Twenty Years On, Yitzhak Rabin’s Vision For Peace Is Gone Forever

With renewed violence raging between Palestinians and Israelis, and an international community caught up with other conflicts, the two-state solution is all but dead and buried. Another reason to mourn the Israeli leader, assassinated Nov. 4, 1995.

Israeli security forces search a Palestinian youth near the Jerusalem central bus station
Israeli security forces search a Palestinian youth near the Jerusalem central bus station
Dominique Moïsi


PARIS â€" First came the stones, then the suicide bombers. Now it's the knives. How can these latest attacks ever be predicted and prevented, carried out by lone wolves driven by their own rage? We appear on the verge of a third Intifada just as Israel prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin"s death on November 4. It's as if there were a direct connection between the killing of the man who best embodied a real hope for peace and the new explosion of violence that's haunting the region.

Why would the cycle of fragile truces and brutal explosions change? The situation is more than a stalemate: it's getting worse with time, spurred on by both political and religious radicalization.

There's a real gap between the tragic images coming from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the West Bank and the growing indifference with which the international community watches the region's, if not the world's, oldest conflict. During a meeting last week in Paris dedicated to "the new challenges and new balances in the Middle East," none of the speakers deemed it necessary to make even the slightest mention of the current eruption of violence.

Between the fight against ISIS and its globalization on the one hand, and the Iran nuclear deal and its political, diplomatic and economic consequences on the other, it is indeed difficult to make time and show interest in an issue that's been so discouraging and intractable. It has worn out even the most determined and optimistic minds.

The Palestinians will wait for better times to come, and the Israelis will pay the price tomorrow for the mistakes their leaders are committing today.

Is there even a credible alternative to the fragile and sometimes violent status quo? How can we expect the Israelis to return the West Bank to the Palestinians even as ISIS is gaining ground near their border with Syria? Wouldn't that be suicidal on their part? And who among the Palestinians would be willing to begin serious negotiations with the current Israeli government and its right-wing drift. There are too many divisions and weaknesses on one side, too many illusions of strength on the other.

A mere dream

To cut to the chase, the parties can't reach an agreement by themselves, and the international community is too weak, too divided, too indifferent and too far away to impose such a deal.

If there's a consensus today, it's a negative one. The solution â€" these days, more like a dream â€" of two states peacefully coexisting alongside one another has ceased to exist. At least in theory, it was a good idea to exchange land for peace. But in an almost perverse way, the two parties have seemed to resign themselves to the status quo. For the Israelis, it's "comfortable" save for these periods when violence erupts. It's much less comfortable for the Palestinians, but won't their demography avenge them in the long run?

Since the Israelis aren't ready to grant them a viable state alongside their own, the Palestinians will progressively, and within the current Israeli borders, become the majority, with the implied political, social and religious consequences. The Jews will simply become a minority in the Jewish state.

For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a struggle for territory. It is possible to compromise on borders between two different peoples. But if the clash turns into a religious conflict between two sides who don't even need each other to radicalize, any form of compromise becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to reach.

The 1993 Oslo Accord handshake between Rabin and Yassir Arafat. Photo: White House

Since the two-state solution is de facto outdated, since the idea of one binational state isn't acceptable, some now like to think of a third option, that of a confederation between three peoples: the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Jordanians. After all, isn't Jordan Israel's closest partner in the region?

Based today on mistrust, such a confederation could tomorrow, thanks to its undeniable economic advantages, become a more positive entity. Let's stop dreaming. The Middle East isn't and won't become like post-World War II Europe. We watch powerlessly as hatred and intolerance rise relentlessly. In Israel, even small extremist minorities no longer hesitate to use violence to defend, or indeed impose, their vision of the world.

But how can we tell the Israelis that the first danger that threatens their country in the long run is not Iran, not ISIS and not even Palestinian knives, but a policy of occupation that undermines the very political and ethical foundations of their state? An occupation that comes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shift to the right, which makes him a hostage of forces even more extreme than him.

If Yitzhak Rabin had lived, we can't say for sure that his dream of peace between Israelis and Palestinians would have become a reality. But what we can say is that the world has desperately missed his brave, modest and realistic character. That is more true today than ever.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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