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Israel without Rabin Peace process at stake: Jewish state needs civilized discourse to deal with Arab neighbors.


PITY THE PEACEMAKERS, for they shall incur the wrath, the hatred, the violence, even the murder in the hearts of fanatics.

Twice in fourteen years, Middle East enmities have claimed the lives of warrior leaders who dared to tread the minefields of reconciliation. The first to go was Egypt's Anwar Sadat, gunned down by Islamic fundamentalists who loathed his Camp David rapprochement with Israel. Now Israel's Yitzhak Rabin lies dead, the victim of a Jewish extremist who proclaimed, without regret, that he was carrying out God's will.

What will come of this tragedy is a supreme test for the Israeli nation. For too long, lulled by the notion that "Jews do not kill Jews," its people tolerated a degree of savage political rhetoric that is beyond the pale. "Death to Arabs, Death to Rabin," proclaimed the signs of the right-wing settler opposition. At one rally there was a larger-than-life size posture of the prime minister in a Nazi uniform. Is it any wonder that in such an atmosphere the twisted mind of a zealot snapped to trigger-ready?

This was the first time since Israel's founding as a modern state that it had lost one of its leaders to an assassin. It happened in poignant circumstances when the prime minister was attending a giant "Peace Now" rally in Tel Aviv. In his monotone voice, he proclaimed that the majority of the Israeli people want peace and oppose the violence that erodes Israeli democracy. He even joined in singing peace songs. Like John F. Kennedy's final moments before his assassination in Dallas in 1963, these scenes will become a revered part of a nation's memory.

The only tribute Mr. Rabin would want would be progress in his difficult quest for his nation's security. In his early life, he was a soldier and a triumphant commander in Israel's wars for survival. Later, as a politician with a tough military record, he could take risks for peace that resulted in his handshake on the White

House lawn with the PLO's Yasser Arafat, his agreement turning parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control, his exchange of diplomatic recognition with Jordan and his attempts to settle the Golan Heights question with Syria.

It is now acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres' task to preserve and push this agenda even though many of his compatriots think is too liberal, too compliant, to trust him as they trusted Mr. Rabin. Within a year, Israelis are to go to the polls to decide whether to follow the Rabin-Peres path or the more guarded policies of the Likud opposition. Let decency and responsibility prevail. The United States, as Israel's most steadfast friend, should and will insist that the peace process continue.

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