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  • Yitzhak Rabin: A Political Biography by Leslie Derfler
  • Zach Levey
Yitzhak Rabin: A Political Biography, by Leslie Derfler. New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014. 240 pp. $105.00 US (cloth).

“Resurrection” is the principal theme of this biography; Yitzhak Rabin’s return in 1992 as prime minister of Israel twenty-five years after a three-year period (1974–77) that he himself considered a failure. Nine of eleven [End Page 628] chapters review the roles that Rabin filled during the fifty years that preceded his reascent in 1992, when he led the Labor Party to victory at the polls. The first three chapters are “Soldier,” “Hero” (of the 1967 Six Day War), and “Ambassador” (to the United States). The next three deal with his first round as prime minister, the political and personal issues leading to an early end to that term in office, and the seven-year “Interment” of 1977 to 1984 (the title of chapter six), during much of which “the nine o’clock news served as Rabin’s chief source of daily information” (p. 83).

In 1984 Rabin became minister of defense, serving until the 1990 demise of the coalition in which the Labor Party shared power with the right-wing Likud. Chapters seven and eight examine Rabin’s policies during those six years, including his tough approach to the Intifada (Palestinian uprising) that erupted at the end of 1987. The last three chapters cover Rabin’s “resurrection” in 1992, the 1993 Oslo Agreement over which he presided with long-time rival Shimon Peres, and his assassination in November 1995.

Derfler writes that his biography “shows admiration” of Rabin but also “tarnishes his image” (p. viii). This sounds odd, for a researcher should not hesitate to criticize, and his study of Rabin is fair and balanced. Thus, Derfler points to Rabin’s part in the escalation that led to the 1967 war and share in responsibility for the disparagement of the Arabs that contributed to the Yom Kippur War of 1973. At the same time, he acknowledges Rabin’s capacity for both diplomatic flexibility and strategic adaptation. Rabin as second-time prime minister dealt with both Washington as ally and the Palestinians as adversary in ways in which the Likud’s Yitzhak Shamir, his immediate predecessor, was simply incapable.

Derfler emphasizes his inclusion of material from articles translated from Hebrew that were not available to earlier biographers. Evidence of a synthesis based on these sources appears in his treatment of facets of Rabin’s policies and political relationships to which others have accorded less attention. Peres, minister of defense from 1974 to 1977, presented himself as the principal realist in the first Rabin government. The author notes that Rabin was therefore “flabbergasted” that Peres in mid-1975 proposed a withdrawal from the strategic passes in the Sinai peninsula that would leave neither Egypt nor Israel in control but place there a joint US-Soviet garrison (p. 56). Derfler describes Rabin’s seven years (1977–1984) as a backbencher in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), when his involvement in security matters was limited to a place on the legislature’s foreign affairs and defense committee. Rabin was relegated to the sidelines as Menachem Begin reached an accord with Egypt in 1978 at Camp David. He was bored during much of this period, spending his time “meet[ing] with German or Swiss socialists” and writing his memoirs (pp. 82–3). [End Page 629]

The five pages in this book devoted to those memoirs include a good review of the Rabin-Peres rivalry. Rabin charged that Peres was “politically subversive,” defeatist during the crisis preceding the 1967 war and unqualified to have been minister of defense. Derfler quotes the Jerusalem Post’s observation that Rabin’s animosity toward Peres exceeded “the bounds of rationality.” At the same time, he cites Michael Keren, who points out that the real importance of those memoirs was in Rabin’s recognition of the exigency of striving for peace (pp. 91–6). Rabin did not envision a Palestinian state. But during the 1992 electoral campaign he made clear his view of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the only purpose of which, he asserted...


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