Yitzhak Rabin

Yitzhak Rabin was a key Israeli military and political leader. Born in Jerusalem in 1922, Rabin earned a degree from an agricultural college and joined the elite Palmach forces that fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He became chief of staff and led the army during the stunning Israeli victory in the 1967 war.

Rabin was the Israeli ambassador to the United States from 1968 to 1973. After returning to Israel, he ran for the Knesset on the Labor Party ticket. He vied with his rival Shimon Peres for the position of prime minister after Golda Meir’s government fell and defeated Peres for the leadership position.

Rabin served as prime minister from 1974 to 1977 and was instrumental in rebuilding the army after the 1973 war (Yom Kippur War). He also signed the initial disengagement agreement with Egypt over the Sinai Peninsula. Following reports of his wife having had, under Israeli law, an illegal bank account in the United States, Rabin stepped down as prime minister.

For much of his military career, Rabin was a hard-liner with regard to the Palestinians and Arab nations. He advocated the use of strong force to crush the Palestinian Intifada when it erupted in the Occupied Territories (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) in 1987. Rabin was again elected prime minister in 1992.

Following protracted secret negotiations, he agreed to the 1993 Oslo accords and signed a much-publicized agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), represented by Yasir Arafat, in a ceremony hosted by then president Bill Clinton on the White House lawn. Under the agreement the Israelis agreed to a gradual pullout from selected portions of the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for full recognition by the PLO.

The agreement was opposed by both Israeli and Palestinian extremists and hard-liners. In 1994 Rabin signed a peace treaty with King Hussein of Jordan, with whom—in contrast to Arafat—he had cordial relations. Rabin was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize along with Peres and Arafat.

Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Israeli fanatic who opposed the settlement with the Palestinians, in 1995. The assassination shocked Israeli society but it also reflected the deep divisions within Israel over the exchange of peace for land.