There were a few small-scale Palestinian terrorist incidents in the preceding months, but this was the first major blow to the Oslo Peace Process. Baruch Goldstein’s murder of 29 Palestinians at prayer, and the wounding of 125 others, provoked numerous revenge attacks by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These cost over 100 Israeli lives in the course of the next 25 months, and poisoned the atmosphere for a successful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meretz (Yitzhak Rabin’s main coalition partner), and other dovish elements, argued for Israel to forcibly remove the extremist settlers from Hebron and/or nearby Kiryat Arba (where Goldstein lived). We don’t know if such a resolute act of contrition would have changed history by allaying Palestinian anger, but it might have, while also removing the most militant of settler communities from its base at a time that most Israelis would have supported such a radical measure.
Prime Minister Rabin reportedly came close to making this decision, but in the end he decided (fatally) to stay rigidly with the gradual Oslo timetable for negotiating the future of the settlements as a final status issue. This five-year timeframe, from the initial 1993 Oslo agreement, was derailed by the murder of Rabin and then by the terrorist wave that racked Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in February and March of 1996, prompting the narrow election of Binyamin Netanyahu over Shimon Peres. Netanyahu slowed the peace process to a crawl, building up the kind of pressure for a resolution that exploded with the Second Intifada in the fall of 2000.
This is the Jewish Currents “Jewdayo” message of Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, on Goldstein:
Baruch Goldstein, [a] Brooklyn-born Orthodox Jewish physician, murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded 125 others by opening fire in a mosque in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on this date [Feb. 24], the Purim holiday, in 1994. Goldstein was attacked and killed by survivors of the massacre. His grave in Meir Kahane Memorial Park in Hebron became a site of veneration for extremist settlers, with a plaque praising “the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah and the nation of Israel.” Goldstein was a charter member of the Jewish Defense League and a dyed-in-the-wool racist; four years before the massacre, an Israeli intelligence agent who had infiltrated Kahane’s Kach movement had warned his superiors about Goldstein.“You are not part of the community of Israel… You are not part of the national democratic camp which we all belong to in this house, and many of the people despise you. You are not partners in the Zionist enterprise. You are a foreign implant. . . .We say to this horrible man and those like him: you are a shame on Zionism and an embarrassment to Judaism.” –Yitzhak Rabin