Spirit of Rabin inspires Israeli opposition

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The Independent Online
A huge rally in Tel Aviv this weekend to mark the second anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by a right-wing religious fanatic kindled the Israeli opposition's will to topple Benjamin Netanyahu's government - and the conviction that in the former army commander, Ehud Barak, it has a winner.

The organisers projected the rally, in the town hall square where Yigal Amir gunned down the first Israeli Prime Minister to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, as non-partisan. But under the slogan, "We shall not forget and we shall not forgive", up to 200,000 demonstrators quickly targeted Mr Netanyahu.

Speaker after speaker condemned him for undermining the 1993 Oslo accords. Yossi Sarid, the left-liberal Meretz leader who served in Mr Rabin's government, pledged not to rest until Mr Netanyahu was forced to resign. "Go home, Netanyahu. Our souls are weary of your lies, your sophistry, your charlatanism, your adventurism, your dodging responsibility," he said.

More significantly, Mr Barak, whom critics had dismissed as a Netanyahu clone ready to pay any price for power, came off the fence. In an echo of Mr Rabin, another war-hero-turned-politician, the new Labour leader promised: "I, army serial number 448200, reserve Lieutenant-General Ehud Barak, a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces and a soldier in the army of peace, swear to you, Yitzhak, that I will lead on your path, will lead until we bring peace."

Saturday night's rally was the biggest since a protest in autumn, 1982, against the massacre of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatilla camps by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies. "What was until now a beaten, depressed camp, which didn't know its own strength," wrote the mass-circulation Ma'ariv yesterday, "received a major infusion of self-confidence."

It comes at a time when Mr Netanyahu, who is paying an official visit to Britain later this week, faces a revolt by his own Likud ministers, who accuse him of trying to impose one-man rule on their party. Also he has lost the trust of Israel's American ally and of its Arab peace partners. Although Mr Netanyahu is due to meet the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, in London, President Bill Clinton is refusing to receive him when he flies on to the United States to address Jewish leaders.