Did Rabin assassination mark decline of Israel's peace camp?
At the time of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, his Labor party controlled more than one-third of parliament. Today, it's barely 10 percent – and slipping.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination 15 years ago at the peak of Israel's pro-peace movement now appears to have heralded the beginning of a long, slow decline for an Israeli left that is in danger of fading into irrelevance.Skip to next paragraph
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In 1995, Rabin had signed the Oslo Accords, one of the most dramatic gestures towards peace in the long history of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and the act that inspired his Israeli assassin. His Labor Party controlled 44 parliament seats, more than one-third of the Israeli Knesset. Today, they have only 13 seats, and recent polls show the party would drop to 10 seats if elections were held today.
The currently stalled peace process and a government driven by ultranationalist and religious parties could serve as a rallying cry for Labor and other dovish left-wing parties. But instead, the political forces that spent the last three decades pushing for a lasting peace lack a charismatic leader and can't shake the perception that they're too naïve to negotiate.
There is an ideological crisis: The left's 1990s legacy – the groundbreaking Oslo Accords – is now considered a failure by most Israelis. And their signature platform – a two-state solution – has now been adopted by Benjamin Netanyahu, albeit under pressure from the US.
Then there is a leadership vacuum: Labor leader Ehud Barak's popularity has been eroded by a series of scandals and compromised by his involvement in Netanyahu's coalition government. Efforts to show himself and Labor as a pro-peace counterbalance to Netanyahu's right-wing skeptics were undermined after the government rejected US requests for a new Israeli settlement freeze – effectively suspending the peace talks.
"Let's be blunt. There's no peace process," says Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "If somebody in Israel is a traditional left-wing voter, they have nothing to attract them to be active, to mobilize voters, to impact public opinion, and hopefully to start resuscitating the left with the next elections as the goal."
Barak called a 'moron' by Labor colleague
On the very anniversary of Rabin's Nov. 4 assassination, his successor Barak was squabbling with restless party colleagues who want to dump him as party chairman and bail out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's center-right coalition government.
In recent weeks, two Labor parliament members have declared themselves candidates to replace Barak. On Wednesday, the influential head of Israel's umbrella labor union called him a "moron'" on television for illegally employing a foreign worker. Another former ally and party power broker spoke of finding a new leader.
Barak fended off the accusation in a radio interview Thursday morning, but it wasn't before a political commentator in the liberal Haaretz newspaper wrote that Barak had become a lame duck.
A Pyrrhic victory for the left
Left-wing parties laid the foundations of the Israeli state and ruled for the first 30 years. When the right-wing Likud first came to power in 1977, Labor and the left became more identified with the Arab-Israeli peace process.
They spearheaded the 1990s Oslo peace process, but were blamed by Israelis after the Camp David peace summit collapsed in 2000 and a second, more violent Palestinian intifada broke out.