After Rabin, extremists have polarized region

Today is the eighth anniversary of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Hailing from Israel’s Labor Party, the moderate was perhaps the most famous of all Israeli advocates for peace and compromise with the Palestinians.

After receiving the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for hammering out the 1993 Olso accord, Rabin returned home to Israel to find a small but determined group of religious zealots accusing him of treasonous actions – compromise with the Palestinians – and demanding his removal from power. A year later, Yigal Amir, a devout rabbinical student, assassinated Rabin. His death offers a superb example of why extremists have polarized the region, preventing any kind of peace.

While polls of the general population in the region fluctuate wildly, a fairly safe estimate is that a majority on both sides prefer peace. For instance, last year’s plan for peace offered by Saudi Arabia found two-thirds of Palestinians supporting the establishment of two states, with

Israel returning to its 1967 borders. Likewise, around the same time, a poll of Israeli society found about 60 percent in support of unilateral withdrawal from most of the occupied territories and dismantling most settlements.

Certainly, extremists like to quote other polls citing widespread wishes on both sides for the other to cease existence – not too shocking considering the daily violence. Nonetheless, at this point in history, it is indeed difficult to envision the majority from either side as unwilling to compromise.

The vicious polarization thus results from a security dilemma propagated by extremists such as Israelis willing to assassinate a pro-peace leader such as Rabin and various terrorists groups like Islamic Jihad unwilling to accept a cease-fire. Minorities make Israeli and Palestinean majorities unable to achieve peace and force them to choose sides – because by not supporting the violent extremists, each side leaves themselves vulnerable to fear that the other side will – even though violence is not the ideal solution.