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With Rabin Gone, His Flame Burns On : Peace seekers will persevere in the face of monumental loss

Yitzhak Rabin, a hero in Israel’s wars, has become a casualty of its bold turn toward peace, a victim of that implacable religious and political fanaticism that can affect all creeds and cross all borders. Tough-minded and tested in battle, military architect of the remarkable feat of arms that brought Israel sweeping victory in 1967’s Six Day War, Rabin commanded singular if far from unanimous trust and respect in his country. His death at the hands of an Israeli assassin linked to the irreconcilable far right leaves a deep and disturbing void in Israeli public life and is a cause for international mourning.

A MAN FOR THE TIME: Rabin was the Israeli political figure uniquely suited to this moment of opportunity in Middle Eastern history. His character and long record of service to the nation gave him the stature to bring Israelis to think about what many had long regarded as unthinkable: making peace with the Palestinians and maybe even with Syria, based on territorial and political compromises with those who for decades had professed to see Israel’s very existence as illegitimate and transient. A nation that until recent days had heard its extinction repeatedly demanded was understandably skeptical about the sincerity of those enemies who now said they were ready to talk peace.

Rabin insisted--almost literally with his last breath Saturday evening--that peace built on pragmatic accommodations must be given a chance. Millions of Israelis are ready to heed him. But many others have shown they are determined to fight fundamental changes in the status quo with every weapon a democratic society allows. And a few, claiming to be God-inspired or arguing that Israel’s physical survival is at stake, are ready to murder and destroy to prevent any change. The overheated, extremist and sometimes hysterical rhetoric voiced by the right wing contributes to the atmosphere that led to the assassination.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres now becomes acting prime minister with the task of forming a new coalition government. Peres deserves fully as much credit as Rabin for Israel’s readiness to talk directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Yasser Arafat and to begin the transfer of authority in the Gaza Strip and West Bank to the Palestinians. And there is of course no question of Peres’ commitment to seeing the peace process through. But that effort requires much more than arduous negotiations. It demands the ability to rally majority support in Israel for the territorial and political changes. And herein lies Peres’ major problem. Though he has his admirers, though he has been prime minister before, he simply does not have Rabin’s political credibility. And lacking that, both his own leadership role and Israel’s ability to wage an aggressive peace effort may be in doubt.

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BOLD LEGACY: The sorrow at Rabin’s murder expressed by such Arab leaders as Arafat and King Hussein of Jordan is sincere. The sense of loss expressed by President Clinton and other Western leaders is deep. All understand how important Rabin’s leadership and statesmanship were to the peace process. Those in the Middle East who celebrated his death clearly realized it as well.

Rabin leaves behind a bold vision of a peaceful and cooperative future for Israel and its neighbors. What he could not bequeath his country was his own courage in being ready to take the pragmatic risks that are inherent in the pursuit of that vision. The assassination of Rabin has revealed with horrifying clarity the intensity of the divisions in Israel’s political life and the potential for inward-directed violence. It is a reminder, if any was needed, that the enemies of peace rally under many banners, and that the supporters of peace have many battles ahead of them.


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