“If the conflict were to be theologized ….”

Photo: ‘Shalom, Chaver” Farewell friend.  Illustration from Martin’s book The Story of Israel

600 words / 3 minute read

The Declaration of Principles was signed in Washington on 13 September 1993.  Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were the main signatories.  The signing took place on the lawn of the White House, on the very desk that had been used at Camp David for the signing of the Begin-Sadat agreement in 1978.  Immediately after the signing, Rabin’s uneasy handshake with Arafat, his wry smile, were seen by millions of television viewers across the world.  That handshake, as much as any other single act, symbolized the revolution and the new reality:  Israel had recognized the PLO, was talking to it, and was signing agreements with it; and the PLO had recognized Israel.

Within a month, what had been so secret in Oslo was open to the world’s view in Washington.  In the months that followed, Israel and the PLO were in almost continuous negotiations, with a view to an Israeli withdrawal from some, and eventually most, of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  This was a direction inconceivable a few years earlier, breaking the stalemate, the hardships and the violence generated by occupation.

Rabin knew that Arafat and the PLO were the last vestige of secular Palestinian nationalism with which Israel could deal.  The PLO was then at its lowest ebb, he explained at the time to a confidant.  On the West Bank and in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad were pressing for more radical fundamentalist and essentially violent solutions, and this extremism was swiftly winning over the allegiance of the inhabitants.  Rabin knew that if they were to succeed, if the conflict was to be theologized, there never would be peace.  For, to theological conflicts, there are no compromises, and therefore no solutions.  Hence the handshake, and hence Rabin’s resolve to strengthen the PLO arm of Palestinian nationalism as a partner for peace.

In his speech on the White House lawn, Rabin also revealed an attitude of mind that had first been hinted at when he had spoken on Mount Scopus in 1967 after the Six Day War.  At the White House, he spoke of how, “for many thousands who have defended our lives with their own, and have even sacrificed their lives for our own – this ceremony had come too late”.  He had come, with his delegation, “from a people, a home, a family, that has not known a single year – not a single month – in which mothers have not wept for their sons”.

During his speech, Rabin appealed directly to the Palestinians.  “We are destined to live together, on the same soil in the same land,” he told them.  “We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of parents and orphans, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians – We say to you today in a loud and clear voice:  Enough of blood and tears.  Enough.  We harbour no hatred towards you.  We have no desire for revenge.  We, like you, are people who want to build a home, plant a tree, love, live side by side with you – in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men.  We are today giving peace a chance and saying to you:  Enough.  Let’s pray that a day will come when we will all say:  Farewell to arms.”

Excerpt from Israel, A History

I am grateful to David Winston Lincoln for pointing out this passage to me.

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