Senator GARETH EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) — I move:
That the Senate —
(1)expresses its deep regret at the death, on 4 November 1995, of Mr Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel,
(2)condemns the brutal act which took his life,
(3)tenders its profound sympathy to his widow, Mrs Leah Rabin, the members of his family and to the Government and people of Israel in their bereavement,
(4)urges all Israelis to respond to this outrage by strengthening their commitment to the peace process, and
(5)requests that this motion be conveyed by the President on behalf of the Senate to the Government of Israel.
We can never directly experience the pain felt by Israelis and by Diaspora Jews at the terrible assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, but we can at least endeavour to share some of that pain and take this first parliamentary occasion to offer our compassion.
Prime Minister Rabin was a true Israeli. Born in Jerusalem in 1922, he was a man of great courage, great capacity, great tenacity, and of course great patriotism. As Acting Prime Minister, Kim Beazley, put it so well during his contribution to the memorial service held at the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation last week:
Every event which has marked the history of Israel had Yitzhak Rabin at its core. Even as a young man after the war of 1948, he was involved in negotiations separating the forces, as well as having been involved in the fighting. He was a hero in every major event in Israel’s survival thereafter. His life as a warrior, diplomat, politician and statesman was of a piece . . . Every step, every direction, he held before him a devotion to his nation, its survival, its health and the right of its citizens to live in peace.
Prime Minister Rabin’s vision was for an Israel living free from conflict with its Arab neighbours. He well understood the force of that very wise statement by David Ben-Gurion back in the 1940s at the time of the foundation of Israel that the new country could be Jewish, it could be democratic and it could occupy the whole of the biblical land of Israel, but it could not be all three. Yitzhak Rabin recognised that peace on the principle of land for peace was the only way forward for Israel. He dedicated his political energies to advancing the peace process.
During his second term as Prime Minister from 1992, he did make an historic contribution—and it is now universally acknowledged—to the achievement of progress in the Middle East peace process, a contribution for which, with his colleague Shimon Peres and his negotiating partner, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, he was very appropriately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Under his leadership, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation reached agreement on a process for peace. He was instrumental in achieving the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan signed in October 1994. I do not think any of us will ever forget the original historic appearance at the White House on 13 September 1993 when he shook the hand of his former adversary, Yasser Arafat, in what was a deeply symbolic gesture of peace.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yitzhak Rabin on several occasions. While unquestionably a rather dour personality, I always found him quite engaging, not least because of the directness, the sincerity and the impressive commitment that just shone through him in his approach to the issues of the day. Perhaps the most revealing exchange I had with him was one that I have had occasion to recount publicly a couple of times in the last week, but I will do so again.
It was just in July this year that we had been talking about the current state of the Palestinian track of the peace process and, having just come from a meeting with Chairman Arafat in the Gaza, I was being so bold as to suggest that in a couple of specific respects Israel might perhaps find it possible to be a little more flexible in its negotiation. Then I stopped in midstream and said, `But of course on all of this I am preaching to the converted.’
There was a little pause during which a little half-smile played over Yitzhak Rabin’s lips—I think I know what his granddaughter was saying when she referred to that half-smile in her own extraordinarily moving tribute to her grandfather at the funeral service a few days ago—and he said to me, `The committed, not the converted.’ You are preaching to the committed, not to the converted.
There was a core, a residue, of absolute toughness about him, a determination to not let his heart rule his head in any way, shape or form but, at the same time, there was no doubt where his head was at. He was absolutely committed intellectually to the peace process and absolutely determined to make it work. That commitment was known, respected and indeed admired throughout the Middle East and also, I am sure, among some of the most hard-headed and hard-nosed of his opponents, or negotiating partners as it is perhaps preferable to call them.
Certainly, when I had a conversation with President Assad just a couple of days after that one, and felt moved to retail this little exchange to President Assad, he was enormously amused by it, representing and conveying as it did so much of the essence of Yitzhak Rabin the leader, and President Assad recognising very much a fellow hard nose in the Middle East peace process.
Because of the approach he adopted to the peace process, combining commitment with caution and certainly investing all his enormously hard won reputation as a defence leader and soldier, it was Yitzhak Rabin more than anyone else who advanced that peace process. Accordingly, his assassination is an immeasurable loss for Israel, for the Middle East and indeed for the whole world.
Israel was, of course, founded on the dream of Jewish people everywhere that Israel be a place of sanctuary; a place where people pay each other due regard and respect; a place where above all else human rights and human happiness were to be the foundations of the society. It was especially tragic in these circumstances that Yitzhak Rabin was killed, and killed by a fellow Jew, a fellow Israeli, because of his commitment to a peace process which was going to—and will, if it is carried through to fruition—ensure the safety and security of all Israelis better than any comparable approach to the country’s security would ever be able to do.
The Prime Minister, Paul Keating, represented Australia and all Australians at the funeral of Mr Rabin. It was, as we all saw from the television coverage, a very moving ceremony in which Mr Rabin was honoured as a person and a leader who had made an enormous contribution to his country and the world. Our Prime Minister’s presence was both to pay our respect to Mr Rabin’s memory and our respect to his family. But it was also to demonstrate Australia’s continuing commitment to the ongoing peace process which we all hope will be the true legacy of Mr Rabin to his country and to the world.
Australia has long supported the right of Israel to a secure and peaceful existence among its Arab neighbours in the context of a comprehensive regional settlement. We have added to that position of principle a practical commitment of applying, to the extent that we reasonably can, Australian resources, skills and support in what is still a very vulnerable peace process. We have been part of the multilateral arms control and regional security track of the peace process and in that capacity have played an active role in trying to establish regional security centres in the Middle East to help promote confidence building measures and to enhance conflict prevention arrangements.
We have also been involved in another track of the multilateral process to do with water resources, in which capacity we have hosted discussions in Australia among Arab, Israeli and Australian water experts, seeking to address what obviously remains one of the most critical long-term threats to the political stability of the region as well as one of the most important elements of its future economic prosperity: water resources.
Another small contribution of ours to peace building is through a program of exchanges involving Israeli, Arab and Australian artists. These are modest contributions, and I do not pretend otherwise; but we do want to make a contribution to the Middle East peace process. We do want to make a contribution to Yitzhak Rabin’s vision of a Middle East blessed by peace and prosperity, and we will continue to do what we can in support of peace in the Middle East.
As everyone is now saying—including, mercifully, an overwhelming majority of Israelis—such a lasting, just and comprehensive peace will be far and away the most appropriate tribute to Yitzhak Rabin’s memory.
The PRESIDENT —Before calling Senator Hill, I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the President’s gallery of His Excellency Ambassador Moyal and Counsellor Aviran from the Israeli Embassy. I welcome you here.
Honourable senators—Hear, hear!