the run-up to a general election held in June he campaigns on a promise to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians within a year. Labor wins enough seats to lead a coalition government and Rabin becomes prime minister for a second time. He also serves are defence minister.

Rabin quickly places a freeze on the establishment of new Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and begins the Oslo negotiations with the PLO.

On 2 October Rabin approves a plan to assassinate Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who ordered missile strikes on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. However, the plot is shelved after five elite commandos are killed during a training exercise held on 5 November.

1993 - The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, or 'Oslo Accord', is finalised on 13 September. Rabin publicly shakes hands with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat for the first time at the signing ceremony on the lawn of the White House in Washington DC. The declaration brings official recognition between Israel and the PLO and paves the way for limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Israel maintaining security over all the territory.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Rabin says, "It was not easy. Neither for myself, as a soldier in Israel's war, nor for the people of Israel, who are watching us now. We, the soldiers who have returned from battle, stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we say to you today enough of blood and tears. Enough."

The accord, while acclaimed internationally, is rejected by the Israeli settlers, who fear they will be forced from their settlements. They consider Rabin to be traitor and publicly denounce him.

Meanwhile, the Oslo Accord receives a potentially lethal blow on 25 February when Baruch Goldstein, a fanatical Jewish settler, takes a machine-gun into a mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron and murders 29 Palestinians before he too is killed.

Rabin calls the massacre "a despicable crime" but is unable to prevent the rioting by Palestinians that follows. Palestinian resistance also now takes a sinister turn with the upswing of suicide bomber attacks on Israeli civilian targets.

Despite the turmoil Rabin fails to evacuate the Jewish settlers from Hebron and, while a freeze is placed on new developments, he allows all existing settlements across the occupied territories to remain.

Rabin and Arafat are named 'Time' magazine's persons of the year for 1993, along with South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk.

"Peace is not yet a fact between the Israelis and the Palestinians," the magazine notes. "But Rabin and Arafat are Men of the Year because they have taken those meaningful steps from which it will be difficult to turn back. The idea of peace, once planted, is a powerful incentive to two peoples who have lost so many lives, so much time, so much prosperity in bloody wars."

1994 - Rabin negotiates and signs a peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan.

At the end of the year Rabin, together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "to honour a political act which called for great courage on both sides, and which has opened up opportunities for a new development towards fraternity in the Middle East."

Speaking at the presentation ceremony held in Oslo the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Francis Sejersted, says, "Hatred and violence breed hatred and violence. The Middle East was deep in that vicious circle; more and more minds seemed possessed by it. But, as we see, there are some who are strong enough to break out, who manage to stop to think, who turn around and go back on their tracks in search of a basis for peaceful coexistence. Perhaps they are the most deserving of respect and admiration. Were we not taught that such homecomings should be the cause of the greatest rejoicing?"

Full copy of presentation speech.

In his Nobel lecture Rabin says, "We are in the midst of building the peace. The architects and engineers of this enterprise are engaged in their work even as we gather here tonight, building the peace layer by layer, brick by brick, beam by beam. The job is difficult, complex, trying. Mistakes could topple the whole structure and bring disaster down upon us.

"And so we are determined to do the job well - despite the toll of murderous terrorism, despite fanatic and scheming enemies. We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude. We will not let up. We will not give in. Peace will triumph over all our enemies, because the alternative is grim for us all. And we will prevail."

Full copy of the lecture.

Meanwhile, Arafat is allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza.

1995 - On 28 September Rabin and Arafat sign the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (the Oslo II Accord). Under the accord Israel will withdraw from seven Palestinian towns in the West Bank and elections will be held in the Palestinian territory.

However, protests by Israelis opposed to the Oslo Accords begin to increase and support to slip. In response a large pro-peace rally is organised for Tel Aviv on 4 November. Rabin is to be the headline speaker.

The rally will end in tragedy. After addressing the 200,000-strong crowd Rabin is shot in the back as he leaves the venue. He dies shortly after. His assassin is Yigal Amir, a Jewish religious extremist intent on stopping peace.

Comment

Shortly before his death Rabin addressed the Israeli Parliament. "We returned and built a nation here in the land of Israel," he said, "But we didn't return to an empty land. There were Palestinians here who fought against us for over a hundred years of pogroms and blood. Thousands on both sides have been killed fighting for the same piece of land. We can continue to kill and be killed or we can try to stop this endless cycle of bloodshed. We can give peace a chance."

It all seemed so hopeful back then. It seems like such a long time ago. After Rabin's death the peace process unraveled as distrust between Israelis and Palestinians was pushed to new depths. The handshake between Rabin and Arafat has turned to dust. We have new images now. Palestinian civilians shot dead in the street by Israeli forces. Israelis blown to pieces by Palestinian suicide bombers. The building of walls to exclude the unwanted. Extremist political organisations voted into power. Illegally occupied land marked never to be returned.