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Mideast Peace Survives Attack, Experts Believe

Sun., Nov. 5, 1995

The gunman who shot Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Saturday was aiming to kill the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that Rabin had embraced.

The 73-year-old Rabin is dead, but the young peace process is still alive, Israeli political analysts insist.

At least in the beginning, they say, Israelis horrified by this assassination - unprecedented in the history of their Jewish state - are likely to stand behind acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the architect of the 1993 peace accord between Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Peres is vowing to continue making peace with the Palestinians, and Rabin’s Labor Party is certain to try to turn the national tragedy into a rallying cry for pushing forward with peace.

“I think there will be such a general revulsion and horror that this will strengthen the peace process,” said David Kimche, president of the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations. “It will hasten it. A lot of people who may have had doubts will feel themselves more united with the need to have peace. A lot of people who were wavering will join in.”

For the moment, even opposition Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is talking about the need for national unity, reminding the country that the Jews’ Second Temple fell as a result of civil war. “I am not an opponent of the peace process,” Netanyahu said. “We have different conceptions of peace.”

But the long-term prospects for peace are not so clear. The 27-year-old alleged assassin, Yigal Amir, also represented a large segment of the population - nearly half, by some polls - that wants to see the peace process dead.

The most radical of these peo ple are Jewish settlers and their allies who still believe the occupied West Bank that they call Judea and Samaria belongs to Jews alone. They do not want to give up land to the Palestinians whom they have been fighting for decades, as the peace accord requires them to do. They believe Palestinians - or all Arabs - are not to be trusted.

It is possible that Peres and the Labor Party can overcome this extreme opposition. The huge rally that was Rabin’s last showed a strong core of support for peace.

But they still must win over other Israelis who feel that their No. 1 concern - security - is not being addressed enough by the Rabin-Arafat accord. Some of these people only hesitatingly supported Rabin.

Palestinian political analysts fear that Israel will be so consumed by its internal politics and quest for stability in the coming months that the peace process will be frozen.

“Undoubtedly, this murder will be difficult for peace,” said Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center. “It will necessarily lead to a slowdown.”

He noted that many Israelis do not trust Rabin’s heir, Peres, who is known as an unwavering dove and dreamer, while they were willing to follow Rabin, the stern war hero who was seen as a tough negotiator. “Rabin was the strongest person in the Israeli political arena to be able to take courageous steps toward peace,” Ghassan said.

Israelis counter that the lesson of this crisis - of the leader of the Jewish state being killed by a Jew - is the need for unity. And for peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors.

“We have a fact before us. One of the country’s greatest military leaders, a Churchillian figure who made decisions to move the country towards peace, was killed by a Jew,” said Yaron Ezrahi, a political scientist at Hebrew University.

“The country will rally behind Labor and Peres through the death of Rabin. This will be Rabin’s legacy and they will speak and work in his name. I think peace has been politically sanctified, ” he said.”It is now clearer than ever before that those who object to peace are connected with anti-democratic forces at home,” Ezrahi said.


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