As pain of Rabins death ebbs, a new traitor appears

With every passing year, the memory fades just a little bit more, and the ache dulls a little bit more.

That is only natural. Life goes on. It will even happen, a few decades from now, that young people will know Yitzhak Rabin only as a person in the history books, a name on a street or a building.

But for those of us who lived before he died, November is still reason enough to feel again, however briefly, the same sharp pain, sadness and anger — not just at the last scene at Mount Herzl, but at all the other scenes that went before and, like some kind of Greek tragedy, led to it.

We need no additional reminder, not the ceremonies, not the candles, not the music. We need nothing but the calendar.

How grotesque, then, that the pain, sadness and anger are triggered this year by the same scenes that led to Rabin's death — scenes of wild-eyed demonstrators, half-mesmerized by the ecstasy of their hatred, screaming "traitor" and "murderer."

And how ironic that the object of their frenzy is not just another prime minister, but one who invested most of his adult life and much of his considerable energy, intellect and political skill trying to discredit Rabin's road, only to find himself further down it.

Why are the zealots so outraged at Benjamin Netanyahu? Why do they feel so betrayed? Because they believed that he belonged to their world, that he was "flesh of their flesh." That's why they helped put him into office.

Yes, it's true what all the apologists have been saying ever since then: Netanyahu never called anyone a traitor. He never incited to murder. The vast, overwhelming majority of his supporters and partners are not fanatics.

It may even be true that Rabin assassin Yigal Amir and his supporters are just deviants, "wild weeds." But it's also true that Netanyahu appealed to their instincts and passions, cultivated their spiritual leaders and the other high priests of the settler movement so intent on redeeming the rest of us. Netanyahu spoke with a vocabulary and a body-language that resonated with them.

So it is doubly distressing for them to discover that the same man who speaks about "the rock of our existence" ultimately does not belong to their conceptual universe or share their fantasies. He is not really a mystic, moved by messianic visions of redemption and the end of days. He is not a politician indifferent to the mundane realities of power and counter-power. And worst of all, to them, his commitment to the land is conditional and not absolute.

Even now, it is still not clear that Netanyahu has internalized Rabin's decision and concluded that peace should be embraced positively, rather than conceded grudgingly, in order to turn the quest for peace to Israel's best advantage. But it is clear, especially to the demonstrators in front of his house and office, that Netanyahu has embarked on Rabin's way of decision-making.

If Rabin could know this, perhaps it would be some slight consolation to him. But not much, and not at all to those left behind who still feel his loss.

For with all of his qualities, Rabin's greatness did not lie in some arbitrary act of willpower, but rather in his ability to accurately assess reality. Though he was not the first Israeli to do this, he was the first Israeli leader with the courage and power to do something about it.

The same reality is beginning to impose itself on Netanyahu. The learning process has been long, and the years in between have been used mainly to squander time, money, good will, political capital, lives and hope.

Nothing can ever mitigate or compensate for the enormity of the crime that ended Rabin's life. But if Netanyahu had been able somehow to disarm or repress the fanaticism that produced the crime, the rest of us could at least take desperate comfort in the thought that something good came of it.

Even that small solace is denied us, however. Instead, what has happened is that one "traitor" and "murderer" has been replaced by another. And even the people screaming "traitor" and "murderer" now understand what so many others believed from the very first, terrible moment — that the assassination was all for nothing. What a waste.