Itamar Rabinovich, Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), 304 pp.
Professor Itamar Rabinovich has written a comprehensive political and military biography of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1922 – 1995). An expert on the Middle East, the author combined his academic career with public service and held the position of Ambassador to the United States from 1993-1996. During that period, he also served as Israel’s chief negotiator in the talks with Syria. The author covers Rabin’s military career from the years before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 through the stunning victory in the Six-Day War in 1967 when he served as Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, his term as ambassador to the U.S. (1968-1972), his first term as prime minister (1974-1977), and his role as Minister of Defense during the late 1980s. The English edition of the book, however, devotes special attention to Israel’s relations with the United States and the Oslo peace process, the signature policy of Rabin’s second tenure as prime minister (1992-1995). That being said, Rabinovich is careful not to emphasize his own role as diplomat and negotiator. Indeed, he did not pursue a political or diplomatic career and returned to research and writing.
Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman is a rigorous work which is heavily documented. Rabinovich not only refers to his personal archive and testimonies and written sources, but to information gleaned from Rabin’s family, friends and co-workers. The latter contributed to enriching his book. Among his sources, for example, is Between Rabin and Arafat: A Political Diary, 1993-1994 by Dr. Jacques Neriah,1 who played a prominent role in negotiating with the Palestinians. To his credit, Rabinovich acknowledges those who helped him and provided him with invaluable information. On the whole, the account is exhaustive and highly detailed. The body of the text, however, contains many quotations, occasionally making it difficult for the reader to follow the narrative. Furthermore, the author also seems to intersperse events of the remoter past with later events and inserts his commentary and speculation, thereby interrupting the flow. Perhaps, he should have written the book with a clearer chronological sequence of events and placed his commentary at the end of each chapter, or in an appendix. Similarly, the conclusions and the implications of policies of the Rabin era and the effects of his assassination should have appeared at length in the “Afterword,” and not throughout the book. In fact, missing from the “Afterword” is an explanation of the far-reaching geopolitical changes that have taken place in the region, such as the “Arab Spring” and its aftermath, and the Iranian threat. An expert like Professor Rabinovich could have added much to our knowledge of these topics
While Rabinovich praises Rabin’s leadership and his vision, the book does not offer sufficient criticism of the outcome of the 1993 Oslo Accords that brought about a wave of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians. The author should have emphasized the responsibility of the Palestinians for violating the agreements they signed with Israel and for their incitement and terrorism. Similarly, the Palestinian refusal to accept the generous offers of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert could have noted. Although Yitzhak Rabin is the subject of this book, the flaws of the Oslo Accords merit some discussion. Likewise, while the focus on Rabin’s assassination and the incitement against him by the extreme Right is correct, the failure of Oslo was not only due internal Israeli politics or to Rabin’s untimely and violent death. Had Yitzhak Rabin lived, it is still not clear whether the Oslo process, as it was known, would have succeeded, as not everything was in Israel’s hands. Despite Rabinovich’s personal friendship with Rabin and his sense of loss, his work is generally objective and non-partisan, and he does offer criticism of Rabin’s decisions in a diplomatic manner.
In conclusion, Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman2 is highly recommended and provides a fascinating, intimate and well-researched treatment of the life of Yitzhak Rabin, whose career was intertwined with the history of the State of Israel. Professor Rabinovich’s personal regard for his subject, his historical-political perspective and his first-hand knowledge lend the work its unique character. It is appropriate that it appeared on the fiftieth anniversary of the Six-Day War.a
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[i] Jacques Neriah, Between Rabin and Arafat: A Political Diary, 1993-1994 (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2016); reviewed by: Manfred Gerstenfeld, in: Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 27, 3-4 (Fall 2016).
[ii] The book has appeared in Hebrew, entitled, Yitzhak Rabin: Hayal, Midinai, Manhig (Tel Aviv: Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan/Dvir, 2017), 400pp.