Speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, former U.S. President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated this week in 1995.
“He refused to do the easy thing, which is to deny evident facts,” Clinton told the crowd of 100,000 at Rabin Square. “He wanted to solve problems, not turn away from them or deny them.”
The problem Rabin meant to solve was a still-elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a political solution to the decades-long conflict. The closest he got, before he was gunned down after a peace rally by a far-right Jewish extremist, was the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in 1993. Oslo was not so much a comprehensive peace deal as a framework for a future agreement. Progress would theoretically happen in phases. The major issues that fueled the conflict would eventually be sorted out. That day never came.
As Clinton told The Atlantic’s James Bennet last year, the two sides are “no less interdependent than they were when Yitzhak Rabin was alive and handed over the first big chunk of the West Bank to the Palestinians, [which] cost him his life.”
Each year, around the anniversary of Rabin’s killing, a set of tributes and counterfactuals lament what might have been. With a new wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence now underway, and yet another war and another round of failed peace talks just passed, the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s death has proven a particularly poignant moment to ask if Rabin might have brought peace had he lived—and what, if any, elements of his legacy live on.