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A Time for Israel to Mark Its Gains : Peace mission has dissolved nation’s isolation

The extraordinary international tribute paid to Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem on Monday was both a deserved honor to a courageous and admired war- rior-statesman and a strong display of support for his commitment to making peace with Israel’s enemies.

The funeral of the prime minister, assassinated Saturday night by a Jewish extremist opposed to his efforts to reach a territorial compromise with the Palestinians, drew more than 40 heads of state and government along with scores of other foreign dignitaries. Leaders of most of the Western democracies, Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union were there, and so were representatives from six Islamic states, including Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, an obviously grieving King Hussein of Jordan and ministers from Mauritania, Morocco, Oman and Qatar. With only the first two of these states does Israel enjoy full diplomatic relations.

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ISRAEL’S NEW IMAGE: The implicit message of this global show of respect will not be lost on most Israelis. Here was a portion of the peace dividend. Here was evidence that the political isolation that for decades cut off their country from much of the rest of the world and that led to repeated and often vicious condemnations of Israel and its policies in the U.N. General Assembly has largely ended. Peacemaking, a still far from complete process, has brought Israel unprecedented international acceptance and access. Even opportunities for expanding relations with much of the Islamic world are growing, perhaps especially with those Muslim states whose anti-Israel positions were often more pro forma than profound.

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None of this, to be sure, is likely to affect the thoughts and actions of those who, like Yigal Amir, Rabin’s admitted killer, believe as an article of unshakable faith that God intends Israel to hold on to the West Bank forever. But not all Israelis who question the peace efforts of Rabin and Shimon Peres, now acting prime minister, are motivated by a belief in biblical inheritance or by more recent uniquely perceived whispers of divine will. Many Israelis, even many who support territorial compromise with the Palestinians, remain understandably concerned about their country’s security as the status quo changes.

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POLITICAL FERMENT: Any Israeli leader who seeks a pragmatic peace must be ready to respond cogently to those concerns. But that will be possible only in a domestic climate where the majority of Israelis insist on reasoned debate about their government’s policies, while rejecting the demonizing, hate-filled rhetoric that has increasingly come to mark Israel’s political culture.

Israeli politics have always been rowdy, fractious and personal. Never, since the earliest days of the state, have those politics been so threateningly and so overtly violent. The Rabin funeral was a time to mourn what Israel has lost. It was also an occasion to be reminded of what Israel has lately gained. But if extremists are allowed to sabotage the peace process, that gain too could be lost.

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